Newfoundlanders are Trolling the Fuck Out of Harper With This ‘Barbaric Cultural Practice’

Stephen Harper and the Conservatives didn't think about Mummers when they were nattering on about the niqab.

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Oct 13 2015, 4:08pm

This. This is a mummer. Photo via Facebook

By now, you're probably sick to death of hearing people freak out about the niqab. I don't think it's much of a stretch to say that if Stephen Harper wins the election next Monday, it will be in large part because he tapped into a wide and ugly vein of Canadian bigotry. I know they're billing it as a stand for women's rights, but that would be more convincing if they weren't also selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, hadn't shuttered 75 percent of the country's Status of Women offices, and weren't shrugging off the more than 1,200 Indigenous women who have been missing or murdered in Canada since 1980.

But hey, what do I know?

Anyway, back in Newfoundland and Labrador—where flipping off the federal Conservatives is basically a national pastime—there's a movement stirring to leverage one of the province's most "barbaric cultural practices" into a celebration of the democratic right to vote with a covered face.

Any Mummers 'Lowed to Vote? is encouraging Newfoundlander and Labradorians to doll up in their finest mummering gear, mosey on over to the polling booth, and slam dunk a ballot into the box. And, judging by some of the trip reports to the advance polls posted on YouTube, it seems to be working.

For the uninitiated (who have until this moment been wasting their lives), mummering is an old Christmas tradition from the outports. Topped with a mask (usually made of haggard old sheets), you and the b'ys get dressed up in gaudy, malfitting clothes and traipse from door to door for a scoff and a scuff, plying free booze from your hosts until they can guess who you are.

This extremely grainy video from 1987 is our greatest cultural treasure.

In other words, it's barbarism par excellence. God knows poor Jason Kenney would have a conniption if he were to hear the imperfectly accented Newfoundland English most mummers speak. All told, there's a good chance that mummer-vote organizer Jon Keefe can probably expect to get reported the minute the government's new tipline goes live.

A small business owner with a math degree and "not much trust for politicians," Keefe was struck one day by the mummer idea as a satirical response to the "shitty manufactured wedge issue" we all know and love as the ~niqab debate~.

"I realized there's no obligation to show your face in order to vote, thought it'd be a fun thing to do just to get a rise out of the bigots, then had a sort of lightbulb moment when I realized a mummer's costume would be the perfect fit," he told VICE.

But according to Keefe, the mummering schtick has a lot more going for it than simply a sublime way to troll racists. "I think it works on a few different levels, and that's why people seem to be responding to it so well. First, there's been a real resurgence of interest in mummering with young people in Newfoundland recently, and it's a fun way to make the election more of an event and hopefully draw more people out to vote.

"Beyond that, it hints at a few less-obvious points. There are lots of different cultures within Canada, each with their own values and traditions, but we've managed to coexist so far. You shouldn't have to show your face to a stranger in order to avail of your basic democratic right to vote – it doesn't make sense. If even just a handful of people do it, other voters will see that it's allowed, totally permissible, and the election staff gets hands-on experience with processing covered-face voters. Everybody wins!"

"I'm sure other people have their own reasons as well—a lot of people think it's a great way to make the point that Canadians don't care about manufactured wedge issues and would rather candidates concentrate on actual issues. The country is in flames and we're arguing about bullshit."

Of course, not everyone is thrilled with the idea. A few otherwise sympathetic people on Facebook (where the event was first organized) have highlighted that there may be problems with this idea. There's a legitimate concern that sauntering into a polling booth dressed like something out a low-budget nightmare might actually be trivializing or mocking the experience of those Canadian women who face regular harassment (or worse) as part of their religious devotion—especially now that the Conservative campaign is punting them around like a political football.

But Keefe is emphatic that he's not trying to make light of the niqab itself so much as the government's hamfisted handwringing. "There's no love lost between the federal Cons and people from this province, but running around having a few drinks and a lark around Christmas isn't even in the same realm of experience as regularly wearing a niqab. At all.

"It's easy to be misunderstood when talking about issues that are complex or that people are unfamiliar with, and I think a lot of serious discussion is avoided on many topics, for fear of being cast in a bad light because something you say was misunderstood. I'm sure there are people who've read every word I've written about mummer voting, and still think the point is to mock people who wear niqabs. Sucks, but I don't want to sterilize perfectly good satire just so people don't have to worry or think. I thought about updating the event description to spell everything out in big neon letters, but... read, think, figure it out for yourself, y'know?"

As far as Keefe is concerned, this is a way to showcase a beloved Newfoundland tradition while striking a blow for civil liberties in Canada. "At the end of the day, I want to normalize the idea that you do not—and should not—have to expose your flesh to the government in order to avail of your basic democratic rights. That'd be barbaric."

Yes my son. I think we can all drink to that.

Follow Drew Brown on Twitter.

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