Carlo Rotella

Carlo Rotella, Director of American Studies and Professor of English at Boston College, writes regularly for the New York Times Magazine and Washington Post Magazine and writes an op-ed column for the Boston Globe. His next book, Playing in Time, will be published in 2012.



"Shipping Up to Boston: A Pecking Order"

Like Jonathan Papelbon, the Red Sox closer who enters to the strains of “Shipping Up to Boston,” in The Departed Martin Scorsese used the music of the Dropkick Murphys to mark his work as authentically in touch with the local. It’s a recent and noteworthy development that anyone who’s not from Boston, a provincial dump turned postindustrial boom town, cares enough about being perceived as the real Boston thing to play the Dropkick Murphys card, but such claims are now so common that some locals dismiss “Shipping Up to Boston” as an overexposed cliché. The stakes have gone up in contests over authentic Bostonness because the city has experienced a boost in cultural currency on the national and global scales, thanks to a converging set of factors that include the branded spread of Red Sox Nation and the boom in Boston-area movies enabled by the state film tax credit. Ben Affleck, Mark Wahlberg, and other notables can cite local roots in making such claims, but visitors like Scorsese and Papelbon also play the game. The strategic uses to which they put the Dropkick Murphys depend on larger ideas about connections between music and place.

To associate any form of culture with the city, to call a song or a movie “urban” or claim it’s recognizably “Boston,” is to say that the work somehow exploits artistic possibilities opened up by the qualities that make a city a city. So the habit of using music to establish authentic Bostonness affords us an occasion to think about what makes Boston Boston and how those qualities can be expressed in a song.

My Speakers Sessions

Friday, March 23

11:15am EDT