After watching The Town, The Departed, Mystic River, Monument Ave, Southie, Gone Baby Gone, and the 1996 series Boston Common, a part of me feels I don’t exploit my native Bostonian enough, as it has become the last bastion of (white) working-class grittiness that has all been wiped from the national landscape. Sure, I moved out of Boston when I was a wee lad and into the milky suburbs, but you can take the Dorchestian/South Bostoner out of the rapidly diversifying city limits, but you can’t take the Sawx fan out of the Irish sweater and scally cap covering up the Celtic cross and harp tattoos. My graduating class was 99% Irish-Catholic, nearly all from families who moved from various Boston neighborhoods at some point during that whole era when white people just ‘needed some more space’. When your parents met your friend’s parents, within seconds they were discussing what schools they went to or the best way to drive through West Roxbury, always using churches as landmarks. Boston is known as the ‘city of neighborhoods’, and it’s by the very same token Boston is lauded for it’s ability to contain and maintain neighborhoods and scale that it’s condemned for preserving the segregation and racial strife inherent in old cities, in famous in Boston’s case. It was all Red Sox Jeep tire covers, CCD classes, prompts of your percentage of pure-green-Irish-blood, LA-hating, U2, binge drinking (Miller Lite), and pass-me-down copies of All Souls and Black Mass for me, stereotypical perhaps, but Boston has it’s pride as well it should.
But it’s silly to try and maintain Boston has some sort of criminal underclass that the city rallies around and celebrates as some sort of genetic Irish “thing”, that boys will be boys and sometimes that involves shooting a cop or harassing a minority because those are the dumb rules everyone agreed on back in the old country or so the legend goes. Sure, growing up middle-class or lower in Boston in the 60s/70s/80s during the disco/crack/race riots must have produced a few exciting tales of the maligned taking matters into their own hands and making up their cute little secret societies and making the sure the cultural pillars of Dunkin’ Donuts and broad As are forever intact because if they lose those they might end up going to India on some Eat, Pray, Love bullshit to find meaning in their lives. I’m sure things still go down: dresses fall off Talbot trucks, OCs get over-prescribed, someone pays for Bruins tickets, you can’t change human nature. But there were 49 homicides in Boston in 2009, and 22 of those were chronicled over the course of a few days in The Departed. That means the Departed gets to happen twice a year, and then its back to the Freedom Trail and Cheers as far as Boston goes on the national cultural radar.
The middle-class is getting squeezed as urban centers are being reclaimed by the moneyed, violent crime is at its lowest point since the 60s, and mass media is eroding all of our distinct regional characteristics because we’re watching How I Met Your Mother instead of telling stories passed down through the ages down at the fish market or whatever and Boston does have a very firm pseudo-European working-class identity that other American cities lack, but since these regional cultures aren’t progressing it looks like we’ll be stuck with location scouts looking at corners of gentrified Boston brownstone neighborhoods where maybe some hoodlums fought for scraps at some point in Boston’s rose-tinted history as long as Dennis Lehane is in business. But it’s those gentrified Boston neighborhoods that I know are real and not some romanticized version of urban blight and poverty. The former ‘Combat Zone’ is all but two strip clubs next to each other in the Theater district where my semi-alma-mater Emerson College has redeveloped the neighborhood to make room for more burgeoning film talent, mostly from established ‘film families’, sons and daughters of execs and studio heads who get all but oral sex from the faculty. Newbury Street is an upscale mall, Beacon Hill is the penultimate example of historic-as-luxury, and Southie has pretty much been replaced by a new swatch of Irishmen, except instead of laborers and dock-workers they’re the creative class of my graduating class. The IRA have been replaced by (I’m so sorry) IRAs.
Visiting a friend in Southie recently, we visited the landmark bar Murphy’s Law, which was prominently featured in the film Gone Baby Gone, and the bartenders literally wore t-shirts reminding you of this fact. The L Street Tavern has a sign outside proudly touting it’s inclusion in Good Will Hunting, while the Au Bon Pain in Cambridge seems to be above this kind of nagging reminder of its regional cultural relevance. I seem to remember a Bruins bar near the Garden that would never let you forget it’s prominence in Celtic Pride, but I’m not sure if it exists anymore or if the studio has as some point demanded the return of all the film’s promotional materials. Boston seems to relish in it’s scrappy, working-class, super-Irish, racist-but-not-as-racist-as-back-then-c’mon identity with daily narratives of cops-and-robbers, mafia fronts, and Red Sox trauma despite all the conflicting evidence I see, which is lots of college students, art students and hipsters in Allston/Brighton, bankers and yuppies in the Back Bay, and just honest workers and families in Dorchester, West Roxbury, etc. When I see Ben Affleck on Jimmy Kimmel telling the world everyone in Boston is a loudmouth sociopath, I can’t tell if that’s what the world wants to see or if that’s what Boston wants to promote as it’s main cultural export, besides the occasional New Kids on the Block and Bobby Brown. Despite what Bostonians will tell you, Boston is a really nice place. Now make me a martini, you fat fuckin’ retahd.