A Newfie blogger muses...

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Documentary on a certain controversial word makes me wonder...

What makes a good documentary?

If it stirs you, makes you cry, pisses you off, makes you think – it is doing its job.

And if there’s one thing that stirs Newfoundlanders and Labradorians’ more than anything, it’s our culture and history.

NEWFIE.

Now there’s a word that conjures up all kinds of thoughts and opinions. From listening to recent debates on CBC-Radio, it seems that there are two camps – the Baby Boomers and the War Time generation, who come from the ‘Goofy Newfie’ jokes era, who feel great resentment towards the word.

Generations X and Y seem to be more accepting – viewing the word as a chance to take back the power. The word is only hurtful if you let it be hurtful.

Fledgling filmmaker Anna Morrissey Wyse is working on a documentary exploring the varying opinions on the word.

“This is a unique time in our history as Newfoundlanders,” she typed via Gmail chat one day last week. “We are a ‘have’ province. I think this is an excellent opportunity for us to explore who we are as a people – and how we would like to present ourselves to the rest of Canada and the world. ‘Newfie’ is such an interesting word because it defines us, yet some of us hate it, some of us love it. I wanted to become part of the dialogue of ‘who we are’ in a way that engaged as many Newfoundlanders as possible.”

That notion or who we are seems to be something Newfoundlanders are equal parts sure/unsure. There’s little doubt that we have a strong idea of our history, culture, and from where and whence we came. People from across the country and the world seem to be in awe of this. They seem to be jealous that we come from a place that has such a strong sense of identity.

Yet with the collapse of the fishery, much of our identity was lost along with the cod, in some ways. We were no longer a fishing town, yet we clung to the same morals – strength, determination, perseverance.  But what was our purpose now that the fish was gone?

As this province acquires wealth, it seems as if we are torn between our commitment to our past as a rural fishing colony, and our possible future as an oil town. We want to move into a prosperous future without forgetting about the traditions and trades of rural Newfoundland that made us who we are.

We just don’t know how to act like rich kids.

There’s an opinion poll on the film’s website – www.newfiemovie.com. I encourage you to weigh in, and view the trailers.

“The opinion poll on the website is very telling of what people think of the word,” Anna said. “I think the older interviewees have had negative experiences with the word, whereas I haven’t found a young person (beside myself) who has experienced it being used in a negative way. The younger interviewees are more nuanced about their feelings. They don’t want to erase the past, but they see value in reclaiming the word. I have yet to find someone who only sees positive in the word – but I’m still looking for him or her!”

Hmmm, let’s see…what could be the positives in re-claiming the word?

To me, it’s akin to a self-deprecating sense of humour. I’ve read a good few comedian memoirs, and a lot of them diss themselves before anyone else gets the chance.

Of course, that tactic could always work the other way, and make others think it’s fine to pin Newfies as dummies. And we don’t want that either.

Perhaps it’s a question of changing the meaning of the word?

Newfie [Noo-fee]: Function: adjective. 1) A unique, forward-thinking population with absolutely no sense of self-doubt. Newfies have the highest level of self-confidence in the world.

HA!

Could that be the real reason we are so offended by the word? Is it really because deep down we’re still not past all those years of being called stupid, poor, money-suckers, drunks, fill-in-the-blanks? At heart, are we an adult who was bullied in school and still carries the scars?

“I think there are a number of factors that lead people to develop an emotion,” Anna said. “Age is most definitely one of them and certainly experiences can shape how you feel. At the end of the day, the word is just a word, but it is a vehicle, or window, into how we are viewed by the rest of the world. And that can be amazing, but it can also be painful.”

So instead of carrying the painful memories of the word, should we tackle them head on?

“I think that’s an excellent way to summarize what I’m trying to do,” she added. “I’d like to get everything on the table, and then hopefully – together – we can sort it out and make sense of it all. I certainly do not want my film to become an opinion piece, but I would love to challenge everyone’s views and get everyone some extra tools to sort out how the heck they feel about the word, and about how they feel about the stereotypes of Newfoundlanders.”

So, would you say it’s as much about how we deal with painful words that have a stigma, as it is about Newfoundland culture?

“I suppose that at the end of the day, I’m trying to do both. I’m using the study of the word Newfie to extract some of the pride or pain we feel about stereotypes of Newfoundlanders.”

To say that the line between pride and pain concerning Newfoundland history and culture is thin might be the understatement of the century.

And so it goes. This debate, this obsession with our culture, which has gone on for centuries, blasts forward into the 21st century. We still get as riled up as ever, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

We’ll rant and we’ll roar like true Newfoundlanders, but for the love of Jesus, don’t call us Goofy Newfies.

This documentary isn’t yet completed, but it has already made me think. I can’t wait to see it in its entirety.

 

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  • Patton MacDonald
    August 26, 2010 - 09:18

    I once was an executive with an international company which had Canadian headquarters in Toronto. Several of the top Canadian executives were from Newfoundland and other parts of Atlantic Canada, such as the independent republic of Cape Breton, from which I descended to earth. When I began working in the middle level of that company, it meant I travelled frequently to head office and other parts of Canada for various business related functions. I was astonished to find that there was a strong belief that people from NewFOUNDland and the rest of the Maritimes were somehow stupid and that those from the region who had attained corporate sainthood had miraculously become geniuses and felt free to join with their new brethern in genrally dumping on our region. (They ignored the fact that they had trouble remembering how to properly pronounce Newfoundland, so I wrote a letter to the entire company which said "un-der-stand? say New-fun-land!" which almost got me fired.) Thank gosh they didn't have to contend with "and Labrador" in those days or they probably may have all required a corporate seminar. I was pretty fed up with newfie and caper jokes until I heard a joke told to me by a freind from St. John's. It is a standard I believe, but anyway, revolves around a visitor from away (we always said Toronto , just to make us feel good) going to St. John's and trying to find the Signal hill lookoff, but ending up inistead by the wharf in Quidi Vidi. He ends up seeing a guy hauling up some gear and asking him directions. He tells the guy he's from Toronto and the guy says he's never been there and asks what it's like. After a detailed overview of the glories of city life, he says "so what do you think about where we live now that i told you about it?". The guy turns to him, pats him on the shoulder and says "You poor bugger. Imagine that, you having live so far away from everything" as he points to the Quidi Vidi harbour etc. There will always be jokes at other people'sw expense and it is the way we believe in ourselves and comport ourselves which takes away that power to hurt us. Most jokes I have beenn told were usually by people who were just trying to find a common ground to communicate. There are idiots everywhere who will always try to think of a way to p ya off. As my sainted grandmother used to say "You cannot legislate against stupidity."

  • Jessie
    August 18, 2010 - 19:49

    Great post. This documentary is long overdue. Popular culture has explored the controversy around other words used to describe specific racial/ethnic/religious groups, and I'd like to know the history behind the word 'Newfie' and what Newfoundlanders and others think about it. Looking forward to watching the film!

  • Red
    August 12, 2010 - 09:49

    Part of being a newfie is the ability to laugh at ourselves and not let people get us down. If we have no sense of self doubt, then how come some people get offended by a word. I love the word, and am proud to be a newfie. The days of people thinking goofy newfie are over for the most part, although there are still alot of ignorant people out there. What bothers me more is when people use the phrase "have province", when clearly we are far from it when you take a real look around. The haves get more and the have nots are getting less. I'd rather be a have not newfie than an arrogant have Newfoundlander.

  • Crystal Eagan
    August 11, 2010 - 15:24

    I was born in New Brunswick but moved to Newfoundland as a young woman at age 20. I have two Newfoundland children who are now 30 and 28 and although one lives away, they are both very proud of their Newfoundland heritage. In fact, I refer to myself as a Newfoundlander as I have spent the majority of my life living here. I have two feelings about the word "Newfie" and they both come from the emotions I feel depending on the situation. If I am with Newfoundlanders who use the word in an endearing fashion, with pride and respect, I get that warm fuzzy feeling. If I am with a non Newfoundlander who uses the word as a slur or in a condescending way, either in a joke or coupled with making fun of Newfoundlanders, I feel the hair go up on the back of my neck. It really is a powerful word, no matter how you look at it.