Bonfire Porn and Our Contempt of the Working Class…

While the last pallets were gathered and stacked in estates around the country yesterday, moralising social media pundits were already unleashing patronising vitriol.

It grows in vigour as the sky-scraping pyres rise ever higher across the province, the self-assertion of Northern Ireland’s armchair intelligentsia whose smug classist intolerance is as easy and cheap as the ignorance they supposedly are criticising.

There are, of course, unsavoury and deeply rooted elements of this celebration that are commandeered for sectarian purpose and are problematic. There are many who voice their legitimate social concerns honestly and sensitively: profit-conscious business owners voice worry about tourism, the environmentalists panic about tyres and many reflect on the offensive destruction of symbols.

But further up the political strata it’s the one time of year in Northern Ireland that the generally intermittent sniggering about the working classes and their ‘flegs’ goes mainstream. The internet lights up with bonfire porn, dealt out to a gloating choir whose song and gratification is the clamour of their own outrage.

As this apparently acceptable open season on working class members of our society goes on, you’ll find them everywhere snorting in faux-outrage simultaneously on ‘behalf of’ and against individuals that they don’t care about 11 months of the year. The pretend concern of a politically correct slacktivist class whose raving will never result in real progress because really it is the sound of their sophisticated sense of self.

Make no mistake, this is not a defence of bonfires, but whatever the gut reaction when presented with a bonfire draped in nationalist symbology there is a choice to be made at that point by the outsider. Either this is to be passed off and judged as the product of some low-grade tradition of cultural barbarism or there is something deeper happening here.

Just how concerned is wider society about the communities that hold these events? If the pundits and politicians were truly interested they’d offer more questions than dry opinions in unpacking the dichotomy of our July. Something about the simplistic vilification of what happens is inconsistent and perhaps we are looking at a wider issue that merely wears familiar colours.

The most economically marginalised and politically disenfranchised members of this place are the ones ‘left-behind’ to cling to the colours of the old world most tightly, each neighbourhood like a sieged island since the conflict. Who can blame that, for it gives purpose and narrative within a society that has otherwise offered them nothing but deprivation.

The daily reality in working class estates is one of unemployment, depression, suicide, drug addiction and alienation. Studies like Richard Wilkinson’s ‘The Impact of Inequality’ outline all the symptoms of our real sickness.

The sad truth is that we are not all in this together, and the bonfires are an uncomfortably eerie reminder that only a few of us are really inheriting this Shared Future. Rather than confront the offensive inadequacy of our peace many of us vouch for outrage.

It’s the easiest thing in the world to caricature and ridicule them’uns and refuse to employ empathy or understanding, but in contributing to this alienation and stigmatisation of working class communities, we contribute to the infamous ideologies of division. We ourselves perpetuate the past.

Any socio-economic marginalisation of these communities is reinforced by such sneering politically-correct middle class crowd, many fellow unionists who believe it’s better to slander or to distance themselves from what is happening than engage in meaningful conversation. There is no progressive hand extended here.

Mere scorn never dissuaded anyone from doing anything. Those who think it will are either wilfully ignorant and engaging in their own form of classist prejudice (not unlike sectarianism) or they in fact lack the capacity to intelligently think through the deeper issues that affect the young disenfranchised of our community – issues that if addressed just might help create not just a better future but a better present for these same young people.

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