It is no surprise when a person decides to follow their ambitions and finds themselves in a roach-ridden studio in New York, or Los Angeles. It is a surprise when their wildest dreams bring them to Philadelphia. New York, the city that never sleeps, is globally known for being the center of business, commerce, advertising, and multitudinous other activities. L.A. is where you go to be famous, and there is no argument that it is almost always the best way. Philadelphia on the other hand, is the center of . . .
Absolutely nothing. And perhaps this is why everyone in Philadelphia hates everything so much. I learned to read cities in New York, where we have an image for being hostile, cynical, depressed and allover unpleasant people. This reputation isn't undeserved--it doesn't take very long in a city with no sleep to get a bit grumpy. Hell, look at the name of this blog! But New York is a veritable candy land (with unicorns and pixies) next to Philadelphia's characteristic 'go get 'em' malice. In my few weeks experience, Philadelphians have been consistantly ruder and meaner than New Yorkers. Even the local news-media wears the sarcastic and spiteful slant of the Philadelphia layperson like some perverted badge. What other city boos their own sports teams, or counts down until they reach a record number of losses? What other city's paper begins an article about a home-town band with an insult, then goes on to tell when they're playing?
Almost unnoticed, however, are a few ambitions particularly well served by Philadelphia's self-loathing pessimism. These are the hedonists. Specifically, those people whose only goal in life is to drink away the part of the day that they cannot sleep away. These people are very well served by Philadelphia's extensive b.y.o.b. restaurant market and odd laws that seemingly encourage buying more beer than one wants. When one realizes that the opportunities open to them are extremely limited because of the city they live in, they are forced to focus their attention on the immediate--the here and the now--so they head over to the bar.
This is not an entirely negative phenomenon. There is some productive industry which may arise out of the ashes of alcohol and drug abuse, dead end jobs, and excessive sleep. For those who self-consciously seek depravity as an art form, or as an expression, Philadelphia may be just the perfect scene. I speak, of course, of the hipsters, the burgeoning resurgence of young middle-class white kids who seek to live in hopeless squalor for irony's sake. The lower east side had them. Williamsburg has them. And sure as shit, Philadelphia's got them.
But wait, I said 'productive industry'! Surely, I don't consider lazing about drinking PleeBR and snorting coke productive industry?! Ah, but ye of little faith. The shadowy forces of 'cool' and 'not cool' are both destructive and life-giving, but they are as fickle as they are quick. Williamsburg is officially 'not cool'. New York's only outerborough whose rents are as high as the village has not been helped by the fungus of high-rise condos and subway ads that advertise them that sprung up overnight. But what did in Williamsburg (and the East Village 10 years prior) was the arrival en masse of Yipsters. Thats right, Yipsters. Yuppie-Hipsters. People with jobs that are actually going somewhere, but in desperate attempt to hang on to youth, live far below their means (at least in the beginning). These people generally work white-collar office jobs and have a good sense for cool, but rather follow cool rather than create it. They also tend to pay more and more rent over time. More importantly, they have ambition. The drive to be something more than what one already is is distinctly missing from Philadelphia, and it has shown.
My claim is that ambitionless scene-obsessed trust-funders could save Philadelphia, or at least they could set off the chain of events which leads to her rejuvenation. The influx of a young 'creative class' would reverse the old trend of flight to the suburbs caused by a 5% income tax and unnecessarily high crime. The mechanism by which this might work is the peculiar desire of well-off young people to look poor. Perhaps it is a passing fad--this decade's style. Perhaps it is an instinctual rejection of omnipresent corporate advertising or the cloying materialism of middle class life. Who knows?