December 3rd, 2011 / 12:00 pm

Philadelphia Magazine vs. CA Conrad

There’s a lot of talk currently surrounding a recent article in Philadelphia Magazine and the public confrontation between the publication and CA Conrad.  In the magazine’s December “List” issue, the Philly mag devoted one list to things the city would be better off without, i.e. “10 Things We Need to Get Rid Of” (seemingly available in print only).  Included on the chopping block was the city’s long-running tradition of the Mummers Parade.  The Philadelphia poet disapproved, claiming that the Mummers was a street level, middle class event dear to the city, its history, and its people and that the magazine was exercising a characteristically elitist, classist, 1% attitude.  He first voiced his complaints on the Philadelphia Magazine Facebook page requesting they apologize to Mummers.  The magazine’s online editor eventually blocked him from commenting, which resulted in Conrad visiting the office to speak with the magazine personally and subsequently being removed by security.  You can begin to follow the story with the editor’s PR-ish letter on CA Conrad’s comments and behavior, then move to CA Conrad’s account of the event and his being escorted out of the office building.  I would also encourage you look at the comments made by the public on these articles and the action on the magazine’s Facebook page; the majority seems to be supporting Conrad.  Some are especially outraged that editor Tom McGrath (as a Philly culture editor) didn’t even know who CA Conrad was, or that the magazine would Facebook-flaunt that Conrad had been removed from their offices.

Personally, upon just hearing this story, I admire Conrad’s determination to voice his opinion, objecting to and requesting dialogue about the magazine’s choices.  His walk to the Philadelphia Magazine’s offices on behalf of a cultural tradition or group of people he values is a tangible, powerful act.  I like the artist like this, refusing to be safely contained as the Philadelphia Magazine attempted to do in denying Conrad visibility on Facebook or in an office, instead requesting he write an e-mail (which basically doesn’t exist in the public realm).  I think his choice solidifies the role of the artist or poet in his/her city.  He expanded the immediacy and impact of his voice by committing the physicality to back it.

But this event also raises a lot of questions for me about the responsibility of an artist or individual to their community, about the visibility or method of communication being given, taken, or denied here, etc.  I’d love some thoughts as this sinks in.


Katie Smither is an artist and writer living in Austin.  She works at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas and does a lot of things on the side, or strike that and reverse it.

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  1. Lincoln Michel

      Which one advances to the next round of the tournament? 

  2. Mike Young

      i really encourage people unfamiliar to click on the links Katie has provided here because the story as summarized is way more fussy and less fun if you don’t see CA’s awesome signature barrage of all-caps enthusiasm

  3. MJ

      Thats pretty funny.

  4. Mike Young

      also—i have no idea why i’m doing this (i don’t live in Philadelphia or anything) and i’m sorry for being a fussbudget, Katie (i’m going to get coffee in like ten minutes and will stop commenting after that)—but CA has consistently pointed out that the Mummers are a “working class” event, not a “middle class” one

  5. ...

      “And you want to know the real kicker? I happen to agree with Conrad on this. 100%. I love the Mummers Parade. I think it would be absurd to get rid of it. I agree with a lot of what he wrote on his blog. But since my blue collar parents taught me that the way to be heard is not to behave like a petulant 2-year old, I didn’t come storming into Philly Mag’s office demanding that my voice be heard like I was King of the city.”

  6. marshall

      I was gonna mention the “working class”/”middle class” thing, too. Thanks.

  7. christian

      i think it’s cool that you posted this, katie, and i don’t want to quibble too much, but i’m gonna point out that conrad was using the term “working class” rather than “middle class.” i just think it’s a distinction that needs to be made because middle class seems like a term that all americans like to apply to themselves. the mummers are distinctly and proudly blue collar, and that’s part of what makes the parade (and their year-round activites — they have their own clubhouses and shit) unique. and unique doesn’t really begin to describe what they’re up to. i live about a block from the parade route, and when i was buying my house, that fact was actually a selling point for me. 

  8. christian

      you guys beat me to it. 

  9. CAConrad

      Hi there, thank you for this.  It’s very important that I point out that I NEVER stormed into the office and acted out.  The truth is (call their office and ask the receptionist yourself) I’m well aware of the fact that nearly everyone working there was doing a job.  I was polite.  I sat and waited while the receptionist called into the back offices.  Not once did I yell or act like a 2 year old, as someone above suggests.

      They threw me out because they were FREAKED OUT that I had showed up as promised.  That’s all.  When security came, and the police, I walked out with them.  No one needed to cuff me or rough me up.  And when I showed them WHY I was there they were annoyed at the article.  They were as annoyed as I was, but said I had to leave the building just the same.  And I said that I understood, and walked out.

      But thank you for this thoughtful article about the situation!  I love poetry, Philadelphia, I love the mummers, and HTML GIANT!

  10. CAConrad

      Oh, and after being thrown out (walked out really) I went to the Mummers Museum to show them the article.  This is the sort of thing that hurts people.  People who work VERY HARD for a living at various jobs, then work nights making costumes and rehearsing songs for the Mummers Parade.

      When the Mummers Parade first began in Philadelphia over a century ago the different clubs named themselves after their cargo from the loading docks.  Stevedores in string band brigades named ORANGES, or whatever.  It’s an amazing history.  Not a perfect history of course as it was not open to women or people of color in the beginning.  That’s been corrected.  And now queers are part of it, HELL EVERYONE CAN BE PART OF IT NOW.  It’s pretty amazing.

  11. Anonymous

      It could be an episode of It’s Always Sunny. “The Gang Goes to the Mummers Parade”

  12. Anonymous

      And also, I support what you’re doing CA, defending a significant part of Philly history that you care about. Respect fro Wichita KS. And, also, your poetry’ s the fucking shit.

  13. deadgod

      Yes, kind of; this is from the comment “Johnny” posted to the thread at the “editor’s PR-ish letter” link in this blogicle.  (I didn’t find that blogicle PR-ish; I think it’s cleverly and humorously obnoxious–as I suppose the original list of ‘ten things Philly would be better off without’ was meant to be.)

      Below, CAConrad – it sounds like him – says, as he does at his site, linked to above, that he didn’t storm into the office and throw a tantrum.  –so why not listen to him make his case in person?

      But the editors of the fishwrap can reasonably say that the Facebook ‘person’ did act unmanageably irrationally, and that’s what they were persuaded was waiting for them in the reception area of their place of business.  It’s a couple of decades now since offices with Calders in the reception area have armored themselves against the world, no?  Neither the Facebook blocking nor the security escort out the building is a shocker – or even an “outrage”.

      The sneer that CAConrad’s so angry about?  The working class people I know have pretty sturdy senses of humor.  Some teabag-stained birdcage liner wants to pause their accumulation rationalization and mock a parade whose history the swells would only recognize in Little Dorrit‘s description of Marshalsea??  Bah.

      Maybe the Mummers could make this shitty “magazine” the focus of some parade attention?

      –and maybe something like that is CAConrad’s goal.  Demand an “apology”??  Ha ha.

  14. Troyweav

      Ditto Jackson!!! Shit, Wichita is in the house today!

  15. db

      The parade is fun and all, but when it finishes it turns into drunk bros looking for a fight. 

  16. christian

      the mummers obviously weren’t threatened by the article (which i haven’t read), and they don’t directly need conrad to defend them, but i think, from the context, it’s pretty clear that conrad is making a larger point, and one that does need making from time to time. part of the point is that the mummers contribute a lot to the city’s character (which, it’s clear to anyone who spends any time here, is working class). conrad is also a part of the city’s character. and the magazine’s suggestion that they didn’t know about him or his m.o. is either complete bullshit or shows how completely out of touch with the city they are. beyond the fact that he’s really active in poetry and activism, he was on the cover of both of the city’s weeklies in the last year. so he’s pointing out that the magazine is misrepresenting its namesake. you can imply he’s blowing things out of proportion (de gustibus), but his actions and rhetoric are consistent with his identification with the community, which is both a social and aesthetic stance. i don’t always agree with conrad, but i think we should replace our rocky statue with one of him.

  17. DeseanJacksonPunkAss

      Sounds like CA Conrad has more fight than his hometown Eagles.  The demise of Philly–the football team–couldn’t happen to a shittier, more pathetic fanbase. Sorry for the hijack, but enjoy that trophy-less case, Iggle fans!

  18. Leapsloth14

      Fuck the Eagles. All exterior gloss, no inner significance. Go Titans.

  19. Chappy

      I’d agree, but [leaves] prevent me.

  20. Katie Smither

      Yeah, well done Lincoln.

  21. Katie Smither

      Very true, I completely agree.  I slipped to the default “middle class” phrase in my rush to get the story out, and you’re right, working class is more accurate.  Thanks for catching it!  You guys are all on your game.

  22. Katie Smither

      Hey CA, thanks for weighing in.  It’s an interesting story you’ve got bubbling up there.  I think it’s already sparked a lot of truly valuable conversation and caused people to throw around some worthwhile debate.
      (And I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting Philly, but I love poetry and lit on the internet too.)

  23. Don

      Go Bengals!

  24. shaun gannon

      i am mad at my roommate

  25. Ben Pease

      Tom McGrath seems obsessed with anyone who criticizes him or his magazine, but he has confused outspoken criticism with confirmation of how awesome he is. While he quotes CA any chance he gets, he has little interest in actually responding to the claims. Instead, the point he hopes to make is that his intellect is superior, if he doesn’t know somebody, they aren’t important, and if someone disagrees with him, it doesn’t matter. Only an edgy, worthwhile magazine would have people respond in a manner such as CA’s, so any response after the fact is besides the point.  /boggle

  26. Brenda Kwang

      Plato banished the poet from the city* but, beautiful, gifted, and righteous as always, CAConrad powerfully re-inscribes the poet into the fabric of civic affairs where s/he has always belonged.


  27. Todd Colby

      Right on, CA!

  28. Anonymous

  29. deadgod

      Wow–that’s a great article. 

      Yoshino makes an excellent case for Plato’s rehabilitation as an fiendishly ironic literary defender of “poetry” in the community, when he (?) indicates

      the most subversive point of all–that the Socrates who banishes the imitative poet is himself nothing more than the imitative poet Plato pretending to be the historical Socrates.  If Plato were truly to banish all imitative poets from the city, he would have to banish himself.

      Likewise, Yoshino (much later) states the major – and almost always unrecognized –

      virtue of the Platonic [functionalist] paradigm–it channels politics where it should be channeled.  It reveals that we [lovers of Platonic irony] do not have political objections to literature per se.  We have political objections to objectionable politics.

      Yoshino’s conclusion would fly in the face of lazy, careless ‘Plato’ debunkery:

      Far from being an enemy of poetry, Plato should be seen as its most pragmatic advocate.

      [I also liked Stevens being quoted, footnoted, and control-remoted.]

  30. Anonymous

  31. Anonymous

  32. Anonymous

  33. Brenda Kwang

      Indeed. Kenji Yoshino brilliantly shows that Plato’s banishment of the poet must be considered in light of his simultaneous championing of the poet’s role in civic affairs.

  34. deadgod

      When Plato is read without a careful but constant eye for irony, he’s not being read at all, is he?  I don’t mean that every principle and argument that the character Socrates commits himself to is a lie; for example, the immortality of the soul and the reality of moral virtue aren’t ironic commitments.  –but his oppositions to writing, to poetry, and to ‘democracy’ are all opposed dramatically (and as a result of Plato’s literary art), in my view.

  35. My Daily Tweets 12.06.11 « memoirs on a rainy day

      […] CAConrad was ejected from the @phillymag offices. Why? ( 5 […]

  36. HarryHarper

      Born and raised in Philly but have not lived there since 1973. Even so, I can not imagine New Years without the Mummers strutting their stuff. For quite a while, I was able to catch it on Chicago’s WOR but I think they stopped broadcasting it a few years back. Hope to be back in PA early next year and, God willing, I’m going to bring the grandkids over to Philly for the parade. It’s a wonderful, nostalgic tradition that needs to be preserved. 

  37. Brenda Kwang

      Maybe you should consider giving it a rest. As I already said, Plato critiqued the poet’s civic experience in works like The Republic and also championed the poet too in other works. I know you want to show your brilliant and intelligent readings of Platonic irony, but I wouldn’t have linked to Yoshino’s article as a qualification, critique and expansion of my quip if I didn’t well understand the complexity of Plato’s understanding of the poet’s role. Even while acknowledging this complexity across multiple works, Plato did very much banish the poet at one point, but not in entirety. Your manufactured debate here is very graduate school prior to reach AbD.

  38. deadgod

      Consider giving what a rest, Brenda?  I think Yoshino’s essay is superb, and quote it to that effect.  You agree, summarizing the theme of the piece.  I suggest that Yoshino’s reading of Platonic irony in the case of Socrates’s claim of opposition to poetry is along the lines of Plato’s dramatic irony generally.  I “show” no “readings” of Platonic irony–have a look at Yoshino’s essay to see what such a thing sometimes looks like–, nor did I “manufacture” any “debate”.

      Maybe you should consider giving your “critique” an upgrade.

  39. 2011: The Year in Broken Windows

      […] In the December 2011 issue of Philadelphia Magazine, there was a list printed on Page 72 with the heading which read THINGS WE NEED TO GET RID OF. Among the items listed? The Mummers. Poet CA Conrad went onto Philadelphia Magazine‘s Facebook page and demanded that it write a letter of apology. There was no response. He kept writing. He was blocked from the site. So Conrad went to the magazine’s office in person. He was polite. He did not yell. He asked to speak with the online editor. He was told no one was in. Nobody had the courage to talk with him. Instead, the Philadelphia Magazine receptionist called the police. “The truth is that they were embarrassed by what I was saying,” wrote Canto on his blog. “And they gloated over my removal from the office on Face Book. Oh, and while I was being escorted OUT, one of the magazine’s enforcers said that I was to be arrested if I ever stepped foot inside the building again. NICE!” (I learned of this story from HTML Giant.) […]