Documentary on a certain controversial word makes me wonder...
Anna Morrissey Wyse
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.
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.
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.