What does culture mean in Northern Ireland anyway?There’s much talk and pontificating about culture recently .There’s especially much talk from the unionist or loyalist community about their culture being under attack, but what does that mean? Are they talking about the fact that their culture appears to consist of how many times they can fly a flag , beat a large drum, light a bonfire or march anywhere their hearts desire and urinate or aggravate anyone they care to aggravate.Well let’s tease that idea out in terms of culture.
I don’t think those ideas would fly as cultural aspirations anywhere else in the world.They’d actually be laughed at and dismissed with much head scratching. Its one thing for mummers or Morris Dancers to semi -jokingly evoke the ancient pagan spirits of yore.To copiously wassail a poor beleaguered tree with their ale and urine to bring summer fertility to the coming crops, or to dance in the cool ,early  spring dawn and welcome the sun’s return on May Day.That’s all part of a renewed ritual harking back to a less than golden time when real supernatural fear ruled the hearts. It’s quite another thing to piss on the gates of a catholic church while playing a sectarian song and call that culture.There’s a not so subtle difference. There’s also cause and effect to factor into the mix.This ancient ritual of urinating on your enemies may have been fine back in less civilised times but it is seen as the barbarity it is by any right thinking modern person.
So what exactly do these loyalists think culture actually is?
What is this culture that finds no problem in insulting everything that isn’t white Anglo Saxon and of course Protestant?A culture that appears to easily take clear-eyed pride in insulting intellectualism, that can support the nonsense of creationism,that can claim that the earth is 6000 years old ,that can insult whole communities should they be Muslim, Catholics, Jews or of any assorted colour or race.A culture that can ban a musical performance ,play or a book seems to be if anything, anti culture.In recent years we’ve all seen the banning of the ELO rock group and more recently , the attempted banning of a comedy play .As for taking anything away from their culture ,they have been allowed unfathomably to insult the very person, the Queen herself, by not following her edicts to fly the union flag on her appointed days. She has also failed to convince her loyal “subjects”s to make similar rapprochments to their neighbours that she has ,herself, made to the citizens of the Republic of Ireland. Her example and plea has gone unheard and her Great Example has fallen on stony ground. Anything “Irish” is still scorned. Indeed ,in the past year, flags other than the Irish one have begun to appear on loyalism’s cultural bonfires. This is a sure sign of loyalism’s cultural separateness.

That still does not get to the bottom of what this culture means.Where is the ….association with the beleaguered in society …where were these people when South Africa needed support during apartheid?.Where we’re they when the civil rights activists in America needed support? They certainly didn’t lend their support to the Civil rights campaign when it was needed either in America or here in Ireland . The support of the downtrodden seems anathema to them. There’s a self -deceptive innate superiority complex at work here.If anything , they took the opposite view at every turn and opposed cultural reform. What do they support that is life enhancing?
What painters, poets, music , literature,….what cultural totems do they hang their hats on?
Is the “culture” just a facade for an apartheid of sorts where young men and women are taught to hate from an early age..taught to play music and sing songs that are designed to insult and disparage their neighbours?It harks back to a pre-modern time of insecurities and superstition but it seems to be regarded , still as a living truth.
Culture usually means high concept art or music, like perfectly sung opera or possibly lower art like folk music , pop music ,entertainment ,or a variety of popular passions of the here and now in society.Something like comics we’re at one time regarded as lower on the totem pole in the art stakes than say a Picasso painting. in some respects they still are…but then there was Pop Art ….and comics were embraced with the unsaid acknowledgement that it was not so easy writing and scripting something as complex and understated as Watterson’s “Calvin and Hobbes” or Herriman’s surrealist “Krazy Kat” as was first thought. These things were featured culturally in popular newspapers but when the artists/writers left or died , their vision was irreplaceable…..let anybody try to emulate the artistry of a Herriman or a Steve Ditko…..just let them try and then compare hands.
Someone like Hitler had no love for cultured artistry like Picasso or Matisse. The little failed Chaplinesque “house painter” had his own issues with the new revolutionary and extremely suspect and unfathomable, degenerate , artistry of this new communistic, left-wing , free- thinking, new wave….probably something to do with his own deficiencies as an artist or maybe his penis size or his flatulence. His idea of culture was not life-affirming by any means.
Who knows which such minor augurs can be the spur to a mid life crisis or the invasion of another country like Poland…..
I suppose at one time, in the Deep south of America, and elsewhere world wide, slavery and stealing people for profit was seen as a seemly , cultural and cultured thing to do.The idea of hanging negroes from the trees for minor intolerances was seen as a normal part of the cultural life in some southern American states.Let’s not forget that the great and the good such as Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone with The Wind” were good old Irish slavers.Billie Holliday sang of the “Strange Fruit” hanging from the southern trees. The hangings of negroes still resonated with the Ku Klux Klan in the 1960’s, even while those same black men were being fed into the machine of the Vietnam war..
So what do loyalists mean by their culture? Will it die away if their attachment to a coloured cloth flag is stymied by a democratic vote?. They are now just like their English brothers and sisters in that respect. The flag flies respectfully on designated days . The queen has as much as rubber stamped that fact.Will their culture wilt on the vine if they are not allowed to traumatise entire streets and snag up traffic for entire summers ? Can their culture flourish when the antagonism is removed? Can they actually shake hands with their neighbours and share their culture in a loving way? Or must they hold it tight to their chests and keep it for themselves alone?
I suppose the tootling of the fife and the paradiddle of the lambeg drum can be construed as a part of Irish folk culture.Lest we forget that the ancestors of those same musicians , alongside other Irish and Scottish fiddle players and parlour room/gospel hall pianists were the very genesis and the begetters of that anarchic and errant , bastard child, rock and roll.
The low culture that ate the world.
Will loyalism take the poison out of their culture and see if it can learn to fly?


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