Thursday, April 02, 2009

Godzilla vs. Kong

Musing, as usual, on Boston's neighborhood makeup, I thought of the 1962 classic film "King Kong vs. Godzilla." Where am I going to go with this? I'm still not quite certain but I'm sure we'll find out, also as usual, by essay's end.

In a city of neighborhoods, Dorchester is obviously the 800 lb. gorilla in the metropolis, covering the most area and holding the most population. It is no eighth wonder of the Hub of the Universe, however. It is jumbled together in a weak rogues' gallery of complacent characters.

I've been to West Roxbury twice in almost two years, both of times fairly recently. West Roxbury is one of Boston's neighborhoods but few people think of it when they think of BOSTONIA, condita A.D. 1630. Dorchester falls into the same league though it is a very different kind of place. I've been to Hyde Park more often, and I know it's part of Boston too, a little farther removed and nothing like downtown. The only commuter rail line that runs entirely within city limits serves Hyde Park and points in between it and South Station.

Roxbury itself (not West Roxbury, which is to the south) is certainly urban and has been connected to downtown Boston for centuries through commerce and Washington Street. It has been connected municipally for over a hundred years, but few people think of Roxbury as Boston either. Even mailmen deliver envelopes addressed to Roxbury 02119, not Boston. South Boston gets to be called part of Boston, the part furthest to the east, and East Boston is also a part of Boston, the part furthest to the north.

There is no Kong in Boston, but there is a Godzilla. Just as metro Boston dominates the Commonwealth's business, the image of Boston proper, downtown and its edges, dominates the fringe neighborhoods that also belong to the entire civic body. Allston and Brighton and Charlestown are all parts of Boston. The mayor, who is quite savvy, is well aware that the neglected border frontiers of the city vote for him, but others take a myopic view of what Boston is. It is a city of many parts, all of them Bostonian even if they are not fashionable.

In the movie "King Kong vs. Godzilla" the giant ape is smarter and more human than the atomic-powered dinosaur. Kong taunts Godzilla during the fight scenes and makes rude gestures. This looks familiar as Godzilla just lumbers along, trampling whatever is in his path, be it vital or defunct. Boston is an old city. Though full of tree-lined, walkable streets, it is powered by an energy that cannot be described by commonly understood physics. It is that spark, like a hydrogen bomb dropped on an iceberg, that keeps one part of the city dominating the other parts. Like nuclear fission, it is the product of many smart brains. Like the Cold War it produces a stalemate affair that occupies a lot of attention when all involved could be working together for mutual betterment rather than struggling to keep up at cross purposes.

A city is made up of many neighborhoods and many component parts and constituencies. When one gets the upper hand, through an accident of history or by design, the status quo lives on past its useful shelf life. What is Boston? It is Dorchester and West Roxbury and Hyde Park and Roxbury and Charlestown and Allston and Brighton, as much as it is the Back Bay and South Bay and South Boston and the Fort Point Channel and the North End and what remains of the West End and East Boston. What does Boston have in common besides the Common? A lot, but most of that is swept under the rug, lost in the tug and the bombast of gorilla versus dinosaur.

So does Kong beat Godzilla or does Godzilla beat Kong? I don't want to ruin the ending for anyone who hasn't seen the film yet. Let us just say that Castle Island is no Skull Island and leave it at that. If you are interested.....

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