Last night I watched The Fighter, a bio-pic about the boxer Mickey Ward who had a run of success in the mid 1990s.
As much as the film tried to come up with a happy ending, I found it depressing. Ward is from Lowell Massachusetts, about forty minutes from where I live. I know lots of people from Lowell, mostly Cambodian immigrants. It was once an industrial town, the local economy based on textile mills, but the mills are long gone.
The depressing thing is not the portrayal of economic rot and its attendant vices, I’ve seen my share of urban blight. Heck, I’ve been to Lowell. What got to me was the dynamic of the Eklund-Ward family. Mickey Ward was managed by his mother and crack-addled brother. (Christian Bale and Melissa Leo both won Academy Awards for their portrayals of these characters.) I’ve seen these sorts of underclass matriarchies before: a woman with everything in the world to lose will demand loyalty of her children to the point of expecting them to sacrifice their own best interests for the sake of the family. It is a survival mechanism, understandable but pernicious. There is something to admire in the toughness of these women, but it just doesn’t produce human flourishing.