I's the Merb'Y: Masculinity, mermen and contemporary Newfoundland

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Shima, 2018, 12 (2), pp. 209 - 230
Issue Date:
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© Shima Publications (Australia). In late 2017 initial, low-key publicity for a charity calendar featuring a range of bearded Newfoundlanders posing as mermen resulted in international media coverage that discussed and commended the non-stereotypical images produced for the project. This article situates the calendar's imagery within the history of regional folklore concerning mermen and mermaids, the socio-cultural character of the island of Newfoundland and, in particular, the milieu of its port capital, St. John's. Through these perspectives, the article analyses aspects of masculinity present in an island society that has experienced significant transitions in recent decades in relation to the decline of its fishery, the increasing workrelated mobility of former fisherpeople, increasing ethnic diversity and immigration, and the breaking down of once strongly held attitudes of Newfoundland as being isolated, homogenous and tradition-based. In terms of Island Studies discourse, this has involved the island's transition from being a relatively autonomous aquapelagic assemblage to an increasingly post-aquapelagic one firmly incorporated within a nation-state. Long viewed as a quintessential "folk setting", Newfoundland is in a state of change that includes the gradual modification of regional stereotypes of masculinity. The revised images and roles presented in the calendar can be seen to represent new, more fluid definitions of masculinity appropriate for an increasingly more cosmopolitan - yet proudly unique - island society.
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