End The Philadelphia Inferiority Complex Now!

Why must we flip out every time the New York Times,
Bon Appetit or Vice says something vaguely critical of us?

Photo | Jeff Fusco

Photo | Jeff Fusco

I’d only lived in Philadelphia for about three years when The New York Times published the article everyone is still pissed about. Yes, the one that, despite its largely positive portrayal of Philly as an attractive urban destination, contained the phrase “sixth borough.”

I’ll take a brief pause here to allow you to dust off your pitchforks and light your torches.

That piece came out in 2005 and it’s still brought up in casual conversation, usually preceded or abutted by some half-muttered, bile-filled variation on “FUCK NEW YORK.” Though I’m of the mind that the statute of limitations on such traced-back hostility should probably be shorter than a near-decade, I understand why. Without using the R-word, it’s a byproduct of that locally cultivated chip on our shoulders, the same geographically granted spirit that motivates us to wear shirts like this and post that Coach Kelly clip on Facebook.

All that’s charming and great, but I’ve come to realize that there’s a deleterious side to knee-jerk Philly pride. If recent dust-ups in the media are any indication, we still care far too much about what New York thinks of us, when we really have no reason to care at all. As much as defending our honor is an essential part of the Philadelphia experience, it also holds us back from celebrating ourselves independent of inter-city comparison. In other words, we’re doing ourselves a disservice by flipping hysterical shit every time our name leaves a New Yorker’s lips. We stand for so much more than rash reactions, and it’s time we start acting like it.

Before you turn me upside down and shake me to produce my papers, let me state for the record that I am not a Philadelphia native. I grew up just outside Baltimore, came here in 2002 to go to school, fell in love and never left. Over the past dozen years, I’ve become a huge advocate of the city I’m proud to consider home — which is why it’s so frustrating to watch fellow Philadelphians exhaust themselves screaming about out-of-state criticism and commentary instead of expending that same energy promoting what makes us different.

Last year, a writer from Bon Appetit benignly referenced Philly’s “huge, big-box restaurants” in a Q&A with chef Peter Serpico, who left NYC to open Serpico on South Street. We freaked out. A few weeks ago, Times food critic Pete Wells wrote a negative review of the New York location of Han Dynasty. We freaked out (on Twitter, too). The Gray Lady also ran an analysis of the proposed Comcast tower, over which we architecturally freaked out. An NYC-based Vice writer just put together a very complimentary, very trolly roundup of local punk bands that we’re just beginning to freak out about. In the most bizarre recent entry, there’s this Fishtown-shot Times street style video, the subjects of which we basically criticized for either being too cool or not cool enough to accurately represent us (?!).

These are just a few picks off an incalculable list of examples of this phenomenon — us raising pugnacious hell over any mention of us, with all the focus on what was said instead of what to say back. Why does New York’s opinion of our culture, people and products matter, and why do we care so much? It doesn’t, and we shouldn’t.

People often refer to Philly as existing in New York’s shadow, but I’ve never felt that was the case. Our constant self-victimization, unfortunately, suggests to outsiders that we don’t feel confident that we live in a world-class American city. Is this the case? If you answered yes, it’s time for you to fucking move. But if you answered no, like you should have, then you and I are already on the same page. We don’t need to defend ourselves any more. Let’s let our city do the talking for us.

Follow @DrewLazor on Twitter.


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  • Jonny Rashid

    For the record, I didn’t think Pete Wells’ review was crazy nor did I find it offensive, just wondered what LaBan thought.

  • sweinik

    This clearly stems from your Baltimore/Philly inferiority complex. The one thing worse than being called the city between NY and DC is being the city between them that everyone forgets about.

    But seriously, I agree with the general argument you make.

    P.S. I first saw the Kraft macaroni right after visiting Chicago and their Millennium Park Bean and it really did make us look pretty bad.

    • drewlazor

      It’s actually interesting you bring Baltimore up. I think the reason the Philly-NYC thing is so noticeable to me is that I grew up within a much different rivalry — the lateral resentment between Baltimore and DC. Baltimore thinks DC is filled with stuffed-shirt lobbyist transplant brodicks; DC thinks Baltimore is nothing but redneck Natty Boh swillers. It’s just a much different city-vs.-city dynamic than Philly-NYC.

      • sweinik

        My family down there always looks up to Philly as we (in our weakest moments) look up to NY.

        With that said, I’d trade Rocky for John Waters ANY day.

        • drewlazor

          Now that we agree on.

      • Earl J

        Don’t diss Natty Boh. It is my go to when I have crabs.

        • drewlazor

          I wouldn’t dream of it. I’m from Maryland! I’m saying that’s the unfair perception many DC-ites have of Baltimoreans.

      • Jaleh Najafali

        I am also from the Baltimore area, but since I’ve been in Philly I’ve noticed a much bigger inferiority complex than any I came across in Batlimore. Maybe it’s because Baltimore is very aware of it’s distinct personality and is very different than the other cities lining the east coast. That isn’t to say that Philly/DC/NY are all the same kind of city, but they’re all big enough cities that have a large enough population to get upset or develop widespread inferiority complexes. Baltimore has a more small town feel to it and doesn’t feel the need to compete with NY. Philly, on the other hand, is more similar to larger cities like NY, so it chaffs against any comparisons or critiques that others make about it in relation to NY. This isn’t bashing on Philly in any way, frankly, I have no desire to live anywhere else, but more the differences I’ve noticed between the two.

  • Mark Concannon

    As the owners of Bark Tees, we believe our design does not represent an inferiority complex but rather something we already share. The fact that WE KNOW we live in the best City in America, we just DON’T CARE what others think.

    • drewlazor

      I don’t think your shirt represents the inferiority complex — like you said, it represents Philly’s native spirit. Feelings of inferiority are an unfortunate byproduct of that attitude some Philadelphians, though, and that’s who I hope to address with this writeup. Thanks for reading.

    • Mrs. Spence

      I bought this shirt and EVERYONE who sees it LOVES it!!! Thanks BarkTees for great products!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      • Mark Concannon

        THANK YOU Mrs. Spence!

  • Uncle Fred

    I am a person who takes that “6th Bureau” shit seriously. It’s demeaning to a city that has a huge history – we’re not some new suburb of New Amsterdam, tyvm. I don’t care if New Yorkers criticize us, but I HATE it when they act as though Philly is trying to be New York.

    I work in a place that puts me in constant contact with New Yorkers, and you wouldn’t believe how often they start a sentence with, “well, I’m from New York” followed by some condescending BS.

    • Earl J

      You make sure you tell them where they can put that 6th Bureau sh*t……….

    • Yes, I feel your pain. When the recent cold weather and storms hit in the deep south there were actually New Yorker’s on Facebook making fun of the accidents in Atlanta. Atlanta,Ga like SC does not have a fleet of snow plow trucks nor salt trucks with which to clear the roads. How economically sound would it be for a portion of the country that seldom sees snow or ice to invest in this type of fleet? It was extremely unfeeling and short sighted to suggest that somehow the south is less then just because of that. It therefor does not surprise me that they pick on Philly too. Is it because for the most part NY has lost it’s soul?

  • DGF

    The reason the inferiority complex exists is because the media and public figures insist, year after year, decade after decade, on promoting an image of Philadelphia which screams inferiority tomother world class cities. Paris promotes it’s history, art, architecture, beauty, culture, while Philadelphia promotes itself foolishly and (incorrectly) as a “blue collar” city. Wth is that? Why would someone in Rome or Vienna want to fly 4,000 to experience that? I hate the way this city is portrayed and promoted to the public. Philadelphia is an amazing city, and unique compared to other American cities, but for some insane reason we hide the great things about it, and promote the shit that makes the meatheads proud. No more “yo Philly” crap. No more Rocky running up the Art Museum steps bs. Study how Paris, Rome, London, Vienna, Milan, and other similar cities craft the image of their cities, and promote them, and COPY!

    • So true. Philly is a wonderful world class city. It has everything one could want including great art. It is by far more livable then NYC. It gives everyone white and blue collar a chance, while NYC is a city of wealth and the working poor. When one compares the bigger then life PR campaigns of mediocre cities like Austin it does make one wonder why Philly shoots itself in the foot as it does. I lived in Austin, Atlanta, NYC and now Columbia,SC and I must say that Philly has it all. I hate cold winters but am seriously considering moving to the 6th borough because it is the superior one.

  • RickPatrick

    Amen! Great article. We moved here five yrs ago after 20 yrs in SF and now wonder what took us so long. The arts, the restaurant scene, the eds and meds, the walk ability, then urban neighborhood fabric……all among the best in the nation.

  • They_Call_Me_Bruce

    How is it someone takes a shot at us, we answer back with our side of the story, and that gives us an inferiority complex? I would say the real problem is the New Yorkers that need to take shots at others to make themselves feel better. I have no complex towards New York because for the most part it is 3 boroughs that remind me of North Philly, 1 that no one besides a hipster wants to visit and Manhattan which is more like an airport. In fact the charm of Manhattan is you can get the New York experience without actually having to come in contact with someone from New York.

  • lewpubco
  • Dick_Wolf

    If someone comes up to you, looks at your wife/girlfriend/sister/mom etc. and says she’s second class, how do you react? Do you defend them?

    “Your sister’s a fat pig, but she’s a good cook.”

    That’s what Philadelphians do.

    This intro to the Vice article you reference is exactly like saying “Your mom is a sluttly whore, but she boy is she smart.”

    “Most, if not all people I know, beam with pride to be from Philadelphia. Because of that pride, we don’t feel like we are the sixth borough of another city.

    Philadelphia is an unrepentant shithole of a city where humanity goes to die, or at the very least, have its mother insulted.

    I’m speaking in generalities, of course. In general, Philadelphia is America’s loud, obnoxious, red-pinstriped anus—a place where an entire population of high school dropouts unite in their worship of a fictional character from a boxing movie that came out 40 years ago. In general. Not every Philadelphian is a belligerent Swiss cheese-fucking dock worker in a XXXXXL Chase Utley shirt. But in general, yes.

    Need proof? By all means, go to an Eagles game in a visiting team’s jersey and feel the famous “brotherly love” for which the city is known. Or do a YouTube search for “philadelphia + fight breaks out + [literally any word]” and be amazed at how many hours’ worth of results come up.”….

    A guy says the city we love is an anus, but hey he said our Punk Bands were good so we have that going for us.

    Turn the point you are trying to make around. We notice the insult, because we don’t need someone to validate us with their praise.

    It’s not inferiority as a World Class city, it’s why do we need validation from others that we are a World Class City?

    The country literally started here, I/we don’t need to tout that to the masses because they know. Our pride in that fact is why we defend it.

    You came here and stayed here, you get it. We were born here and never left by choice, we get it. Those trolling Philadelphia to get a rise wouldn’t make it here, and that’s all we are trying to say when we defend it.

  • bill k

    I consider the “6th boro” comment to be a compliment. We can only aspire to be as international, sophisticated and successful as New York. Many NYC people think Philly is just fine and enjoy spending time in the City of Brotherly Love, so this Philly backlash at NYC is provincial and small minded.

    • They_Call_Me_Bruce

      No, Manhattan is international, sophisticated, and successful. The rest of the city is riding its coattails. No one is touting the greatness of Staten Island, Queens, The Bronx, or Brooklyn (except hipsters), and that is where most of the real New Yorkers live.

      P.S. Maybe we don’t want to aspire to be New York. The charm of Philly is that we are happy being us.

  • Many years ago, a local newspaper (I don’t recall which one) published a list of what real Philadelphians do and don’t do. Now, I don’t remember if this was on the list but it should have been: not only do real Philadelphians NOT really feel inferior to New York, we spend hardly any time EVER even thinking about New York or its alleged superiority. It is only transplanted Philadelphians who seem obsessed with this non-issue–AND the local Philly media. (Incidentally, one item on the list that I do remember is that real Philadelphians don’t read Philadelphia Magazine.)

    In 2000, the Republican National Convention was held in Philadelphia and, I believe, the Democratic Convention was in LA. The day after the LA convention ended, the headline on the front page of the Philadelphia Daily News read: WE WIN! Three things crossed my mind when I saw the headline: 1) how pitiful, 2) how do you measure something like that?, and 3) who really cares? (besides, of course, transplanted Philadelphians who work in the media.)

    When Brooklyn Flea Philly closed and left town this past fall, this very online magazine published more than one article about how the flea market’s New York-centric name was THEE ONLY reason for its demise. Instead of digging deeper into the local flea market community to find out if there might have been other reasons, the authors took the easy way out. But they also did one other thing: they found another way to exploit–and keep viable–the imaginary issue of Philadelphians hating all things New York due to our inescapable inferiority complex.

    As a Philly flea market insider, I can assure you that Brooklyn Flea Philly failed for several reasons and not one of them was its name. By even insinuating otherwise, those who write articles like that not only show their ignorance of the subject but they offend the people they claim to be DE-fending. Another byproduct is that they give Brooklyn Flea’s owner a built-in excuse and therefore precludes him from having to admit that he delivered a crappy product and Philly flea marketers quickly noticed.