Thursday November 23, 2017

Newfoundland columnist says viral airport kitchen party perpetuates 'goofy Newfie' stereotype

Musicians Sean Sullivan and Sheldon Thornhill helped get a group of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians up singing and dancing Monday evening at Pearson International Airport, when their WestJet flight was delayed by aboutr 30 minutes.

Musicians Sean Sullivan and Sheldon Thornhill helped get a group of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians up singing and dancing Monday evening at Pearson International Airport, when their WestJet flight was delayed by aboutr 30 minutes. (Facebook/Michelle Sacrey Philpott)

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Story transcript

Earlier this week, a video of Newfoundlanders making the most of an airport delay went viral. In it, the group can be seen breaking out their instruments and having an impromptu kitchen party.

It was a heartwarming story that made headlines around the world. But columnist Robin Short says the spontaneous jam session was embarrassing.

Short, the sports editor for the Telegram newspaper in St. John's, N.L., recently wrote a column about the video called, "Newfoundlanders perpetuate their own stereotypes." Here's part of his conversation with Carol Off.

Robin, are you persona non grata on the streets of St. John's today? 

Yeah, apparently so. I don't think I'm going to be visiting any Irish pubs this weekend.

They're questioning your bona fides, whether you're even from The Rock.

Yeah, that's right. I might be expelled to the United States.

You might be a 'come-from-away.' Even worse. 

Well, I'm a townie so that's pretty bad as it is. I'm half way there to being expelled. 

But come on, Robin. Some people broke out their instruments and sang a few songs. Grey Foggy Day, My Sweet Forget Me Not. People clapping. Come on, aren't you being a bit of a curmudgeon?

Well, no, no I'm not. When was the last time we saw Jamaicans having a great ol' reggae time at the airport? Or folks from Mexico breaking out the Mariachi band? I mean, is the need that great that they need to pull out the guitars and get up and dance?

Look, it's feeding the stereotype of, "Oh yeah, look at Newfoundlanders. Oh boy ... look at them dancing!"

It's a stereotype that has been there for years and years and years from our brothers and sisters in mainland Canada.

But you go on in your column, you tie this incident, this little party at Pearson Airport, you say that this plays into what people say about us over Muskrat Falls and the project there and the pathetic gestures of the far east coast have clearly aired again and...

Oh, clearly. I mean, that's a common refrain again from folks from Ottawa [and] Bay Street in Toronto. "Look at the predicament Newfoundland has itself in now. My goodness, what are they doing down there?"

And again, I was just drawing a comparison. I wasn't comparing Muskrat Falls to a sing-along in Pearson.

Yes, you are. You were saying this is more evidence of all these people in Pearson singing along and then they're also patronizing us because of mistakes.

No, it goes back to what I was saying with regards to the stereotypes, with regards to Newfoundland and their abilities and inabilities to manage themselves. When you hear so many times, "My God! You're from Newfoundland" You know, I've never been in a dory. I've never hunted. "You're telling me, you've never been in a dory? You're from Newfoundland!"

Well no, I'm from St. John's. It's a fairly cosmopolitan city. 

You don't just question what happened at Pearson. You criticize traditional Newfoundland music. You compare it to dental surgery.

That's my personal feeling. I don't like Newfoundland music. Some people don't like country. Some people don't like pop. I'm just not crazy about traditional Newfoundland music. In fact, I know a lot of people who are not crazy about traditional Newfoundland music.

Is there a way to celebrate Newfoundland culture without making a caricature out of it?

Absolutely, just as there's way of celebrating First Nations culture, celebrating black culture. There are many ways of celebrating without being a caricature.

So you don't fault these fellows for bringing out their accordion and playing a few songs? ​

Well no, why not have some fun? Because you have to wait 30 minutes at a Toronto Pearson International Airport gate? I don't know. Is there such a need to do it because you've got to wait for 30 minutes? I don't quite get it. I don't understand. I mean if they were there for a couple of hours, yeah sure.

Once again, you just know that people are saying, "Oh there's the Newfoundlanders. They've got their accordions out!" And, I don't like that. I don't like that stereotype of the province. Like I said, I think we're better than that.

This interview transcript has been edited for length and clarity. For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Robin Short.