The notion of a “tourist gaze” (Urry 1990) where “tourists wield power through the way they look at locals and expect them to appear and behave” and “locals acquiesce to the gaze by mirroring back images they hope will please tourists” (Stronza 2001:271) has drawn the attention of several researchers. Rothman, for example, commenting on this process of mirroring writes that “Tourist workers quickly learn that one of the most essential traits of their service is to mirror onto the guest what that visitor wants from them and from their place’ (Rothman 1998:12).
Like Rothman, I observed this mirroring process in the course of my research and what my research contributes to the body of anthropological knowledge is evidence that this process is one of accumulation and like the amplification and re-amplification of the same audio signal it is a process that eventually generates distortion.
I observed the process of amplification, re-amplification, and distortion in my examination of the Screech-In welcoming and initiation ceremony, an invented tradition which is one of the most popular products in the tourism marketplace on the island of Newfoundland.
My findings have made a contribution to anthropological knowledge by identifying the origins of the invented Screech-In tradition. In their pivotal research into the invention of traditions Hobsbawm and Ranger (1983) observed that the process of invention is “still rather obscure” (ibid:4) and an understanding of their origins is lacking. That is not a weakness in my research. Based on my research into the Screech-In ceremony researchers probing the origins of other invented traditions have a point of reference that did not previously exist. As well, as the Screech-In ceremony evolves and migrates to other tourist marketplaces researchers examining it in the future will have an understanding of its origins which they otherwise would not have.
In the same way that my research into the invented Screech-In tradition may benefit researchers I have benefited in my examination of Newfoundland tourism advertising from similar research by Williams and Byrne into 19th and early 20th century Newfoundland tourism advertising. The significance for anthropologists examining contemporary advertising flows from Wright who argues that television advertising plays “a crucial role in determining how we construct our reality” (Wright 2008:88), Bruner who contends that “narratives make meaning” (Bruner 2005:20), and Whalen who argues that “clearly, tourism ads do more than encourage visitors to come to a particular place; they come out of and feed into those interpretative practices that make a region visible to itself and others” (Whalen 1998:111).
One of the contributions my research makes to the analysis of Newfoundland tourism is to extend the continuum of critical observation established by Williams and Byrne. In addition, my research includes a degree of detail not available to Williams and Byrne who did not have the opportunity to interview the 19th and 20th century creators of the advertising they analyzed. In contrast, my research includes a face to face interview with the key player in the creation of Newfoundland’s tourism advertising, the Premier of the Province when the most recent television advertising campaign was launched.
The Premier of the Province when I was doing my field research was Danny Williams. Not only was he hands-on managing the creation of the Province’s tourism advertising campaign his government was also explicitly advocating the commodification of Newfoundland culture. For example, in campaign literature distributed during a 2007 provincial election campaign the Progressive Conservative Party described Newfoundland culture as a “resource” to be “invested in” that would yield “results” (PC Party of NL 2007).
When I interviewed Danny Williams it was impossible not to reflect on Greenwood’s conclusion that “The commoditization process does not stop with land, labor, and capital but ultimately includes history, ethnic identity, and culture of the peoples of the world. Tourism simply packages the cultural realities of a people for sale along with their other resources” (Smith 1989:180).
My examination of the evolution of cultural policy in Newfoundland also includes a degree of detail that is not reflected, for example, in Handler’s examination of the evolution of cultural policy in Quebec (1998) or Rompkey (1998) in his examination of the evolution of cultural policy in Newfoundland. My research, in contrast, benefited from being able to interview every person who held the position of Director of Cultural Affairs in the provincial government since the position, if not the job title, was created in 1967.
Like Handler, I approached tracking the evolution of cultural policy in Newfoundland from the perspective that “competing conceptualizations of ‘culture’ both shape and are expressed in government policy” (Handler 1988:118). That competition was noted by Rompkey and my research extends the continuum of critical observation in Newfoundland established by him.
During the course of chronicling the evolution of cultural policy in the province I found myself observing the grafting of culture policy and tourism marketing. This process of grafting was accelerated by the imposition of the moratorium on the cod fishery in 1992. What I observed during my field research in rural Newfoundland was strikingly similar to Nadel-Klein’s (2003) findings in rural Scotland where fishing communities turned to tourism as an alternate economy following the decline in their fisheries. Nadel Klein argued that in the process of marketing heritage in rural Scotland to tourists “stereotpyes become sanitized and celebrated; marginality becomes a resource, and stigma is generally overlooked” (ibid:214). Nadel-Klein was writing in the context of communities searching for economic alternatives when their traditional economy failed, but Desmond observed a similar sanitizing process in Hawaii where she argues that tourism advertising involves an “erasure of history” (Desmond 1999:84) which was consistent with Cohen’s argument that in the British Virgin Islands one’s sense of identity “is continually reshaped in response to the flows of money, tourists” (Cohen 2010:7). I cite Desmond and Cohen along with Nadel-Klein to make the point that I reached similar conclusions in my field research in rural Newfoundland and during my examination of Newfoundland tourism advertising. In addition, my findings further validate research like Whalen’s which led her to conclude that tourism ads “are “ideologically loaded: that they often propagate negative images, construct unattainable realities, reduce people to objects of desire, and contribute to a world defined in terms of consumer values” (Whelan 1998: 111).
Following confederation with Canada in 1949 Newfoundland laboured under the stigma of being Canada’s poorest province. For decades Newfoundlanders were stereotyped as “Newfies” which one observer described as “a designation somewhere between village idiots and court jesters’ (Thoms 1990:29). Some Newfoundlanders find the word “Newfie” offensive, but others are more accepting and King and Clark describe the debate over the word Newfie as “part of a larger ideological struggle concerning commodification of an ‘invented’ Newfoundland culture, which itself must be understood in terms of Newfoundland’s socioeconomic position as Canada’s poorest province: (King and Clark 2002:537).
I found ample evidence of an “invented” Newfoundland culture being bought and sold in the Newfoundland tourist marketplace and my research has extended the continuum of critical observation of this process which was observed by Overton who posed the question, “Is tourism rural Newfoundlands salvation or its fate?” (Overton 1996: ).
When Nunez argued that, “there is an asymmetry in host-guest relationships” (Smith 1989:266) and “most tourists represent the ‘haves’ of the world and that many host communities and countries are relative ‘have-nots’” (ibid:274) he could have been, based on the findings of my research, writing about Newfoundland. It is just one example of how my research has contributed to anthropological knowledge by validated the findings of others.
Another example of where my findings validated the research of others is Brown’s argument that “much of the employment created by tourism is not just informal, it is also low skilled, low paid, and seasonal” (Brown 1998:57). He also observes that “women fill the majority of unskilled positions . . . housekeeping, catering, and serving . . . reinforcing an existing and unjust division of labour” (ibid:55). Ghodsee makes a similar observation. She argues that “tourism sectors in many countries are feminized because tourism is often viewed as unstable, low paid, and menial employment that women accept because they have no other opportunities available to them” (Ghodsee 2005:57). My research, particularly in the community of Trinity, is consistent with and further validate the findings of Brown and Ghodsee.
Whether Newfoundlanders employed in the tourism sector constitute a “serving class” (Smith 1989:47) or whether their employment reproduces “the servile character of the previous colonial regime” (Urry 1990:64) is arguable. My research, however, can more readily be cited in support of those assertions rather than in opposition to them.
My research into the Screech-In ceremony also reinforces the findings of several other researchers. For example, Seiler and Seiler (2001)examined the controversy surrounding a similar welcoming and initiation ceremony in Calgary. According to Seiler and Seiler the question of whether a white cowboy hat is an appropriate symbol for Calgary reflects “the uneasy tension at the heart of western regional discourse; the West as a site of cultural and technological innovation, the land of promise and possibility, the land of the future; and the West as a paradise fit for “natural” man, forever lost to barbed wire and machinery, the land of the idealized past” (ibid:32). My findings identified a similar “uneasy tension” at the heart of Newfoundland discourse and the question of whether the Screech-In ceremony is an appropriate symbol for Newfoundland? With the addition of my research there are now two Canadian studies of welcoming and initiation ceremonies which allows for comparison and contrast.
In addition to Calglary’s White Hat ceremony there is a third welcoming and initiation ceremony in Canada of the stature of the Screech-In ceremony. It is the Sourtoe Cocktail ceremony in Dawson City, Yukon. According to a 2012 article in the Wall Street Journal newspaper (Sager 2012) since 1973 when the Sourtoe cocktail eremony was invented more than 100,000 people have paid $5 each to purchase a drink containing a pickled human toe at the Sourdough Saloon in Dawson City’s Downtown Hotel. An initiator wearing a riverboat captain’s hat serves the drink and says “You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow, but the lips have gotta touch the toe.” Once the drink is consumed and the lips have touched the shriveled human toe the visitor receives a certificate confirming they drank an “authentic Sourtoe Cocktail” and are “capable of almost anything.” The ceremony has come to symbolize Yukon culture as evidenced by the Premier of the Yukon, Darrell Pasloski, serving the cocktail at a swank downtown Toronto hotel to delegates at a meeting of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada. When the Premier lifted his drink containing a preserved human toe he made a toast, “To the Yukon” (Kuitenbrouwer 2014).
In Newfoundland visitors kiss a cod fish. In the Yukon visitors consume a drink with a preserved human toe in it. In Calgary visitors get a white cowboy hat and shout “Yahoo.” They all get certificates attesting to their membership in an exclusive group. So, what it is about Newfoundland, Dawson City, and Calgary that explains why these ceremonies have taken root and endured?
One potential answer is that Newfoundland and Dawson City are on the geographic edges of the country. Some Calgarians cling to a frontier mythology. It may be that each in their own way identify themselves as outsiders. Maybe that is why their welcoming and initiation ceremonies have flourished. I confess, however, that I do not have an answer to the question and the search for an answer is left for others.