This Sunday, when Hollywood big wigs gather for the 83rd annual Academy Awards, The Fighter will be looking to have the biggest night for a heavily-Irish movie in five years, since The Departed was up for a bunch of awards, including a Best Supporting Actor nod for “the fighter” himself, Mark Wahlberg.
Given what is going on in the world, given the angry, messy state of the union here at home, it’s tempting to dismiss the Oscars as little more than a gathering of pretentious, pretty folk.
But can we actually find deeper meaning in the Oscar-nominated films? In The Fighter? Is there a deeper message for our time in this inspirational flick?
Joyce Carol Oates thinks there might be. The only trouble is that the message may be a frightening one. Oates is a best-selling author, as well as long-time chronicler of the boxing world.
According to an essay in this week’s New York Review of Books, Oates likes The Fighter, even if she has some questionable things to say about Irish culture along the way.
For example, the characters in the movie, Micky Ward and his half-brother Dicky Ecklund, have “crude-rhyming nicknames,” and thus are “quintessentially working-class Irish, suggesting the playful camaraderie of a pub society in which men remain adolescent and “unattached” through their lives, so long as they don’t “return to their homes where wives and mothers exert authority.”
You need more than one hand to count the stereotypes in that statement.
But in the end, Oates sees a connection between The Fighter and another recent movie about an Irish American boxer.
“Like Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby (2004) … The Fighter is, if not a champion film for all time, a very good, poignant, and commendable expression of its era—postindustrial working-class urban America, bereft of history as it is bereft of jobs, strong unions, pride in one’s work.”
Talk about a back-handed compliment. Trouble is, I think Oates is on to something.
The Fighter, after all, is about an old mill town which lost its decent union jobs a long time ago. Micky Ward rises above that, but what about everyone else in the town?
It’s no wonder the governors of New Jersey, Wisconsin and elsewhere are picking on public-sector unions. There are no other unions left to pick on!
I love that today’s anti-union forces want teachers, cops and firefighters to behave more like private sector workers. Because if the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that the private sector never screws up, right?
But okay, fine, go ahead, treat government workers like the private sector. I’ll sit back and wait for my cut of a billion dollar bailout.
Full disclosure here -- as regular readers of this column know, I am a member of the New York City teacher’s union.
Which, first and foremost, means I understand how unions can at times become lazy and complacent. But this effort to transform public sector union members into public enemy number one is as frustrating as it is bizarre.
Are you trying to tell me that after the events of the last several years -- the trillion dollar wars abroad and the billion dollar bailouts at home -- that men and women who educate millions of inner city kids every day, and who run towards danger when the rest of us run away, are solely responsible for the poor financial health of states across the nation?
C’mon! Interestingly, Irish Americans -- once the backbone of organized labor -- seem to be evenly split on this fight, just as they have become more or less evenly split between the Republicans and Democrats in the last 40 years.
For me, though, there comes a time to draw a line. Yes, unions need to sacrifice during tough times.
But simply because the private sector has been pillaged is no reason to do the same to the public sector. To bring this back to The Fighter, it’s great that Ward emerges as a champion in his Hollywood movie.
But these times seem to call for a leader who can rally not just himself and his family but the working and middle classes, who are being unfairly attacked these days.
That great Irish Liverpudlian John Lennon once wrote that “a working class hero is something to be.” It is, indeed. So, who will answer the bell?
(Contact “Sidewalks” at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/tomdeignan)