Boston based writer Luke O’Neill has been doing some interesting writing about the cultural identity of Boston and the overexposure of it in the national consciousness. His latest piece about the Red Sox championship is pretty dead on. O’Neill is writing about something I think many people from Boston have noticed, that our image in the eyes of the rest of the country is now essentially based on:
1) rabid sports fandom (and images of drunk white guys participating in such)
2) the music and image of the Dropkick Murphys (i.e. just simple hardworking folk who like to drink with the boys)
3) movies starring Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, or both…
Sometimes these things can all combine into one super Boston marketing juggernaut, like The Departed, which features both Matt Damon and the music of the Dropkick Murphys, or The Town which has both Fenway Park and Ben Affleck.
It sounds strange, but prior to the Red Sox resurgence in the last 15 years, and the townie film era that was kicked off with “Good Will Hunting”, Boston did not have much of a presence in the national eye. And, if there was an image, it was not as home to salt of the earth like Will Hunting but to the type of Harvard swells who he talked about apples with.
Boston was Harvard, MIT, liberalism, socialized medicine and eastern elitism. The only state that Nixon didn’t carry in his reelection in 1972. The home of Ted Kennedy, Noam Chomsky, and Willie Horton. I remember driving cross-country about 15 years ago, and hearing a conservative talk radio host in Texas rant about those pointy headed liberal elitists out in Taxachusetts, even going so far as to somehow trace the entire thing in back to the Salem witch trials.
The odd thing is that the blue collar townie stereotype that is now celebrated is essentially dying out. Neighborhoods like South Boston and Charlestown are now full of more yoga studios than union halls. The era of Boston as a largely divided city of clannish neighborhood allegiances is mostly gone, a victim of changing times and rising real estate prices. Pour some tonic out on the curb for painter’s caps, baracuta jackets, spuckies, peking ravioli, and the thought of Kevin McHale clothslining Kurt Rambis…
A few nights ago when I was DJing, a blond-haired blue-eyed guy with a crisp Red Sox hat on came up to me, and in a strong Scandinavian accent, asked to hear “Shipping Up To Boston” by The Dropkick Murphys, “because they just won the World Series.” I was totally taken aback. Firstly, because I was playing reggae and hip hop at the time. Secondly, because this was New York City, where anything Boston related is subjected to ridicule. Then, 5 minutes later, another Scandinavian came up and asked to hear “Dropkicks, or AC/DC.” At this point, I had to ask, and it turns out they had flown in from Norway to see the Dropkick Murphys the night before. This felt odd. Imagine basing a trip halfway around the world to go see such a mediocre band. But more importantly, it blew me away that this guy from Norway wanted to rep Boston. This son of the fjords wanted to be a Son Of Sam Horn. This kid wanted to be me!
I grew up outside of Boston and have been a Red Sox fan for almost 30 years. I played in a punk band in high school that was on a compilation CD with the Dropkick Murphys. Some random weekend in 1996 when I went to the CD release party at the Rat in the afternoon and watched the Red Sox lose that night was probably a legendary moment in this guy’s mind.
Perhaps people with a recognized “cool” cultural identity like Jamaicans are used to this kind of cultural appropriation (Japanese kids with dreads and spray tans telling them to play some Sizzla ’cause everything criss), but it was new to me… Is “Boston guy” going to be a worldwide phenomenon now? Just slap a Sox hat on your head and some Adidas on your feet and ship on up to Boston?
We are all dealt the hand of the time and place we grew up in. When I see footage of the 1977 World Series (or when record shopping), I wish I had grown up in NYC in the 1970’s. Or when watching Breathless or Blow Up, it’s hard not to wish you grew up in Paris or London in the 60’s. Looking at the back of the first Suicidal Tendencies record makes me wanna be a vato from LA. Even listening to grime makes me wish I had been a 17 year old in East London in 2004. But, something must be slightly amiss in the world when some kid from Norway wants to be Stevie from Revere or Sean from Quincy.