Whatever happened to Newfie jokes?
I can remember specific events in my life that have triggered societal change. Whether on a global scale or just within my circle of friends, these are events that I look back on and recall exactly where I was and what I was thinking at the time. Y2K. The 9/11 bombings. The day Pokémon stopped being cool. Sex Ed class in grade six. The 2003 blackout.
On the other hand, there are social norms that have changed slowly over time, without me noticing, until one day I think back and say, “Hey, whatever happened to… ?”.
I had a moment like that a couple weeks ago. Newfie jokes. Whatever happened to Newfie jokes? Have I lived through a social change in Canadian culture without noticing?
I can recall with clarity a point in my life when it was socially acceptable to tell a Newfie joke. I could crack a punchline about a cod fisherman to my friends, my babysitter, my parents, my friends’ parents, or my parents’ friends without getting scolded. One particular Newfie joke from my dad’s childhood became a family favourite when my sister and I were young.
So this phenomenon wasn’t a generation-specific thing that I outgrew, like jokes about poop. It also isn’t part of the cadre of jokes that are still widely used (though recognized as distasteful) like ones about keeping women in the kitchen.
Somewhere over the last ten years, though, it seems like Newfie jokes have migrated from silly humour to the league of the N-word and comparisons to Hitler: you just don’t go there.
I’m not pining for the day when I could spout off Newfie jokes without consequence - it’s a great development for our country that we’ve stopped marginalizing one province in our humour. But how did it happen, exactly? Did Canadians just collectively stop thinking Newfie jokes were funny? Or has the character of Newfoundland changed?
In the before times, I thought of Newfoundland as the province of quirky folk music and the hopeless cod fisheries. Now, when I think of Newfoundland, I think of General Rick Hillier, the offshore oil boom, and the populist, Harper-bashing political success of Danny Williams. Perhaps Newfoundlanders have beat down their old status as a have-not province through sheer pluckiness, overturning the old perceptions about its inhabitants.
I must say, I haven’t felt the need to tell a Newfie joke in years. It’s like forgetting that vanilla ice cream exists, and upon rediscovering it, thinking, “Oh well, it wasn’t that exciting anyway”. The country has moved on, whether or not I noticed the change.
Maybe there’s just a greater sense of national unity now than in the mid-to-late nineties. After all, Quebec’s 1995 referendum was fresh in the Canadian public’s mind and could have been a factor in pitting the provinces against one another.
I’ll just venture one more theory: my parents’ generation was born just after Newfoundland joined Canada in 1949. Perhaps some of them would have seen Newfoundlanders as less Canadian than the rest of us, the odd little province that joined Confederation 50 years too late, stuck onto Canada’s tail with their fiddleheads and half-hour time difference. But by the time my parents’ generation had kids, Newfoundland had been a part of Canada for long enough to give it equal status. And when my generation started to leave home in the late aughts, there was no reason to carry those prejudices with us.
At any rate, I’m just musing. I have no clue why or why not Newfie jokes have stopped being funny. All I know is, it’s a good thing.
Now, I wonder how long it’ll take for us to grow tired of American jokes?Sam Nabi