Happiness ain’t a warm clothes dryer, mama
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.