I wanted to like Rocky. I really tried to get into the film, and to feel inspired as he punched meat and jogged around in gray sweats to instantly recognizable theme music. I understand the underdog story, and its appeal (especially in the context of the film’s release coinciding with the country’s bicentennial), but, in the end, Rocky was just… okay.
I went into the movie thinking that I was already at a disadvantage being a yinzer. A yinzer is a stereotypical Pittsburgh native, and I believe that a lot of Rocky’s appeal comes from the classic shots of Philadelphia, and the embodiment of the struggle of “ethnic white” and lower-middle class Philadelphians. I assumed that, by my resident alien status in this city, this was something I was just not going to be able to understand. (Like, for example, the term water ice. If it’s ice, then obviously it is water… )
But after watching the movie and reading the Leab article, especially the sections about the struggle of the ethnic white class, I was struck by the similarities between the quintessential Philadelphian and the yinzer. A yinzer may be hard to describe to someone who hasn’t experienced their, shall we say, charm. I highly recommend watching a few Pittsburgh Dad videos on YouTube to fully immerse yourself in yinzer culture, but, generally speaking, a yinzer is a blue collar worker who speaks with a heavy Pittsburghese accent, bleeds black and gold, loves Donnie Iris (pronounced Dawny Arrris) and puts french fries on everything (see attached image of a “salad” featuring fried buffalo chicken tenders and fries, YUM!, my kind of salad!!). Yinzer takes on an almost pejorative meaning, portraying the idea that these Pittsburgh people lack sophistication, that the off-brand pop they drink and their rundown row homes in the Pittsburgh hills are indicators of their lesser social status. But the rundown row homes are not exclusive to Pittsburgh. In fact, Leab discusses the similarities between many ethnic neighborhoods – “tiny front yard”, “neat but worn furniture”, chintz lamps.
The similarities between a Yinzer and a Philadelphian like Rocky are striking, at least in terms of their lifestyles and economic struggles. No, the comparison doesn’t hold up when the Pens play the Flyers or the Wawas turn into Sheetz on the Turnpike but what’s important are the shared beliefs in making an honest living. The working class spirit is essential to both the yinzer and to Rocky. Both of the groups feel a connection to the American Dream, and both groups were influenced by the bicentennial and the subsequent revival of entrepreneurial spirit and patriotism.
A yinzer is certainly an icon. It has a graphic component (wave a Terrible Towel in the air, drink an Iron City Beer, and put a folding chair with a Pirates “P” emblazoned on it on the side of the road to reserve your tailgate parking spot), which is key to any icon. As Kemp defines an icon, “it has widespread recognizability” and it can move across space and time. A yinzer seems permanently stuck in 1994, clad in a black and gold Starter windbreaker, but that image resonates just as strongly now as it did then. And, in this blog, I have tried to make the argument that a yinzer can also travel through space into Philadelphia. Because what makes a yinzer truly iconic is not a sports team alliances but a spirit that never waivers, even under economic hardship. And this spirit is shared by Rocky, Rocky fans, and the people who live in the City of Brotherly Love.
Imagining Rocky as a yinzer rather than an Italian south Philadelphian, and I start to see more of his appeal. An underdog story always resonates with audiences, but an underdog from your hometown who embodies your very personal story is incredibly empowering. And this speaks to the versatility of Rocky, as well as the versatility of the yinzer.
After having our discussion in class about material culture and Barbie’s role in it, I found myself thinking about not so much what Barbie represents (maybe due to my lack of personal connection), but material culture as a whole and how it applies to me personally. A couple of my classmates and myself discussed some of the things we collect when talking about this. I shared that I collect records. While this is true, I failed to fully recognize that I collect something more obvious and apparent.
After our class discussion I happened upon an interview with former tattooer/artist/musician Dan Higgs. In this interview Higgs states “For one of the least material possessions, it seems like tattooing is getting more materialistic.” I thought about my own role in this. I started getting tattooed at the very young age of 14. By 16 I had a handful, and before I graduated high school I was well into the double digits.
Tattoos, and “collecting” them, is something that’s non-material, but in a sense, completely material. You cant hold them, store them, or preserve them. On the contrary, they actually only guaranteed to get worse with time. They also cost money to apply, but have no value in money or actual use, unlike almost any other collection in the world.
Material culture is something that’s driven by self definition and what the things you collect do and say about you. In that sense, tattoos are completely material. They’re something born out of vanity, in its basic form. They mark an experience, or say something about you. Whether it be that you fit in here, don’t fit in there, believe in this, or alteration for the sake of alteration. Unless they are forcibly applied against will, tattoos are something that define those who wear it.
The first time I ever got referred to as a collector of tattoos was by my friend Ronnie Dell’aquilla. After getting tattooed as a young teen for the reasons tattoos would appeal to a young teen (I’m cool, I’m different, I’m tough, Girls will like it, etc…) I started pursuing tattooing with more specific definitions and boundaries. I primarily sought old timers, people who have been tattooing since before it became more mainstream. Especially those from the east coast.
Ronnie is a straight forward old Italian guy from Brooklyn, his words aren’t minced and offending people doesn’t bother him. While he was tattooing me, he took a break to talk to his wife in Pennsylvania. I remember clearly him saying “Yeah hon, I’ll leave Queens in about an hour, I’m tattooing this kid from Philly, nice kid, collector of tattoos” I was confused about what he meant at first. I thought I was just some guy getting a tattoo. I then realized, in a sense, I wasn’t. I was somebody pursuing something specific, pursuing multiple variants of it, and pursuing it with some intention of status. And that’s what drive’s material culture.
Attached image is Ronnie. He usually wears his sunglasses indoors.
If you are not familiar with the 2006 movie, Invicible, I would start off with its trailer which can be viewed via this link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BF7EqnYvuGw
While Rocky was debuting on the big screen in November of 1976, Philadelphians were watching the real rag to riches story come true on the Eagles’ football field. Vince Papale, a thirty-year-old teacher at the time, became a wide receiver and member of special teams for the Philadelphia Eagles. Papale was the oldest rookie, excluding kickers, in the history of the NFL to play professionally without having a college football career. In many ways the ordinary Philadelphian boxer being portrayed in theaters, embodied the new rookie of the Eagles, even gaining the nickname ‘Rocky’. Rocky and Papale even shared the same age, both in their 30s, and considered out of their prime for physical competition.
By 2006, Papale’s story was told on the big screen. Invincible, set in 1976, retold Papale’s story and shared many aspects that could also be found in Rocky. For example both stories embody the chaos during the 1970s as well as take place in South Philadelphia (I included an image of a typical Philly doorstep in Invincible and immediately was like “That’s so Rocky”). Rocky portrayed the scandals of Watergate, the War in Vietnam, the Oil Crisis and Affirmative Action in the distance, typical of the historical time period.
However, Invincible takes up issues of unemployment. Papale actually looses his job within the movie, a teacher turned bartender, and even deals with his wife leaving him, disgusted of his professional failures… Sound familiar? While watching TV it is broadcasted that the Eagles will be holding open tryouts. This eventually leads to Papale gaining a spot on the team, hence the rag to riches mentality that reflects the movie Rocky. The movie even goes to imitate a special moment where Rocky remarks that the Bicentennial poster doesn’t depict the actual shorts he is wearing. Mr. Jergens responds that it doesn’t really matter. Similar to Rocky, Paple remarks that his name is spelled wrong on his Eagles’ locker. The equipment manager tells him, “Nothing personal, but is it really going to matter.”
Personally, I prefer the Papale’s version of the rag to riches commentary, that you too can have the American Dream. However, I would have to argue that Papale himself is not an American icon, which leads me to wonder why isn’t he? I think the icons are strongly embedded into our culture when a sense of myth or anonymity comes into play. Rocky isn’t an actual person, he is fictional, and like Barbie is fluid enough in his identity that Rocky can embody everyone. Unlike Papale who has a face and an actual real life story to tell, Rocky is a figment of our imagination. Even you can run the Art Museum stairs, turn back towards the city and for that moment feel a sense of pride in our accomplishment.
Just like in Rocky where he is portrayed as a bum, and told he could never be a good boxer, Papale reads this note from his former wife before she leaves him.
I mean… this might be stretching it, but those stairs are so familiar… Rocky much?
The humble cheesesteak. Something as simple as a three ingredient sandwich (that can even be reduced to two ingredients) has been a Philadelphia icon and food staple since its inception. According to Scott Ferguson, writer for the Pennsylvania Center for the Book and author of “Philly’s Flavorsome Fight,” the cheesesteak we know today was the creation of Italian immigrant Harry Olivieri. Ferguson states that in 1930 Olivieri, a hotdog vendor in South Philadelphia, “went to a local grocery market to purchase some beef…sliced up the beef, grilled it with some onions, and placed it on a roll” (Ferguson 1). The story continues claiming that before Olivieri could try his new creation a passing taxicab driver asked to purchase it. Olivieri agreed to the sale. As an extremely satisfied customer, the cab driver advertised how delicious the steak sandwich was. Word of the sliced-beef wonder quickly spread throughout the city of Philadelphia. A customer base was created. Demand that a steak sandwich become part of Olivier’s regular menu was so high that, “In 1940, the Olivieri brothers opened up Pat’s King of Steaks in South Philadelphia” (Ferguson 1). Since its 1940’s opening, the establishment has served countless Philadelphians and numerous tourists visiting from around the country and the world.
The cheesesteak is undoubtedly a Philadelphia icon. A search on VisitPhilly.com for Philadelphia restaurants produces a list of food categories with one dedicated exclusively to, and adequately named, “Authentic Philly Cheesesteaks.” This category boasts a list of over twenty cheesesteak venders in the Philadelphia region. Also, visitors of the website are provided with a definition of a cheesesteak, a protocol on how to properly order a cheesesteak and the history of the iconic sandwich. Since its inception in 1930, the steak sandwich has evolved significantly, Ferguson claims that cheese was not added to the sandwich until twelve years after Olivier sold the first. Along with cheese, the sandwich can be customized with a variety of other toppings to suit the customer. Popular topping possibilities include mushrooms, onions or peppers. Competition to be dubbed the most desired cheesesteak in the city is high, with a winning restaurant ranked each year by Philadelphia magazine, the region’s leading magazine for area events and business reviews. A day touring Philadelphia, and the attempt to immerse oneself fully in Philadelphia’s culture, would not be complete without a taste of an authentic Philly cheesesteak. It is this attribute that places the cheesesteak among other Philadelphia icons including Betsy Ross, the Liberty Bell and Rocky Balboa. Unlike the ongoing debate on who makes the best cheesesteak in the city, there is no debating the significance of the cheesesteak in Philadelphia culture and its iconic status.
Ferguson, Scott. “Philly’s Flavorsome Fight.” Pennsylvania Center for the Book, Summer 2008. http://pabook.libraries.psu.edu/palitmap/Cheesesteaks.html.
Rocky is arguably one of the most iconic sports movies of all time. Rocky, played by Sylvester Stallone, is a fighter. He’s gruff and tough, hulkish and able to take a punch as well as dole one out. One of the main points that the movie hinges itself on is Rocky proving his worth through his masculinity by fighting.
However, it’s incredibly ironic that this violent (albeit iconic) film is born from a city of Quakers, a group of people known for their pacifist beliefs.
When tourists are running up and down the art museum steps and posing with flexed arms and a dopey grin, they could probably see Billy Penn perched atop City Hall if they squint enough. While we’ll never quite know how Penn would feel watching people flock to his city to perpetuate the image of a violent fighter, it’s a humorous juxtaposition nonetheless.
For those of us non-Quakers, most of our introductions to the image of a Quaker likely came from a cylindrical container of oatmeal. (While it may be a stretch to call the oatmeal logo itself a Philadelphia icon, the image of a Quaker man no doubt has Philadelphia ties, as I’ll explain.) The Quaker man was actuallythe first registered trademark for a breakfast cereal, secured in 1877. However, the Quaker oats company didn’t have a religious affiliation to Quakers. Rather, the image of a Quaker was chosen to represent “good quality and honest value,” according to the official history on Quaker Oatmeal’s website.
(Side note: If you’ve bought oatmeal recently and noticed the Quaker man looked a little different, it’s because designers made him lose weight in an updated version of the logo.)
Historically, the Quakers are a form of Christianity that formed in the mid-1600s. The religion itself is called the Religious Society of Friends, and “friend” and “Quaker” are synonymous to people within the religion’s community. (Source) Philadelphia is a huge piece of Quaker’s history, with William Penn himself identifying as one. On quakerinfo.org, there’s an entire page dedicated to information on historical sites for Quakers in Philadelphia alone. While Penn didn’t settle in Philadelphia immediately, Philadelphia became a very important location for the Quakers – it’s the home of the oldest and largest yearly meeting of The Society of Friends. And hey, since sports are the one true way Philadelphia shows affection, a hockey team, a football team and a baseball team were even named “Philadelphia Quakers.”
According to the BBC’s historical page on the Quaker religion, promoting pacifism and non-violence are very important to Quakers – making the fact that “Rocky,” a film about a man who makes his livelihood on very non-pacifist activities, is a Philadelphia movie absolutely ironic.
Convenience stores are not designed to spark fierce loyalty in their patrons. They are supposed to be interchangeable; customers pulling off of the road and stopping at the first bright lights they see for some cheap coffee and snacks or to fill up their tank. In Philadelphia, this is not the case. Many Philadelphians live and die by Wawa.
To those from outside the area, or even (ugh) Sheetz lovers, this fanaticism is seen as bizarre. In parts of the Northeast, Wawas are informal boundaries between neighborhoods. People make countdowns to the annual Hoagiefest event and buy commemorative tee shirts. Several of my friends’ senior year summer shore houses in Wildwood, New Jersey had giant Wawa banners hanging, spanning two walls. When I came home from my semester abroad, my first meal, driving home from the airport at midnight, was a Wawa hoagie.
The undeniably strange name may throw off non-locals. Wawa is named after the Wawa Dairy Farm from which it was created in the town of Wawa, Pennsylvania. The town was named after the Ojibwe word for the Canada Goose, which has been featured on the logo of the store since its inception. Wawas are found throughout the East Coast, mainly focused in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, with stores reaching as far as Florida.
Most Philadelphians are, admittedly, obsessed with Wawa. Yes, it is super convenient – free MAC machines, fast ordering of food on touch-screen systems, actually good, non-suspect, convenience store deli counter food, and basically any Philadelphia-based junk food you could ever want (except maybe water ice) in one place – but I’m not convinced that convenience, or even deliciousness is the reason for Wawa’s iconic status in Philadelphia.
It seems to me, the same way Philadelphians gravitate toward Rocky as a unifying force, his spirit being something distinctly “Philadelphian” as well as American, is very similar to the way Philadelphians react to Wawa. Wawa is something that makes the area unique; our love for Wawa has more to do with that and the sentimentality of being able to walk into any Wawa or see the yellow lights and know that you are somewhere familiar, than the sum of all its awesome, convenient parts.
Wawa’s are found throughout the city, but it is certainly worth noting that the establishment quickly moves out of an area that they view as on the decline, which usually means in minority areas. For example, the Wawa I frequented in Wissinoming on Harbison Avenue changed over several years ago to a Quick Stop location, which coincided with the changing demographics of the area. The immediate area surrounding Temple has a great number of convenience stores, but no Wawas in sight. According to Wawa.com, the closest Wawa to Temple University is in Fairmount, which, while still North Philadelphia, has a vastly different population than other areas of North Philadelphia.
While I am sure the decision on where to build or maintain Wawas is certainly an economic decision that factors in crime rates, which could eat into the profit margins as well as detract from the safe, family-friendly atmosphere that the corporation has attempted to maintain, it is certainly interesting to look at. This information illustrates the question of who exactly makes an icon? Those within minority, lower-income, “dangerous,” neighborhoods do not have a Wawa to obsess over and elevate to iconic levels. Defining and shaping an icon requires both power and opportunity, and the placement of Wawa locations helps to elucidate that point.
To quote 1984’s Spinal Tap: “Now, Philly, that’s a real rock and roll town.” Taken out of the context of the movie, this quote means little more than a compliment to Philadelphia’s music scene. However, like the majority of Spinal Tap, the quote is a joke. Philadelphia had a famous music scene, but it had almost nothing to do with rock and roll; the sound of Philadelphia was soul music, R&B by the likes of Patti Labell, Teddy Pendergrass, and the Dellfonics. The only major rock and roll artist produced out of Philadelphia before Spinal Tap was Todd Rundgren, and he’s not exactly an international superstar. Yet, this lack of prominent, well-known rock and roll acts does something interesting: if a band achieves even a small amount of national or regional success, they become heroes within the music scene. The other factor in creating this heroism is the tendency for most Philadelphia artists to stay loyal and local, even with increased success. In Dr. Dog, we see a Philadelphia artist who have commanded the most rock and roll respect since Todd Rundgren or the Hooters — whom many people of my parent’s generation will cite as the most impressive Philadelphia band. Dr. Dog’s influence has been so vital to the area that a new wave of distinguished artists have been following their path for the past ten years.
Dr. Dog has typical origins, beginning with the two band leaders, Scott McMicken and Toby Leaman, discovering their musical similarities on an eighth-grade field trip. Their first album to be widely distributed was 2005’s, Easy Beat, which coincided with a tour alongside Jim James’ My Morning Jacket. Over the past ten years, Dr. Dog has released four other studio albums, along with a few EP’s and rarities albums. They have not garnered especially favorable reviews from magazines like Pitchfork, and they have only in the past five years been earning major spots at festivals outside Philadelphia, but what makes them so critical is their importance in Philadelphia.
Growing up in the Philadelphia suburbs, I did not know there was any good modern music being made. I was raised on the classic rock my dad showed me, which I devoured as my only musical sustenance because I did not have older brothers or older friends who were hip to what was going on. But luck shined on me one Sunday morning as I read the Inquirer’s review of Dr. Dog’s 2008 album, Fate. I bought it off iTunes that day because it was so amazing to me that music, supposedly worth listening to, was being made in my backyard. I shared the band with every one of my friends who would listen to me, and I arrived at college a few years later to discover hundreds of others kids that loved Dr. Dog like I did. This little thing that I loved, that I admired and revered, was being loved and admired by a greater audience than I ever knew existed. I would go to their concerts when they returned to Philly and strike conversations with people who have been seeing Dr. Dog live since they released their first album. There was a secret world built on the backs of this band. But everyone was in on the secret, and since attending Temple I’ve watched the number of signature Dr. Dog hats and t-shirts soar, as the community has spread.
Since Dr. Dog’s small appearance on the national scene, with songs in movie trailers and spots in the nation’s top music festivals, other noticable rock and roll acts have put Philadelphia on the music map. The War on Drugs, Kurt Vile, and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah are the biggest artists to ride in Dr. Dog’s indie wake. Though I’m sure these bands would have made a name for themselves out in the world, gaining as much national notoriety as they have, even without Dr. Dog to preceed them, it was essential for their long-term success as Philadelphia bands for Dr. Dog to set the stage and plant the seeds in the scene. Dr. Dog’s DIY attitude works perfectly in a blue-collar city that lives in the shadow of New York City, but is determined not to be percieved through that shadow.
This past week we have heard a lot from our peers about their experiences and thoughts on one of the world’s most popular toys, Barbie. Through the different readings we have learned that Barbie’s introduction to the world forever changed the way that women identify themselves and their material goods.
In Forever Barbie, by M.G. Lord, we learn that Barbie, released in 1959, was meant to be revolutionary. She was supposed to show young girls and women how to be independent and become their own woman, and invent yourself in whatever way you choose (Lord 9). However, what we have learned through discussions and through other readings such as Pearson and Mullins “Domesticating Barbie: An Archaeology of Barbie Material Culture and Domestic Ideology” is that Barbie’s identity is found more so in the things she possess and what she wears rather that what she does. By having one of the worlds most popular toys promoting a message of material culture to kids of today, we are showing them that identity formation is solely found in perfectionism- by looking perfect and having all the right things.
However, we all know that no matter how hard we try being perfect is not possible. New age Barbie, Lammily has set out to challenge Barbie and show that identity is found in flaws and embracing who you really are.
Lammily was created in 2014 by designer Nickolay Lamm who wanted to create a doll that was realistic for the size of an average 19 year old- she has a more realistic waistline, feet are flat unlike Barbie which are solely meant to wear heels, and she even has sticker that can be purchased that include tattoos, cellulite, stretch marks, acne, and scars.
This doll shows young girls that being you doesn’t mean being perfect. Flaws are part of life and make up who we are.
While Lord may argue that Barbie was a break through for women because she could “invent herself with a costume change” (9), Lammily shows that having the right outfit isn’t what makes you who you are. Material culture perpetuated through Barbie over the years has sent the wrong message to young girls about identity formation. It’s not about what you have it’s about owning your so called “flaws” and embracing them as who you actually are.
I hope that Lammily takes off for future generations, or maybe that Barbie could me modeled more like her. To say that a child’s toy doesn’t have an impact on identity formation or gender roles is a lie. Whether young kids realize it or not, these toys are forming the foundation for future beliefs. Having a realistic looking doll that isn’t consumed with looking perfect and having everything could help in helping women attain their independence at a young age as Barbie was supposed to do when she came out in 1959.