Hap­pi­ness ain’t a warm clothes dryer, mama

Northern Pen - - Editorial - Thom Barker

It ap­pears New­found­lan­ders and Labrado­ri­ans didn’t get the memo about a par­tic­u­lar do­mes­tic eye­sore.

Since I moved here a yearand-a-half ago, I have been see­ing them ev­ery­where.

They are a sub­ject mat­ter main­stay of New­found­land and Labrador artists.

They were even promi­nently fea­tured in one of those great, award-win­ning tourism TV ads the prov­ince is now fa­mous for.

And the pro­vin­cial govern­ment ac­tu­ally en­cour­ages peo­ple to use them.

I am talk­ing about clothes­lines. And I am jok­ing about them be­ing an eye­sore. I find them charm­ing, ac­tu­ally, and use­ful.

But for a long time, at least in other parts of the world, they fell into dis­favour.

Back in the 1950s, Gen­eral Elec­tric re­cruited then-Bmovie ac­tor Ron­ald Rea­gan – be­fore he be­came B-gov­er­nor of Cal­i­for­nia or B-pres­i­dent of the United States – to sell the idea that “the clothes­line is dead” be­cause “in or­der to live bet­ter, you have to live bet­ter elec­tri­cally,” as the ad­ver­tis­ing tagline put it.

That, of course, meant buy­ing house­hold ap­pli­ances, from Gen­eral Elec­tric. Hap­pi­ness was a warm, yes it was, clothes dryer (apolo­gies to Len­non and McCart­ney).

Clothes­lines be­came as­so­ci­ated with poverty and ul­ti­mately home­own­ers’ as­so­ci­a­tions, con­do­minium boards and even mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties started ban­ning them, pit­ting neigh­bour against neigh­bour.

There was even a doc­u­mented case in the United States in which a mur­der was com­mit­ted over the pub­lic air­ing of laun­dry.

I re­mem­ber dis­tinctly some­time in the 1970s or 1980s, when Kanata was an emerg­ing sub­urb of Ot­tawa, a by­law be­ing passed that dic­tated the colours peo­ple could paint their homes among other re­stric­tions, in­clud­ing no clothes­lines.

It was con­tro­ver­sial, of course, be­cause ac­cord­ing to New­ton’s third law: “for ev­ery dumb and ar­bi­trary en­act­ment, there is an equal and op­po­site ac­tivism,” or some­thing like that.

By the late 2000s, ac­cord­ing to a New York Times ar­ti­cle, most of the 60 mil­lion Amer­i­cans who lived in pri­vate com­mu­ni­ties were for­bid­den from us­ing out­door clothes­lines. I couldn’t find stats for Canada, but we can as­sume a lot of Cana­di­ans were sim­i­larly af­fected be­cause pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments, start­ing with On­tario in 2008, be­gan ban­ning clothes­line. New Bruns­wick and Nova Sco­tia fol­lowed in 2010 and 2013, re­spec­tively.

An award-win­ning 2012 doc­u­men­tary film called Dry­ing for Free­dom, charted the con­tro­versy around and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of the hum­ble clothes­line’s rep­u­ta­tion, largely along en­vi­ron­men­tal lines. Clothes dry­ers are one of the big­gest en­ergy pigs among the house­hold ap­pli­ances. Es­ti­mates peg them be­tween six and 15 per cent of North Amer­i­can house­hold en­ergy use.

In the re­brand­ing of clothes­lines, ac­tivists ar­gued they were not a sign of poverty, but of re­spon­si­ble liv­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to my ex­haus­tive and com­pre­hen­sive re­search (I Googled it), the clothes­line was never re­ally in any dan­ger here in the land of the half-hour time zone, where danc­ing to the beat of your own drum­mer is a mat­ter of na­tional iden­tity.

I don’t know if the seem­ingly ubiq­ui­tous and con­tin­u­ous use of clothes­lines here is due to iso­la­tion, nos­tal­gia, stub­born­ness, fru­gal­ity, aes­thet­ics, the high cost of elec­tric­ity or just the love of hav­ing that fresh sea breeze fra­grance on bed­sheets with­out hav­ing to buy dryer sheets, but I sus­pect it’s a lit­tle bit of all of those things.

That’s what made me a con­vert, in any event.

And, as I men­tioned up there, the prov­ince ac­tu­ally en­cour­ages clothes­line use.

“When the weather co­op­er­ates, use a good ole clothes­line,” the Take Charge NL web­site states. “You can also use a dry­ing rack to hang clothes in­side when needed. It costs close to $85 to run your dryer each year.”

What­ever the rea­sons, good on ya New­found­land and Labrador.

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