Philly’s a tough town, Maur.
That’s Maur as in Maureen Dowd, the New York Times columnist who began an article with that Philly trope and likely learned Philly’s hard edge personally this week. Maur of Manhattan was – rightfully – put into Philly Twitter jail after her cringeworthy piece centering around an interview with Kate Winslet who plays the role of Mare Sheehan on “Mare of Easttown.”
The New York Times article manages to touch on almost every cliché and stereotype associated with Philly and its surrounding suburbs. The harshness of the area, hoagies, the wooder accent, jawns, and the snowball pelting at Santa incident are all referenced in a showy and unfitting way for a story that is categorized in the “Style” section. Dowd mentions and uses the stigmatizing, surface level, and popular term “badlands” to describe Kensington.
Even Winslet herself responded to a seemingly out of the blue rapid-fire true or false quiz pressed to her about whether she couldn’t stop reading about Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez. To which Winslet responded, “What? No! I’ve never read about Jennifer in my life. What are these questions?”
As a born and bred Philadelphian, I can say that Dowd isn’t unique in the use of jumping to the low hanging stereotypes to describe the area. Non-regional journalists and critics fall prey to mentioning cheesesteaks and the city’s passionate violence in their reports to the degree that it has become a meta-trope in itself.
Dowd’s piece is particularly infuriating because “Mare of Easttown” and Winslet’s character are blatantly not stereotypical, but they are regionally crafted with careful hands. I nearly collapsed when Evan Peters’ character asks Mare if she wants Wawa coffee in the morning. With the use of music from Philadelphia punk band Mannequin Pussy and a costume choice of a hoodie with the logo from the venue Kung Fu Necktie in Fishtown, my identity was spotlighted in a way no other major streaming show has done before.
On the other hand, I found no sensitivity or purpose in asking Winslet if she’s been to Kensington. Anyone from the tri-state could tell you Delaware County is not Kensington and that you can find prevalent opioid misuse in Delaware County, not just under the El.
Easter eggs aside, what makes “Mare of Easttown” so fruitful is the accurate portrayal of the duty Philadelphians and Delco denizens feel towards their communities. Duty as a talking point is completely left out of Dowd’s interview with Winslet, yet it is a crucial part of understanding Mare’s personality and the real region itself. I would want to get into Winslet’s head and question her on how it felt to catapult yourself into a role whose culture depends on decisions made because they owe it to those around them.
“Mare of Easttown” makes apparent that we do things not because we want to, but because we feel indebted to our community and to do right by it. Keeping it spoiler free, duty is why Mare had to do that thing with Lori. Sure, our forms of justice and duty are exhibited through complaining the whole time, putting people in their place, and sending Hitchbot back to Hell where he belongs. That ethos I suspect carried us to the polls (and mailboxes) in a pandemic in November 2020 and currently makes Philadelphia the second leading city on the continent in vaccination rates. The city has a form of civic duty that is unlike no other.
While I’m in Philadelphia, I’ll bitch about having to drop something off for an acquaintance of my mother’s, but when I’m gone, I deeply miss someone holding the door open for me in the Pan’s Labyrinth of entrances at Wawa. We’ll be there for each other, and we hate that we have to be.
Look, I’m not asking Dowd or any outsider for that to get a drink with me at Johnny Brenda’s next time they want to write an article about Philadelphia. Just next time inquire about the obvious. Sorry to be hard on you Maur, it’s just something I have to do.
Find me on Twitter @shealynkilroy