Boxing, Crack, Class, and Crisis in *The Fighter*

Guest blogger Eoin Cannon reported on Mickey Ward and Dick Ecklund before David O. Russell dramatized their lives last year in The Fighter.  What a difference a major motion picture makes.

Despite coming a few months late to the party, I offer here some thoughts about  The Fighter, because the film combines three of the specific interests that brought me into academia: addiction, sports, and cities.  I acquired those interests in part through contact with the actual source materials of the film: Mickey Ward, crack cocaine recovery, and the city of Lowell.

Before going to graduate school I was a reporter for a weekly newspaper in a Boston neighborhood, from which I also branched out into freelance writing on the very small world of New England boxing.

Mickey Ward & Dick Eklund, heading into Ward’s final fight. Caesar’s Palace, Atlantic City, June 7, 2003. (Photo courtesy Eoin Cannon)

I followed the second half of Ward’s career, and wrote a piece upon his retirement about the journey traveled by him and his brother Dick Eklund, the characters in The Fighter played by Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale. This work informed my first academic publication, on the strategic construction of white ethnicity in the sports entertainment industry. Similarly, my scholarly interest in the cultural history of addiction began in observations about the recovery subcultures in hard-luck neighborhoods of Boston and nearby cities, including Lowell.

So I was eager to see The Fighter for a number of reasons, both the kind scholars have when a film covers their subject matter, and the kind that people have when part of their world becomes the set for a Hollywood movie. I was particularly interested in how the film would weave these different narrative threads together and what overarching frame it might invoke.

What jumped out at me in this regard was its use of the 1995 documentary High on Crack Street to shape the story of Eklund’s crack addiction and recovery.

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