Why Philly Mag doesn’t get us

January 2009 Philadelphia Magazine cover
(January 2009 Philadelphia Magazine cover)

By Shannon McDonald

Michael Callahan’s Philly Mag feature story on his Northeast childhood is superficial and meaningless.

When I saw that the January issue of Philadelphia Magazine had a feature story on the NEast I was intrigued. And a little disappointed.

I am a hater. I’m known by my friends and family members as being anti-Philly Mag. They don’t get it, I tell anyone who will listen. A magazine called Philadelphia, yet the only people who can afford the ads and restaurants are the snobby Main Liners and the Rittenhouse yuppies. These people don’t represent Philadelphia, the neighborhoods do. Their ritzy condos and McMansions are too far removed from Philadelphia’s reality, and the magazine perpetuates this by writing up five-star restaurants and overprice pet boutiques.

Some say I hate rich people. I do a little bit, but not because of their money. Because of their attitude. Working and dining in Philadelphia doesn’t make anyone a Philadelphian, but wealthy people use their money to control their reality. And their reality is what keeps Philly Mag going – and what keeps it irrelevant to the rest of the city.

Of all the neighborhoods that get most ignored by Philadelphia Magazine, our Northeast homes fare worst. We get the occaisonal mention because they have to acknowledge us, but we’re an afterthought. We’re not rich and most of us don’t subscribe, so we don’t matter.

So I was disappointed to come across Michael Callahan’s story in the latest issue. How can I continute to gripe about out lack of coverage when Philly Mag is running a feature story on us? I had little to worry about, because as I should have suspected, the article was disappointing.

The story is a tired one, and not at all unique to the NEast. Michael Callahan leaves his classy, non-NEast digs for an afternoon to venture back to his childhood home in the NEast, where his mother still lives. The block isn’t nice, he laments. The neighbors don’t know each other and not everyone is white. This is the story of every neighborhood, and if he’s so concerned that everyone isn’t white, maybe he should have stuck around. Callahan admits he’s part of the problem, which of course, makes it OK to judge.

One line in particular stuck with me. “All the dining room chairs are on casters, because, well, this is the Northeast.” My family must have missed the wheelie-chair boat, because I’ve never sat my uncouth and uncultured ass on one. I wasn’t aware all the dining room chairs in the NEast came with casters.

Callahan doesn’t even put a name on his neighborhood. He lived in the Northeast. Not Lawndale or Fox Chase. Not Tacony or Bustleton, just the Northeast. Because most people reading Philly Mag wouldn’t know or care about the neighborhood. He lived in the Northeast, and that says enough to them.

Bu of course, Callahan needs to redeem himself. He tries, I’ll give him credit for that much. “Because there is something left for me, I think, of those days that used to be. Something still very much alive, and very important, very Northeast, inside me, even if I am inelegant or obtuse in trying to get out precisely what it is.” Maybe he’d be able to better identify his feelings if he could recall the name of his neighborhood.

Nice try, Philly Mag. I look forward to another vapid pity article about the NEast in a few years.

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