The People Want Rocky: Why Did it Take the Art Museum and the City’s Tourism Folks So Long to Understand That?

The museum finally lets Rock through its front doors — 38 years late, but who’s counting?

Dan McQuade, God bless you. Your immortal post on Rocky’s run through the streets of Philadelphia has finally shaken the marble pillars that keep the city’s art elite and tourism snobs high above us all and removed from reality. And the reality is that Philadelphia is Rocky and Rocky is Philadelphia.

In case you missed it, Dan’s post on how far Rocky’s run to the Art Museum steps equaled in real miles was shared and spread around the world. The overwhelming response was only eye-opening to those who have been trying so long to ignore the allure of the movie legend.

And now, with Dan’s post and the Rocky musical opening, the city’s upper crust can’t ignore it anymore.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art deemed to allow Philly’s favorite fighting southpaw through its doors for the first time. This week the original Rocky movie was screened inside the Art Museum. They were only 38 years late getting on the bandwagon.

The art aristocrats have long disdained the Rocky plebeians who dare run the 72 steps to the front door of the museum after paying homage to the false idol of a statue that they thought they’d discarded long ago.

But like the movie character, the statue can’t be kept down. It made it’s own journey from the steps of the Art Museum to the sports complex in South Philadelphia to storage and now back to a grassy knoll just to the side of the museum, the closest the elite will allow a popular “movie prop” that they don’t consider art to be displayed.

The statue brings as many tourists to the museum as any of the “art” inside. It is by far the most popular statue in the city.

I have long begged, cajoled and harassed the city’s highly paid tourism gang to stop trying to market Philadelphia for what they want it to be and market it for what people want — Rocky.

They finally got the message.

The Internet is abuzz about the Ultimate Rocky Weekend Sweepstakes put together by the city’s tourism people. Bravo! But what took you so long?

It’s not like they didn’t know. A few years back, when the city was making a bid for the summer Olympics, an international survey was commissioned to find out what people around the world think of Philadelphia. Far and away, much more than the Liberty Bell or the Declaration of Independence, the answer was Rocky. The member of the tourism bureau who told me about the results in 2006 was disappointed.

Now, finally, the tourism people seem to have awakened to what the survey presented all along — an opportunity.

Maybe we can once and for all get rid of the X’s and O’s crayon notes asking people to come to the city for no reason in particular and replace the ads with Rocky.

Like it or not, the bum who became champ is what and who we are. More importantly, it’s what people want.

Thank you, Dan McQuade, for the wake up call.

Follow @LarryMendte on Twitter.

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  • CRZ

    Is it too early to call for a Dan McQuade statue?

  • joshpincus

    I thought Philadelphia was all about newscasters hacking other newscaster’s email accounts. I guess I was wrong.

  • Denise Rambo

    I had a colleague in from the UK last year and when I asked her what she wanted to do while she was here, she said that she had made arrangements for a private Rocky-themed tour of the city. When we heard that, we made arrangements to have our Department dinner at Victor Cafe, where they filmed a lot of “Rocky Balboa”. She LOVED it!

  • Denise Rambo

    They need to move the statue back to the top of the steps. Maybe it will get a few more tourists to actually go INSIDE the museum.

    • Latverian Diplomat

      It’s not clear that that’s true. Having a lot of tourists hanging around the museum entrance taking annoying pictures could impede and annoy genuine museum visitors though.

      And whatever sentimental attachment people have, the statue is clearly an eyesore.

      • Denise Rambo

        Most of the “regular” visitors don’t go through the “front” door. The parking is all at the rear entrance.

        • Latverian Diplomat

          I’m not familiar with the museum layout, but I think you mean most suburban visitors. Surely a significant number of visitors include city residents and tourists arriving by taxi, transit and/or by foot.

          • Denise Rambo

            My guess is that the majority of visitors – especially locals – enter through the back door. The only people who want to walk up those steps are the tourists.

          • Latverian Diplomat

            Fair enough. That changes things a bit.

  • Thumper

    Philly is an imaginary barely-literate lummox? OK, if you say so…

  • Cara Schneider

    Rocky is 2nd most visited attraction page on, behind the Liberty Bell. Larry, sorry you’re not seeing that, but visitors looking for Rocky certainly are!

    –Cara from Visit Philadelphia

    • Larry Mendte

      Yep, as I said, Bravo! It just took some time. And I will say that when I was at Penn Station in New York there was a huge poster with ROCKY in big letters…promoting the musical. There was an XO Philly ad too…something about eating dinner that I didn’t quite get.

  • Guest

    If the Rocky sculpture were twice the size in stainless steel or plastic there would be no complaints from “art snobs” and tourists from all over the world would still come, maybe more of them. Foreigners have an ironic take on this country. They know more about it than we do. The sculpture is kitsch, The sincerity galling. Paint the thing pink and all would be forgiven.

  • Enough With The Cheesesteaks

    Larry, I know this movie was important to your childhood, but it projects an image of Philadelphia that is not helpful for tourism or anything else. It is about how Philadelphia is a city of losers, and every once in great while one of those losers is pulled from the muck and given a chance. And he loses. We don’t have to shun Rocky, but nor should we seek to have it define Philadelphia. It’s kind of embarrassing really.

    • Larry Mendte

      I just don’t agree. I don’t see Rocky as a loser, but as everyman looking for a shot. It is what founded America and what this city is all about. The world has made Rocky iconic and we fought there affection because Philadelphia has always been filled with self-doubt. But the love is real, not mocking. it is our inferiority complex that sees it as something bad. I welcome the image of Rocky as a symbol of our city. But my feelings nor yours on this really don’t matter, the world has taken in Rocky as a symbol of Philadelphia. I am just grateful we finally accepted their adulation.

      • Enough With The Cheesesteaks

        You have it backwards Larry. Philadelphia’s inferiority complex is why we allow ourselves to be defined by things like Rocky and Cheesesteaks. Can you name a world class city that is defined by such things?

        • Larry Mendte

          Thank you for so clearly illustrating the problem. For so we wanted to be more that what tourists wanted us to be. As they decide, where to spend their dollars we market ourselves for our restaurants and nightlife. And they resoundingly say “pass.” Embrace Rocky and Cheese Steaks. Get them here and then pleasantly surprise them with what else the city has to offer. But to market against type is a fool’s errand.

          • Enough With The Cheesesteaks

            My goodness, can you set the bar any lower? It’s going on 40 years and Rocky has done nothing for the city. Let it go. Philadelphia today means world class museums, world class food, exciting neighborhoods, vibrant arts and craft, and the founding of our nation. You want a fool’s errand? Try basing a tourism industry around a 40 year old movie, the Broad Street Bullies, cheesesteaks, and booing Santa Claus. The ’70s are over Larry, and that is a good thing.

          • Larry Mendte

            A fool’s errand I trying the same marketing that has failed for years. You know the line about the definition of insanity. Well to keep marketing the same way to less then stellar results is insane.You are exactly right about what Philadelphia has to offer…the same as a dozen other major cities…and many of them have more and sunshine and lower prices to boot. You market to familiarity….It is only YOU that brings up cheesesteaks, the Broad Street Bullies and Booing Santa, and that is ridiculous. Rocky is NOT. The movie still touches people and they want to relive a part of it…let them. The city already knows Rocky is its biggest attraction and chooses to ignore it. THAT is a fool’s errand.

          • Aussie Tourist

            I’m one of those tourists from the other side of the globe planning my holiday to the US. Larry is on the money. The only reason I’ve put Philly on the itinerary is to fulfil a lifelong dream of running up those steps. Don’t get me wrong, I’m looking forward to experiencing everything else your city has to offer while I’m there, but make no bones about it – if it wasn’t for ‘that’ movie, Philadelphia wouldn’t have made the cut when we were shortlisting where to spend our holiday dollars. Like it or lump it, Rocky is your biggest attraction. Embrace it.

  • Rick

    How about a statue of Frank Reynolds?

  • Coleen McCrea Katz

    A to the MEN!!!