October 25, 2007

Ugladelphia is Better than Killadelphia

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 1:33 am by Justin Murphy

A recent survey by Travel & Leisure Magazine puts Philadelphia dead last in a ranking of American cities with respect to the attractiveness of its population. If the staff of this blog is anything of a sample population, then the T&L survey is obviously skewed. (OK, you’re right, we here at Landphil are clearly biased upward in sex appeal, true; scratch that). But really, almost all of my friends here in Philadelphia are good looking. Perhaps that calls into question what I really look for in a friend, but I doubt it–most of the people I particularly don’t care much for are also pretty good looking.

Now, I’m not interested in rejecting wholesale the methodology of the survey or in counter-hyping Philadelphia as the country’s sexiest city. But there are a few things worthy of mention. A few qualifications, with varying levels of seriousness and no necessary consistency with one another, should dampen the force of this survey’s conclusions:

(By the way, I found this on the front page of Buzzfeed.com, a website that gauges the most talked-about news on the interweb. Right, that means all of your too-cool friends in Brooklyn as well as that cousin in Des Moines are all seriously revising their estimation of you.)

1. It was an online survey on travelandleisure.com. Sounds to me like a HUGE self-selection bias: who the hell reads the Travel and Leisure website and has any interest in filling out stupid surveys? Let’s paint a picture to figure out who exactly is calling us ugly.

A.) To begin, we’re talking about people with a lot of leisure, and I don’t mean that tautologically with reference to the title of the magazine. I know that I don’t have time to look at pictures of pretty oceans and I definitely don’t have time to fill out surveys, even if they offer me that iPod. What do we know about people with this kind of leisure which is also known as “too much time on the hands”? Not much, but we can speculate: bourgeois for sure; middle class (or more precisely, wannabe upper-middle-class); probably very limited social life hence the magazine as substitute and survey as outlet for bitterness; and, most importantly, probably unattractive. No, really. Good looking people are too busy being good looking to spend hours ranking 25 cities in 8 damn categories. I mean, my god, that’s a lot of work; it is way too much work for anyone who, say, has a date to get ready for or something crazy like that. In sum, we’ve been convicted of ugliness by, yes, your mothers. Are any of you still offended?

B.) Really, though, the most laughably ironic element of the sampling bias is that the people who read those magazines are rarely even well-traveled. People who actually, say, go places, don’t have the time or need to read and gawk at pictures of them. On the contrary, the people who read those magazines and their websites are most often people who like to think of themselves and show themselves off as well-traveled and knowledgeable about other places. Actually, often, the magazine is specifically a compensation and even surrogate for the actual lack of first-hand experience! (I know anecdotal evidence is statistically taboo but my mom just got me a subscription to National Geographic Traveler and we’re very, very scarcely citizens of the world.) And who, at any rate, has ever been to every last one of those 25 cities on the list? What does this mean? It means, I would suggest, at least two things: First, for the questions dealing with things out-of-reach to the respondent for personal and not geographic reasons, I bet they would tend to answer on prejudice: “I’m older than dirt and I don’t go clubbing but I know they do that in Miami!” Second, since most people only really truly know about their own city or the one closest to them, I bet they tend to exaggerate favorably all the traits that are closer-to-hand: “I’ve never actually been to any of these other places but I know my nephew is undoubtedly the most handsome young man alive, and my daughter is rather cute too, therefore I think Charleston is strongly attractive.” I think some combination of these two are the only way to explain how Miami and San Diego can be followed by Charleston and Austin, to beat out both LA and New York. Not suspicious yet?

2. The questions asked respondents to rate each city 1-5, with 5 being the strongest. People don’t read directions, of course, so I’d hypothesize that when people rated the strength of a city from 1-5, they’d naturally put 1 to rate it very strongly. It is easy to see how Philadelphia landed least attractive; for the category “attractive,” a lot of people came to Philadelphia and thought: “#1!”

3. I would be willing to bet that even if Philadelphia does have the least attractive people, we could expect from this that its few attractive people would take on a more intense attractiveness than a city filled with pretty people. A diamond in the rough betrays a more intense beauty than it does when it is thrown into a pool of other diamonds. On a psychologico-aesthetic level I think this is good grounds for suggesting that Philadelphia’s attractive people, when one comes to Philadelphia, display the grandeur of Gods among men, whereas a brief stay in Miami would be akin to literally jumping in that pool of diamonds and removing the perspectival distance necessary for any appreciation at all.

4. If Philadelphia is so overwhelmingly unattractive, it is really easy to sort out the attractives from the unattractives. The diamond in the rough is still all-too-apt an example. If you live in one of those weirdly attractive cities, I bet it’s really easy to be tricked by an unattractive: You just assume that everyone’s hot! Perhaps in Philly the contrast makes for easier discernment, but also, one is just more on guard for the frauds.

5. If what they say about Philadelphia is true, I think that would tend to make the separate communities of attractive and unattractive more united and happy. In cities filled with hot people, you have to imagine the politics are really brutal. The hottest perpetually try to exile the not-as-hot and the not-as-hot constantly push out the getting-less-hot in a ruthless jockeying for position, while the few uglies backstab each other in any desperate attempt to join the majority. If Philadelphia has so many unattractive people, that is good for everyone: we lucky ones can be happy with each other in our mutual good fortune and the rest have so many others of equally poor endowments to keep them company.

Either the survey is methodologically bankrupt, or its good news at any rate. But rest assured because if you’re reading this you’re probably hot, anyway.



  1. salsa said,


  2. philipmatthews said,

    I don’t know, Justin, people where I live are pretty ugly. Pretty seriously ugly. And pregnant.

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