NYT Video Unwittingly Reveals Entire Problem With Fishtown

Dear lord, this video is embarrassing.

fishtown video screen shot

A screen shot from the New York Times video about Fishtown.

Longhaired singer/literary impresario Joey Sweeney gave a little zetz yesterday to Fork chef Eli Kulp, who seemed to look down his nose at Philadelphia when talking about the city in a GrubStreet piece. Kulp said, “People in New York just don’t go to Philadelphia.”

Nonetheless, New York’s paper of record, the New York Times, sure does — and to Fishtown, in particular. (About which we can only say, “Lots of Philadelphians move to New York and work in the media.” Write what you know, and all that.)


Thus we have "Rebirth Along the River" from 2008:

THE Fishtown district of Philadelphia was known as a tight-knit Irish Catholic enclave — and a place to score drugs. ... But these days artists easily outnumber fishermen and heroin addicts.

We have a Drink Up column about Johnny Brenda's, Frankford Hall and other Fishtown haunts. We have a section on Fishtown for 36 Hours in Philadelphia. As recently as October, we have an article about Fishtown's "creative renaissance."

And now -- this week! -- we have this video about Fishtown from the Times' online Style section. Please watch it before we move on. I will wait.

This is simply no good, this video. I don't say that to indict the New York Times. I say that to indict Philadelphia. If these people are the epitome of Fishtown style, and Fishtown is the epitome of Philly style, and Philadelphia style is in some way representative of the city's highest expression of creativity, of course Eli Kulp wants to run for the hills.

First, the subhed: "In the Fishtown area of Philadelphia, Sarah Anderson, a boutique owner, says her style is inspired by ’70s B-level horror movies." This is a style vein that's as tapped out as the one on a right-handed Fishtown heroin addict's left arm. But plus ça change, plus c'est the meme chose in fashion. Surely Anderson will convey how she turns this exhausted-aesthetic dross into gold.

Here's what she says:

I'm very inspired by the first girl who gets offed in a ’70s B-level horror movie.

Emphasis mine. (Anderson also says her hat comes from "a failed knitter." Is there any phrase in the English language more trenchant than "failed knitter"?)

Additional quotes from these un-inspiringly dressed Fishtowners:

I'm a big fan of the Eagles. If you live in Philly, you have to be.

[About a ring]: It's vicious, it's big, it says a statement.

Philly really brings things down to a level that is palpable.

Indeed.

When one of the residents says, of that large ring, "You get in my way, you might see it," I had a realization: The problem with Fishtown now is that it's boring dressed in interesting's clothing.

You see someone in a failed knitter's hat with cool shoes walking into a funky store you never saw before talking about an IPA that a friend is brewing in their bathroom so they can open a speakeasy and you think, "Look at all these people, these creative flâneurs. Surely, they have provocative ideas, and would offer stimulating conversation."

And then you sit down next to them in a bar and they actually, seriously want to watch the Eagles game and talk about tailgate parties. Or after a beer or two — or maybe none! — they're willing to throw down over a minor slight; in fact, they're probably eager to throw down so they can sink a chunky ring into your face. The point is, Fishtown is still Fishtown — no matter how many pairs of vintage sunglasses you find next to empty Arctic Splash containers in a vacant lot.

So from now on, I'd like to request that the New York Times resist the moldering Fishtown hype and either ignore Philadelphia completely (because New Yorkers don't come here anyway) or else develop a fixation with a different neighborhood. If nothing else, that would give Eli Kulp an alternate perspective on the city he doesn't like very much to begin with.

  • DTurner

    Interesting perspective. Just to distill your argument a bit, are you suggesting that Fishtown, and perhaps the city as a whole, has an image problem these days of being viewed as a place of some style and swagger, but little substance?

    • vceross

      No, she says pretty clearly that the New York Times has to get over its bizarre fixation on Fishtown as in any way emblematic of Philadelphia. I think the thinness is coming from the New York Times–shallow meets its own depths–and nobody is more provincial and conceptually thin than the average New Yorker, who imagines that simply living in a particular city makes you by osmosis into an edgy, sophisticated person, but you’re still just the schmuck with the rubber galoshes (oops I meant the ruby slippers!) that, with one click, will take you right back to Kansas (where you might find some really interesting people and fashion). The sign of the provincial is that they think conventionally, and no one at this point is more conventional than a New Yorker. What little grasp of Philadelphia the NYT has comes from 1970s B movies, which, as the writer points out, is a theme deeply played out and dumb. “Urban grit”? Please. Philadelphia has nearly as many universities as New York now has chain stores, chain coffee spots, chain restaurants. New Yorkers live in a big middle class mall and pay a fortune to do so. Pity them. Fishtown and “urban grit” are right in their wheelhouse.

      • DTurner

        While I can certainly agree with that assessment, I do wonder if there is a little truth to that argument. For all of the universities and cultural institutions, we seem to have very few smaller intellectual institutions or hangouts. Save for Joseph Fox books, I cannot think of any good brainy hangouts on par with, say, Krammerbooks in DC. I would love to see more book stores, boardgame cafes, and the like here in Philly, since the market seems to exist.

        Am I total wrong in this assumption?

        • Elizabeth

          Bookstores are closing everywhere. Nikki Giovanni recently expressed in an interview on NPR her sadness and disappointment in all of the bookstores that have closed in New York that she had frequented years ago when she lived there. The cafe has taken over where bookstores used to provide a place to lounge, congregate and read; however you can still do that in Barnes and Noble stores while they last. Cafes are all over Philly and often they have shelves of books and welcome patrons to partake of the offerings while hanging out. Cafes allow a person to enjoy a beverage and possibly a snack without an expectation to move on when finished. Instead, camping out or settling in is welcomed. So while I agree that bookstores are amazing, they are become a thing of the past. Fishtown can attest to that in the loss of Germ; an alternative bookstore that sold books of all topics from the macabre, mysterious, alternative, controversial to scientific. It also held music events, served as an art gallery, had craft meetups and interesting discussions. As a former patron, I am sorry that Germ closed.

        • vceross

          As Elizabeth, who also replied to your post, notes, yes, we’re losing bookstores everywhere, and New York was one of the first places they started to disappear. That doesn’t mean we don’t read books; it does mean we’re stuck buying books from Barnes and Noble or online. Elizabeth is right that in Phil, cafes and craft beer joints are the places to hang and what’s nice is that, unlike NYC, they really do let you hang out, read, talk, sip.

          • DTurner

            I disagree on the bookstore argument. At least in DC, bookstores that have adapted to changing consumer patterns and have embraced their roles as community centers have flourished. I’m confused as to why similar institutions have yet to pop up in neighborhoods like University City.

          • vceross

            That’s interesting; I’m not familiar with DC bookstores. Can you point me to a few examples? The bookstores in University City, Penn Book Center and the Barnes & Noble, do have activities but I wouldn’t call them community centers exactly.

          • DTurner

            I would suggest checking out Kramerbooks, which is downtown and has a restaurant and bar attached. Politics & Prose is in NW DC and is more like a classic bookstore with a cafe in the back.

            Basically, someone needs to mix a bookstore and a bar :)

      • Elizabeth

        Right on! I agree with what you have said, well put. Also, the media always has a way of interviewing the biggest idiot who is not at all the best representative of the area as a whole. The Philly news media is the worst! They always interview the most ignorant person on the scene. I am sometimes embarrassed for Philly and wish for a better representation but hey, its just the news! John Boleros and his whole story didn’t help our image but he wasn’t a native. Neither did T.O., Allen Iverson, Charles Barkley or Michael Vick. Still the bad behavior of sports stars doesn’t identify us as a whole either; they just put a bad taste in our mouth. Most people from Philly would agree that we are like a big crazy, happy family. We love eachother with passion and gusto. We’re loud! We love our sports teams. We love food just as much or maybe even more. We don’t take our city for granted. Most of all Philly people love Philly! And yeah you might get a throw down if you talk bad about us or our city but more than likely we’ll ignore you as we hop the El on our way to Olde City for First Friday, drinks on 2nd Street and a walk through Independence Park.

      • Liz Spikol

        Good points. Thanks.

  • Merilyn Jackson

    Yeah, Liz, I agree.They outta be interviewing hipsters on East Passy instead.

    • http://chrissmari.org ChrissMari

      East Passyunk is definitely more yuppies or yipsters, if you must, than hipsters. More money, real jobs, and baths. Less ironic dressing up like a god damn 30 year old horror movie.

  • Jason

    Sorry Liz. I liked the video and I like fishtown

  • Elizabeth

    Fishtown is a mix of all different kinds of people. Its not all hipsters, however it has become the Renaissance place for hipsters to hang out. Don’t hate them even though they’re smelly, Fishtown is a blast and they know it! I lived there and its a great neighborhood. Kids can walk home from school without any issues. There’s a pizza truck that drives around at night like the ice cream man. The restaurants and cafes are homey and interesting. New art galleries keep popping up. What else is there? Fishtown can claim a theater, two breweries, a great public park on the waterfront, the retro Girard Street trolleys run through it, a casino, an urban farm, all kinds of businesses, families, artists, singles and seniors all living in harmony. We’re not New York and we don’t want to be!

  • Brad Emmons

    “The problem with Fishtown now is that it’s boring dressed in interesting’s clothing.” Well put, pretty much defines Philadelphia’s “hipsters”. And, although I don’t think these people portray the city as a whole, I don’t think that was the point of the piece.

  • RonnyK737

    Fishtown sucks. So do hipsters.

    • Liz Spikol

      WHY IS EVERYONE SAYING THE WORD HIPSTER?

  • AdamBrodsky

    I dunno. This piece makes a few cogent points, and the paragraphs at the end are fucking poetry man, and yeah, The Old Grey Lady should really stop visiting, but I think the realization that most Fishtown hipsters are kinda vapid or boring or poseurs with beards and hats is kind of comforting. Too many times I’ve ended up in some twee apartment In Brooklyn or San Fransicso, or West Hollywood, or one time in Tucson, with people whose every subtle action is viewed by themselves and their peers as a political or artistic statement. In those atmospheres it’s pretty hard to create, as the pejorativity hangs in the air like dank weed smoke. You buy the wrong coffee, order the wrong ale, eat the wrong sea bass and you’re eviscerated by a thousand rolling eyes.

    In those worlds, it’s harder to dance like no one is watching. If you’re trying to create some art, a roomful of people who think they’re too cool for you is not where you can turn off your filter and get your jazz brain in gear.

    I remember seeing that video of Bing and Bowie singing that drummer boy song. Bing feigned surprise to learn that christmas is pretty trad up at the Bowies. The expectation was that his entire life was an art project and filled with cross dressing alpacas and dwarfs on Giraffes, when it is common experiences, sometimes all too common, that work to bind us together as a community,

    And the artists may go out and make some seriously freaky, incomprehensible artworks, but unless they share in that humanity, whether it’s a good IPA or the frustration watching the Eagles squander opportunities, or even communal memories of Boy Meets World reruns. The banal is the glue and is necessary for the connection which is kinda the point of the art. So, yeah, Fishtown hipsters are just like the rest of the idiots in town, and that’s a good thing. Or something.

    • Liz Spikol

      I really like this. I think it’s a nuanced response, and maybe the only one I’ve received thus far.

  • http://chrissmari.org ChrissMari

    Of course the Times is going to cover Fishtown… they wrote all they can about Brooklyn.

  • bedfordst

    Oh for crying out loud…

    You’re committing the same sins as the Times here: reducing Fishtown to a stereotype of the already much-stereotyped culture of young urban-dwellers that exists *all over Philadelphia*

    Fishtown is a neighborhood full of actual people – not an art project, not a theme park for recent college graduates, not a smoldering pile of Artic Splash cartons – so please stop feeding the same hype that the NYT is latching on to for the sake of page views.

  • Conrad

    Can I just point out the obvious: This video doesn’t highlight the average Fishtowner, or even the average Fishtown ‘hipster’ (not that that word means anything), it highlights the average Fishtowner that would be home on a weekday afternoon.

    The NYT should have at least hung around until people started coming back from their jobs/school, instead of catching the 4pm Acela back to the Big Apple… Incredibly lazy ‘reporting’ here, in my opinion.

    • Liz Spikol

      Agreed.

  • kevin piel

    i was raised in fishtown….this is not fishtown ok NYT did not go into the heart of Ftown…i might be young at the age of 28 i know for a fact this yuppie cool cat look that they moved in down their really made the people from ftown hate it down their!!! I know i hate coming back down and grabbing a few beers with some friends down their and going into a bar where i spent my 21st birthday and looking down and seeing these dredlock people who seriously smell like a** and really gets me mad because they all talk about other people like they aint nothing when they are the ones who talked down on other people and moved to Ftown to make it a better place but all they did was open shops on the ave (frankford ave) like clothing shops and coffee shops but go back down into the gutters where ya all came!! just saying my point of view!! you all can hate me on this but this is my view on them yuppies/ hippies whatever ya want to call them!! im done my rant!! hahaa ( THIS INTERVIEW IS NOT FISHTOWN) just saying!!!

    • george

      i am with ya brother we were better of with helen and bills , georges corner and bills then rocket cat cafe or johnny brendas.fishtown was a way of life for us now its just some dirtballs fasion statement

    • Liz Spikol

      Hmm. Dredlock people who smell like ass. This is my point. Fishtown is still Fishtown. That’s the thing.

  • MoGav

    This is a mean-spirited, bitter response to a lighthearted web clip on street style…. Also people who are still l raging against so called hipsters need to get a life.

    • Liz Spikol

      Why is everyone equating my characterization of Fishtown with hipsters? I never said hipster. I have nothing against hipsters.

    • Liz Spikol

      I don’t know why people are using the word “hipster” so much. I never used the word “hipster.”

  • origional fishtown

    Aren’t all this smelly hipsters from new york? They sure as hell aint from Fishtown . And whats’ with the herion crap fishtowners mailnly snorted coke back in the day we dont like needles.These dog walking hipsters moved to fishtown because they liked it but then in doing so changed it completly so what they liked about us is dead. And these rich, trying to look poor, too cool for the room ,sissy boys have the gits too look down upon us and refer to us as “natives” like thats a negative thing. i hate you people! And the woman ,wake up your dirty boyfriend has on genes tighter then yours! shave your armpits and get a damn job and contribute to society in a way othere then a cheeseburger joint with paintings of boobs and bad lighting. your soo cool but i would rather live with these herion junkies your speak of because at least i could get my car washed cheap and hot ticket items at rock bottom prices. As opposed to getting a piercing while i eat in some trendy place like rocket cat which was so much more real when it was ethel’s. Kiss my Irish Catholic ass!

    • Liz Spikol

      I like the distinction here: coke, not heroin. Come on, NYT (and by extension, me): At least get that right. Jeez.

  • Heather Shayne Blakeslee

    Dear Lord, Philly Mag is embarrassing.

    While Spikol was looking up what “trenchant” meant to add literary heft to her mean-girl tirade, Anderson (a friend of mine whose *clearly* cheeky interview made everyone who knows her laugh out loud), was actually taking a risk on running a business on a still-burgeoning commercial corridor in our city.

    That, I think, might actually be everything that’s wrong with Philadelphia. (I’m still glad I moved here from New York, because it’s a great city. People do come down. They even decide to stay and buy houses that they can afford on a musician/nonprofit worker’s salary.)

    What’s most disappointing is that Spikol might have fleshed out a fluffy Times Style video with the back story about a young female entrepreneur who is still considering going back to New York. Instead, our intrepid Philly Mag reporter chose to sit with her laptop at the coffee shop of choice and try to spin more sublimated Philly-isn’t-good-enough dross into gold of her own.

    Indeed.

    • Liz Spikol

      People need to look up “trenchant”?

    • Heather Shayne Blakeslee

      I’ve had time to calm down. And also for a proper rebuttal:

      http://littleredrecords.com/?section=blog

    • Liz Spikol

      Hey Heather, thanks for engaging with this whole thing so avidly. Two things I’ll say now, after it’s been a while (a while in Internet time):

      1. Who needs to look up “trenchant”?

      2. I think your responses are common to some other negative responses in that when I read them, I feel like they miss the point of what I was trying to say. But if you and other smart people are missing the point, perhaps I didn’t make my point clearly enough.

  • BEP

    Thank you! Couldn’t agree more. We can do better; NYT can do better.

  • The Truth

    This is a comedy , Real fishtowners are struggling ,these rich boo boo’s have nothing to do with any type of real fishtowner problems!

  • Noah Sufferinsuccotash Webster

    You have mental health issues, constantly rant on youtube about your illness, and show your distain for life by making fun of others? So typical. No one who proclaims to wear their grandmother’s clothing should be chastising strangers about their fashion. Here’s an idea… include Joey Sweeney’s name in yet another article! How original! Hacks like you are the problem with Philadelphia, and the irrational smugness act makes any Fishtown druggie preferred company over you. Cheers!

    • Liz Spikol

      Thank you for watching my YouTube channel! Please subscribe!

    • Liz Spikol

      Oh! It’s PhillySpeaks’ loveisnoise! All makes sense now. I do love your cats, though. Devon Rex? Cornish Rex? I had an Oriental Shorthair for many years who took me through the worst of my insanity (no use mincing words). I hope your cats are there for you as well.

    • Liz Spikol

      Well, Noah, this is a fascinating rejoinder. But what else could I expect from loveisnoise? I’m guessing the only thing we have in common is a love of Rex cats. Oh! And an awareness of my YouTube channel. Thanks for watching!

      • Noah Sufferinsuccotash Webster

        Adding internet stalking onto your list of maladies? Good for you! Golf clap…

  • Helene Prescott

    congrats to south philly for finally getting the media out of OUR section of the city :)

  • Liz Spikol

    I replied to most of these comments, but my remarks disappeared (most of you will be happy to know). I’m going to try again.