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.