Saturday, March 14, 2009

More Unreported Stories

In addition to the 10 under-reported stories I cited earlier, two more came to mind today as I followed the news here and elsewhere:

1) The decline of sectarianism since 1997. Since we're in the midst of the Paddy's Day uber-Weekend, we should stop for a moment and appreciate the fact that we're not, despite what many want to believe, just like Ireland. As the recent murders and rioting in Ulster demonstrate, the Troubles are not completely over, more than a decade after the Good Friday Agreement:

So if you hear a rebel song at one of the pubs tonight, and you sing along about the exploits of the IRA, remember that you can sing so freely and so loudly because it's their history, not ours. With few exceptions, we have been mercifully free of violent sectarianism and, since 1997, finally free of denominational eduation. Brian Tobin has entered a black hole in NL's public memory, but let's not forget that the referendum that ended denominational education was held while he was premier. That's not an accomplishment that DW can claim. Whatever you want to say about Tobin (and there's lot to say, no doubt), he gave one of the best speeches in NL political history: "I believe it's time to allow all of our children, of every denomination, to sit in the same classroom, in the same schools, to ride the same bus, to play on the same sports teams, to live and to learn, together in the same community." No one seems to take Tobin seriously anymore, perhaps for good reason, but that does not detract from the importance of this speech. It was not a populist speech against Ottawa or some other designated enemy but, rather, a genuine call for a more united NL. Unlike the cant and chimera of the ABC feuds, this referendum marked a moment of real, tangible progress -- something which everyone now takes for granted. Here's the link to the speech:

2) The persistence of "Townie versus Bayman." While the past decade has witnessed a remarkable decline in the tensions and distance between Catholics and Protestants, the same cannot be said for the perennial rural-urban divide. The gap between Town and Bay is arguably as wide as ever, as St. John's has morphed into a Superbubble while the rest of the province continues to suffer high unemployment, outmigration, and underdevelopment.

NL has come to resemble a Dickensian tale of two worlds -- one affluent and optimistic, the other struggling and fearful -- but this is one of the dirty little secrets that politicians would prefer to keep out of the press. The prejudice runs both ways, as Baymen view Townies as effeminate, ersatz Newfoundlanders who are little different from Mainlanders. It's only when you travel outside NL that you realize that this stark cultural binary does not exist elsewhere. But in NL, it's the unspoken reality that you confront whenever you're talking to someone from another place. "Where are you from?" often means, are you one of them? Perhaps not surprisingly, while the mainstream media has looked the other way, it has been left to singers, writers, and artists to tackle this last public taboo. Colleen Power should have received a Juno for her New Townie Man video, which packs more punch than a whole stack of CD's from Great Big Sea:

And, by the way, what's one thing that JRS and DW have in common? They are the only provincial premiers raised in St. John's. (Thanks to a reader for correcting me).

No comments:

Post a Comment