Loyalist identity: reflecting a modern condition

Howe goes on to examine a thoughtful analysis by Fintan O’Toole in which sees modern loyalists forsaking the ‘For God and Ulster’ of the past for “‘Simply the Best’, the title of Tina’s gooey pop hymn to some standard-issue fantasy man. Over this T-shirt, Johnny’s sweatshirt proclaims, not the dignity of Protestant Britain, but the virtues of Nike Athletic”.

Previously: Reading the runes

However, rather than seeing this as displacement, he argues that it is indicative of a culture which is unambigously open to the multiple cultural influences of the modern world:

…he [O’Toole] is wrong to dismiss the phenomena he discusses as “commercial clichés and meaningless slogans” and counterpose them to “proper” traditions and cultures (though the anger and scorn towards sectarian gangsters which leads him to make those judgments is not, of course, in the slightest wrong.) They are, rather, part of what happens when the decay of one form of cultural modernity (the northern Irish variant of an urban, working-class Britishness) clashes with the rise of another (a north Atlantic, if not global, popular culture) and the resultant hybrid is refracted through an intensely local, territorial, violent and sectarian milieu.

What ensues is truly an “alternative modernity” which, however unattractive it may appear to most observers, almost disconcertingly echoes the cliches about what is supposed to characterise the culture of postmodernity. This is a world marked by the collapse of old certainties and grand narratives: one of marginality, fiercely asserted locality, obsession with identity, difference, otherness; united only in its fragmentation, its assertion of multiple, unstable identities; finding expression via pastiche, bricolage, promiscuous cultural borrowings of all kinds.

Fintan O’Toole thus misses a crucial point. The features of Adair’s, or the lower Shankill’s “culture” which he finds both so feeble and so objectionable are just those which make it contemporary – or even postmodern – from top to bottom. It may be a portent, not a relic, in the terms Tom Nairn once applied to Northern Ireland’s political culture as a whole.

Next: demographic retreat is generic

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