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Postcard from Fishtown

In “Coming Apart,” Charles Murray contrasts lightly fictionalized “Belmont,” an upscale town, with “Fishtown,” a working-class enclave in crisis — this, to show the two (white) Americas, and how little they have in common with each other. Murray advises better-off white people to move to places like Fishtown to engage the struggling residents, and elevate their conduct by giving a good example. He writes:

Encompassing these specific ways in which declines in the Founding virtues diminish civic culture are the class divisions that have emerged in the raising of the next generation. In Belmont, the intact two-parent family is still the norm—about 90 percent of all Belmont children are still living with both biological parents when the mother turns forty. In Fishtown, that figure has fallen below 30 percent. The socialization of children in Belmont and Fishtown has become radically different, and everything we have learned about the problems associated with single parenthood forces us to expect that the consequences for the transmission of industriousness, marriage, honesty, and religiosity to the next generation will be profound.

We need not rely on statistics to make these points. The real Fishtown in Philadelphia was chronicled in the 1950s by Peter Rossi, who would go on to become one of America’s most eminent sociologists, and in the 1990s by Patricia Smallacombe, who conducted a detailed ethnographic study of Fishtown for her doctoral dissertation. The Fishtown that Rossi found was a tightly knit, family oriented, hard-drinking, hard-working, hard-fighting blue-collar neighborhood. It was poor in objective terms, but Rossi was bemused to discover that its residents liked the place. Indeed, of the four Philadelphia neighborhoods that Rossi surveyed, Fishtown’s people had the fewest complaints about their neighborhood. The Fishtown that Smallacombe found in the 1990s was a neighborhood transformed, with a remnant of “family people” who still kept to the old ways, but otherwise a neighborhood that had experienced the decline of industriousness among males, the drop in marriage, rise in nonmarital births, rise in crime, and falling away from religion that appear in the statistics for my fictional Fishtown—and experienced as well the destruction of Fishtown’s once vibrant civic culture.

 So, this anonymous writer for Philadelphia’s City Paper did what Murray prescribed, and moved to Fishtown. That didn’t work out so well:
Goodbye Fishtown
At first you lured me in with your promises of “Up and Coming” and “Hipster Youngsters”. You lulled me with thoughts of big city life, Postcards from the edge, Neighborhood Connections and progressive thinking. It didn’t take you long to show me your true colors. Angry Self Important Dirty Single-minded, Narrow-minded drug dealing and using pigs that have never lived more than 2 miles from where you grew up, and where your parents grew up, and their parents, each generation more suspicious and useless than the last. You throw garbage on the ground, trashing your own neighborhoods right from your own hands, the garbage collecting in piles on the streets and sewer grates. Your children follow suit while you watch and encourage. You use your outside hollering loud voices inside, screaming at each other in restaurants, into cell phones and at grocery stores like you’re at a Rodeo, using at best, 4th grade 3rd world country grammar. You all wear the uniform; Nike sandals and socks on every man, woman and child, your too-tight sweats with Juicy on your cheesy ass with a tee shirt that is doing little to hide your flabby belly.. or baggy asscrack and boxer’s revealing jeans and Eagles jersey. Your aimless pointless meme tattoos, and your bad attitudes. City of Brotherly Love? I beg to differ. I’ve never in my life felt so unwelcome in a community like I have in Fishtown. (Having lived in 12 different communities in 3 states, this is no small feat.) The street I chose to live on was fraught with parking wars (garbage cans to ‘reserve’ your spot in front of your house every day, rain or shine? REALLY?) to reserve a spot for yourself in front of your own house when you own 4 cars, that’s a tall order for everyone to just sit back and accept; but accept everyone does because of the probable personal property damage if we move your playground equipment or garbage can to use the spot! No, we’d rather park 3 blocks away to avoid your Parking Punishments. The theft is amazing, straight off front porches in a matter of seconds, Right out of a car, in a matter of minutes! Like a bunch of vultures just waiting to nab whatever catches your eye. Stealing for the sake of stealing – destruction for the sake of destroying. No respect for persons, personal property or city property. I won’t miss your over priced corner stores (where overweight slugs stand around slurping down over- priced sodas and complain about threats of extra tax on that soda, never thinking that, as to they toss the bottle into the sewer grate, that SOMEONE , SOMEWHERE has to clean up after your lazy fat ass). I won’t miss the Pizza Truck and it’s subsequent trash and fodder, or the corner pub every 3 blocks that vomit out drunkards to wander the street at 2am …only to wander by to vomit on my front stoop. I won’ t miss the assholes every Friday, rummaging through my trash. In short, Fishtown. You suck. You probably have sucked for the past 30 years as more and more of you stay to live off your grandma’s inheritance, which really consists of all the Social Security payments she saved for your lazy fat broken sluggish nasty pasty stupid ass. Good Bye!
Oh dear.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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