NL·Point of View

Rum runners: Folks, let's keep our wits about this screech-in nonsense

A recent blowup over screech-ins makes columnist Edward Riche wonder if you want a tradition, all you have to do is declare one.

If you want a tradition, you simply declare one — right?

Master screecher Keith Vokey at Christian's Pub. (Levi Garber/CBC)

News that a Toronto theatre was attempting to hold the world's largest "screech-in" to promote the musical Come From Away ruffled feathers locally.

There were those who felt Newfoundlanders have a proprietary interest in the ritual.

If someone was going to kiss a facsimile of a codfish, down a glass of middling rum and incant some Nova Scotian foolishness of the "Long may your big jib draw" variety, it should be done here, if not on George Street, then at least with the screechee facing in the direction of that yeasty Mecca.

If the point of the exercise was to make tourists "honorary Newfoundlanders" should it not have to happen here, on "The Rock."

There is nothing "traditional" about screech-ins.

There were others who simply find the act embarrassing and would like to see it forgotten, see it go the way of Newfie joke books, the square rolling pin and the mugs with the handles inside. (Catherine McKenna, Canada's minister of green pipelines, who was recently in St. John's and took great pleasure in being screeched-in, was captured on camera phone shouting that detractors were merely party poopers.)

There is nothing "traditional" about screech-ins. They are not a cultural artefact but, like the Mummers Parade, a recent invention.

The internet has made the creation of "truths" nearly instantaneous — so much so that we have taken to blithely saying "my truth" or "your truth."

A day after announcing a plan to hold the world's biggest screech-in, the production company for Come From Away flip-flopped and apologized to Newfoundlanders upset by the idea of holding the ceremony outside the province. (Quilts by Jen)

DIY for cultural traditions

The thinking seems to be that if you want a tradition, you simply declare one. Those wacky French intellectuals proclaiming the essential relativism of all things might have been on to something.

There is no law against embarrassment. It is central to the human condition.

Beer parlour owners are fans of the screech-in because they make tourists happy — and happy tourists pound back the booze.

If we mean to grow the tourism sector, we might consider inventing more such ceremonies, upping the stakes, adding mystical elements and elaborate costume to move visitors beyond that warm sense of belonging that comes from a slug of dark rum to some higher state of Newfoundland ecstasy.

We could induce trance states of jig dancing and talking in Newfie tongues, "How's she goin' b'y, how's she goin' me old cock, me old cock, me nerves, oh me nerves …"

Actor Kendra Kassebaum became an honorary Newfoundlander during a screech-in for the cast of Come From Away. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

In Hogtown? Never!

All stupid enough, one thought.

But no, it being 2019, things always get dumber.

Google-alerted into a state of hyper vigilance, beginning to worry that the mass screech-in in Hogtown might be cultural appropriation the proponents did the Canadian thing, they apologized and bailed.

Whether harmless fun, or an act mocking and demeaning Newfoundlanders, the screech-In remains ours alone.

Pucker up.

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Edward Riche

Freelance contributor

Edward Riche writes for the page, stage and screen. He lives in St. John's.