24 To Heaven
24 to Heaven is a feature documentary currently in production written and directed by Brian Culkin that examines post industrial America, the social and spiritual theatre of boxing, and the Attardo family of Boston, MA.
Angelo ‘Butchie’ Attardo was the classic post war city dweller. Son of Italian immigrants and and a veteran of the Korean War, Attardo returned to his native ethnic enclave of South Boston, MA where he would raise ten children and work as a firefighter for the city of Boston. A Golden Glove champion boxer with a deep reverence for the sport, Attardo would pass on his love of pugilism to his talented offspring. Four of his boys would not only take to the sport but excel at a level even higher than their father. Golden Glove champions, New England champions, and potential Olympians are just some of the accolades garnered by the Attardo boys. Described as the most talented family of fighters in New England, the Attardo’s were destined for boxing greatness; all four with the potential to become world class fighters and champions.
However, just as the the Attardo boys were developing and reaching a period of maturity in their craft, the American city would be fractured and destabilized through economic decline, social restructuring, and a wave of depopulation. The post war decades of the American city would present a series of radical disruptions to its previous order. The manufacturing base of the city, which had been continously built for nearly two centuries, would be lost in a decade as industrial production began the process of reorganizing in the Third World. The remixing of cultures and break down of traditional urban neighborhoods, inherent to postmodernity, would materialize as intense racial conflict as previously defined ethnic boundaries within cities began to fracture. Throughout this escaltion of social and economic disorder, suburbia would emerge as a rival to the city, creating vast urban depopulation as suburban life and its subsidation by the federal government challenged the hegemony of the city. The Attardo brothers, groomed from a young age to be world class fighters, would confront these macro social forces at the peak of their prospective trajectories towards greatness with devastating results. Long term incarceration, drug abuse, and victims of random violence; the Attardo brothers would face these challenges and more as their potential boxing careers would not be able to sustain the weight of these challenges.
THE FACTORY AND THE BOXING CLUB
The pre-war social and economic paradigm centered around the productive capacity of the industrial economy. The factory, and related analogous structures, (i.e. the traditional neighborhood, the school, the prison, the nuclear family) served as stable forms from which order could be produced within the overall societal construction. The rise of boxing in America throughout the first half of the twentieth century was in many respects deeply related to its natural symbiosis with the factoty system. The factory and its surrounding institutions provided the bodies to the local boxing club. The extension of ‘body work’ and ‘working with one’s hands’ translated into the corporeal processes inherent to the gym that trained and developed local boxing talent. As mentioned above, these connected structures of the factory system (including the neighborhood boxing club) began to rupture after WW2. And the great fighters of the 70’s and 80’s masked what was actually happening at the root level of boxing culture in America – a gradual depletion of talent, training, and socioeconomic conditions that are neccessary for boxing to thrive.
THE ‘SAINTHOOD’ OF BOXING
The interior life is essential to the boxer. Sociologist Loic Waquant referred to the ‘erasure of any distinction between the physical and spiritual’ through its practice. Manifesting through the intensity of corporeal and mental training, the solitude of roadwork, and surrendering to the biological processes of instinct and flow, the pugilist merges his mind-body complex into an instrument of kinetic force. Known for their ascetic rituals, almost rivaling an order of monks, the champion boxer must ‘let go of the world’ through diet, sexual restraint, a moderated training regimen, and above all, mental and physical clarity. The irony of the sport, with its utilization of violence, is juxtaposed against the richness of an interior world marked by health and focus that can be accomplished only by the dedicated fighter. Ironically, this discipline thrived and mirrored aspects of the industrial economy. Body work, time clocks, and the social institutions that supported and reflected the culture of boxing worked in a harmonious rhythm that once made boxing the most popular sport of the American city. However, the lifestyle of the boxer, infused with spiritual like rituals that required a certain level of social and cultural stability, became nearly impossible to maintain in the chaotic social infrastructure of South Boston throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s; the same period of the Attardo brothers rise.
SMARTPHONES, BOXING, AND THE REVERSAL OF THE CITY
Now, the city has reversed from its post war iteration. Functioning now as the seat of privilege that employs workers essential to the global economy, areas like South Boston have been transformed into corridors of condominiums, trendy restaurants, and sites of information processing. The boxing club – which once stood in the neighborhood as a space of enclosure where ‘the sweet science’ was instructed to aspiring pugs – has been unable to function in its former role in relation to the new city. The new economy, centered around ‘disruption,’ disembodiment, and the ubiquitous smartphone, stands in opposition to nearly all of the supporting relations that once made boxing the most revered sport of urban America.
The tragedy of the Attardo brothers, now dispersed throughout the greater Boston area, and their unrealized potential, cuts to the very heart of the complex relationship between the pre war era of body work, the factory system, and the local boxing club; and how the evolution of the global economy ruptured those social structures in the post war decades leaving in its wake social and personal chaos while serving to guarantee the death of boxing in the American city. The Attardo family simultaneously represents the classic and unique post war city family: Classic in their ethnic and working class roots which bravely faced the city’s decline; unique in their collective talent for the sport of boxing.