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Observations From 20 Years of Iowa Life
December 13, 2011 9:04 PM   Subscribe

“Those who stay in rural Iowa are often the elderly waiting to die, those too timid (or lacking in educated) to peer around the bend for better opportunities, an assortment of waste-toids and meth addicts with pale skin and rotted teeth, or those who quixotically believe, like Little Orphan Annie, that ‘The sun’ll come out tomorrow.’”

Just ahead of the Iowa Caucus, New Jersey native turned University of Iowa Professor Stephen Bloom has published a piece in The Atlantic that has caused quite a stir in the heartland. The piece, which is very critical of the Hawkeye State and her inhabitants, has a lot of Iowans on the defensive, with one article calling Bloom the "Michelangelo of hick-punching." Stephens has said the "feedback has been frightening," but he stands by his story. Perhaps a 1971 Harper's piece on Iowa captures the state with a bit more nuance.
posted by Lutoslawski (134 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Iowa is one of the nicer places in the States, all my best largely gay collectively owned ham and bacon products comes from there.
posted by The Whelk at 9:14 PM on December 13, 2011 [6 favorites]


stuckey's
posted by telstar at 9:14 PM on December 13, 2011


Oh shit, we're supposed to punch hicks now? I've been punching hippies.
posted by XMLicious at 9:15 PM on December 13, 2011


For someone just asking questions that's a lot of declarative sentences.
posted by michaelh at 9:17 PM on December 13, 2011


Well gee Mr Bloom, thanks for offering us yet another tired and well worn I-am-from-the-East-and-we-know-better attitude schlock pieces. I think I heard this same rant from other coasters say, hmmm...about 50,000 times before?

What is next...."The Sky Isn't So Blue When It Rains In Iowa"?

Seriously, though, I get it that Iowa is not the bucolic land of everything good as it was a one time. But this piece sheds no new insight on a topic that has been joked about and hashed out by east coasters for years.
posted by lampshade at 9:24 PM on December 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


If I still lived in the states I know I'd move to Iowa City in a heartbeat. Fuck this asshole.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 9:26 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


a whole lot of that could also be said about Indiana.
posted by ninjew at 9:29 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


You've got to hand it to him: he knows exactly the stereotypes to string together if you want to get published in The Atlantic.
posted by craichead at 9:29 PM on December 13, 2011 [16 favorites]


Pick a little, talk a little
Pick a little, talk a little
cheep cheep cheep
Talk a lot, pick a little more
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:30 PM on December 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


also, megan mcardle
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 9:31 PM on December 13, 2011


he knows exactly the stereotypes to string together

Sadder yet, he is a prof of journalism and teaching people how to write this way. Heckuva job Bloomie.
posted by lampshade at 9:35 PM on December 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Christ, what an asshole.
posted by iamabot at 9:36 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Seriously, lived there for 7 years. Where he lives. Dude doesn't know shit.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:37 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Iowa is one of the nicer places in the States, all my best largely gay collectively owned ham and bacon products comes from there.

La Quercia I'm assuming? Great stuff, they sell it in NYC, which is a reflection of how unusually good the company is IMHO. Not many producers of quality charcuterie in the US.
posted by melissam at 9:37 PM on December 13, 2011



Iowa is weird.

On Christmas day 1993, I rolled through Iowa on my way back to OKC from Duluth. On I35 somewhere past Des Moines, at every mile marker, on the marker, for roughly 40 miles, someone had placed a dead kitten.

A few months later, on a trip the other direction I broke an alternator belt around midnight somewhere in the middle of nowhere Iowa along I35. I walked to the nearest farmhouse where I cut off a length of clothesline and fashioned a replacement belt from it.

Later that night, at the Perkins in Des Moines, I had a drunk teenager in a "Gods Gym" tshirt randomly tell me I need to quit the drugs and get right with the lord or suffer an eternity in hell. I haven't taken NoDoz since. That was a long night.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:39 PM on December 13, 2011 [19 favorites]


from article: “For better or worse, Iowa's the place where that greased pig gets generally gets grabbed first.”

You may notice that are too many gets in this sentence. I have a feeling one of them is the get that wrote the piece.
posted by koeselitz at 9:39 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yes, the primacy of the Iowa Caucus is obscenely undemocratic. But that is not because Iowa is populated by ape-like troglodytes
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 9:39 PM on December 13, 2011 [6 favorites]


He had me interested until he talked about lecturing to his students that "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Easter" weren't appropriate greetings. If Iowa is as homogeneously white and Christian as he claims in the article, his point is without merit.

That being said, to this downstate Illinois resident this part made me smile:

Indoor parking lots are ramps, soda is pop, lollipops are suckers, grocery bags are sacks, weeds are volunteers, miniature golf is putt-putt, supper is never to be confused with dinner, cellars and basements are totally different places, and boys under the age of 16 are commonly referred to as "Bud." Almost every Iowa house has a mudroom, so you don't track mud or pig shit into the kitchen or living room

Except we do use "soda" where I'm from.
posted by sbutler at 9:41 PM on December 13, 2011


This guy's kind-of an asshole about agriculture and the alleged stupidity of those around him for someone at a publicly-funded land grant university. NOBODY'S MAKING YOU WORK THERE, JERK.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:42 PM on December 13, 2011 [5 favorites]




Eyebrows McGee: “NOBODY'S MAKING YOU WORK THERE, JERK.”

What was he going to do – go back to New Jersey?
posted by koeselitz at 9:52 PM on December 13, 2011 [6 favorites]


No, actually; indoor parking lots are NOT "ramps." They may be ramps here in Wisconsin, but for the last three years I have had to deal with my Cedar Rapids-native husband (and Iowa City aunt and family) calling them "parkades."

"They don't really have indoor parking lots in Iowa," he says.
posted by Madamina at 9:53 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


"He had me interested until he talked about lecturing to his students that "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Easter" weren't appropriate greetings. If Iowa is as homogeneously white and Christian as he claims in the article, his point is without merit."

He also talks about how everybody knows everybody, so who are these strangers they're greeting? But from experience, what happens is you say, "Oh, I'm Jewish," and your new friend who knows only vaguely of Judaism from sitcoms says, "Like Hannukah?" and you say, "Yeah," and your new Iowan friend now buys 120 Christmas cards AND ONE HANNUKAH CARD because they want to make sure you feel welcome and they don't want to make you feel weird by wishing you the wrong thing and then they research kosher food even though you're not kosher and they bring you latkes and remember to wish you a joyful Tu B'Shevat and you forgot it was Tu B'Shevat because seriously who even celebrates that and now do you have to pretend you don't eat bacon?

And then you will overhear them, when someone says, "Well, I'm not sure how I feel about those Jews ..." responding, "Oh, I know this guy? He's Jewish, and he's totally normal, and there are these things called latkes? So delicious. Anyway, they're just like everybody else, he was telling me about the chuppah at his wedding, did you see that on Gilmore Girls?"

Substitute any minority religion you like, it works the same. (A lesbian Pagan friend of mine was consistently amused by how her neighbors would go out of their way to mention how they were totally cool if she wanted to be skyclad, it wouldn't be any bother at all, it does seem a little cold for it but we'll make sure nobody hassles you, and how should we address your invitations to the PTA event, Mrs. and Mrs.? Ms. and Ms.?) There's some cluelessness in it sometimes, sure, but underneath it is a desire to be kind and inclusive and to understand one's neighbors. Which is more than can be said for a lot of clueless people.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:55 PM on December 13, 2011 [103 favorites]


Indoor parking lots are ramps, soda is pop, lollipops are suckers, grocery bags are sacks, weeds are volunteers, miniature golf is putt-putt, supper is never to be confused with dinner, cellars and basements are totally different places, and boys under the age of 16 are commonly referred to as "Bud." Almost every Iowa house has a mudroom, so you don't track mud or pig shit into the kitchen or living room

These sentences are so familiar and so painfully clichéd that I feel like if this dude hasn't written them before, in more or less this order, someone surely has.

Rural America has always been homogenous, as white as the milk the millions of Holstein cows here produce.

If I were raising this eyebrow any harder I'd be risking some sort of injury.
posted by brennen at 10:00 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


But...labradors are hunting dogs, aren't they?

You live in a place where you admit that hunting is the predominant pastime. And you are criticising people for assuming that you hunt with your hunting dog?

I thought the article was well written, but this guy is a dick.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:04 PM on December 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Rural America has always been white? Huh, I guess he missed the Southwest. And the Southeast.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:09 PM on December 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


and wow, I am shocked at the mistakes in that article. "lacking in educated"?
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:16 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I spent some time in Iowa in the lead-up to the 08 caucuses and seriously loved every minute of it. I came away with the feeling that Iowans are, on the whole, pretty wonderful people. Really warm, welcoming, educated about the issues, seemed to take their responsibility very seriously. I don't really think any group of people that small should have such a large hand in picking our president, but at least Iowans seem to wield that power responsibly.
posted by lunasol at 10:17 PM on December 13, 2011


INFOPOINT: about to fall asleep at Occupydesmoines. We've built a small encampment in a former gang-controlled park with drifters, hipsters, and farmers. There's an incredible diversity at this camp that previous to my involvement I never knew existed in my backyard. I wonder if Prof Bloom has met any real people or just the strawman retirement home.
posted by Homeskillet Freshy Fresh at 10:19 PM on December 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


Um... what is the difference between a cellar and a basement?
posted by davidjmcgee at 10:19 PM on December 13, 2011


Um... what is the difference between a cellar and a basement?

Basement has inside access, cellar outside access. And their functions are probably different. Cellar = storage of canned goods, basement = Christmas decorations.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:22 PM on December 13, 2011 [15 favorites]


I'm guessing a cellar would be smaller, maybe one room, and used mainly for storage. A basement will often be nearly the same size as the main floor of a house, sometimes fully "finished", i.e., as livable as any other floor of the house.
posted by -jf- at 10:24 PM on December 13, 2011


A cellar is a storage room and/or tornado shelter accessible from the outside of the house. A basement is a lower-level room with shag carpet and a fake neon beer sign accessible from inside the house. Cellars are for storing potatoes, onions and marijuana. Basements are for booze and meth.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:26 PM on December 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


Yeah, Lutoslawski pretty well has it, I think. In Kansas & Nebraska, anyway, "cellar" tends to have the flavor of an archaic usage and in the country often refers to something that predates the current house. You hear "storm cellar" a lot too, which implies something with an outside entrance you'd head for in bad weather, especially if there's not a basement directly under the house.

This piece is just rife with tone-deaf off-by-just-a-bit-too-much takes on language, usage, and culture.
posted by brennen at 10:28 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I saw an observation on another board that it's awfully interesting that suddenly the hit pieces about Iowa's ability to pick Presidential candidates are showing up, right when Ron Paul is looking like he might win there.
posted by Malor at 10:29 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Who cooks corn al dente?
posted by RogerB at 10:34 PM on December 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Iowa is the source for Leslie Hall. Everything else is forgiven because of her.
posted by hippybear at 10:36 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Plus, like others have already observed in this thread, The Music Man is a pretty (I hear) accurate source for Iowa attitude. Iowa Stubborn is actually a strong statement about community support coupled with mistrust of itinerant strangers, which isn't actually a bad way to live IMO.
posted by hippybear at 10:39 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


I grew up in Iowa. In total I spent somewhere around 24 years there. I don't think this guy lives in Iowa so much as he lives in his imagination. Which sometimes resembles Iowa, sometimes not.

A few of Bloom's not-true-isms:

Iowans say "Whaddaya expect from a Harvard-educated, black city slicker who wouldn't know a John Deere tractor from an International Harvester combine?"

I first heard the term "city slicker" from the Billy Crystal movie. I have never heard that term used in Iowa except ironically.

Indoor parking lots are ramps, soda is pop, ...

What follows is two paragraphs of WTF. As far as I know, soda is almost always called pop, but weeds are occasionally called volunteers (this is used more for unwanted corn), and miniature golf is sometimes putt-putt. "Almost every house has a mudroom"? False. "Boys under the age of 16 are commonly referred to as 'Bud'"? Not all that common. "The aroma of pig shit is absolutely venerated in Iowa"? WTF? "It's known to one and all here as 'the smell of money.'" Seriously, WTF?

Rules peculiar to rural Iowa that I've learned are hard and fast, seldom broken: Backdoors are how you always go into someone's house.

Always? No. Not even common as far as I know.

Everyone loves Red Waldorf cake.

First I've heard of it.

The graduating classes of most rural high schools are so small that an Iowa tradition calls for silk-screened T-shirts with the names of all classmates on the back.

First I've heard of it.

Anyway, I'm sure these things are all true to some extent, but they are not as universally Iowan as he claims.

Also, does the Atlantic have proofreaders? Some errata from the second half of the article:

or lacking in educated
hallowed-out
I still not quite sure
But if you listen closely, though
what had had happened
Flyover County
[he means Flyover Country]
posted by -jf- at 10:40 PM on December 13, 2011 [12 favorites]


So the consensus is that he doesn't know the territory?
posted by villanelles at dawn at 10:40 PM on December 13, 2011 [19 favorites]


As far as I know, soda is almost always called pop

No! Soda is soda in some places, pop in other places (midwest... my Ohio relatives call all carbonated soft drinks "pop")... Where I grew up in southern New Mexico, it was all Coke.

"You wanna coke?"
"Sure."
"What kind?"
"Pepsi"

was a regular exchange during my upbringing.
posted by hippybear at 10:44 PM on December 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yeah, but we're talking about Iowa.
And even within Iowa, I was talking about "as far as I know".
posted by -jf- at 10:46 PM on December 13, 2011


The graduating classes of most rural high schools are so small that an Iowa tradition calls for silk-screened T-shirts with the names of all classmates on the back.

*heh* The German Club at my high school (3 year school, my graduating class was over 600) had all the members' names on its annual t-shirt.

It's a bit different, but it brings back excellent memories.

I still have those t-shirts. 25 years on, I should see if they still fit.
posted by hippybear at 10:49 PM on December 13, 2011


What, no Slipknot?
posted by bardic at 10:59 PM on December 13, 2011


"It's known to one and all here as 'the smell of money.'"

"Smells like money" is a fairly common phrase where my folks are at, ~30 miles on the Nebraska side of the border, and I'm pretty sure I've heard it in Iowa. It's always a wry comment on the fact that big feedlot operations are all kinds of profitable, in addition to being pretty horrifying all around.

Which is to say that's aware of its context in a way that this essay is profoundly not.

I'll stop now. I'm sure the pile-on doesn't need my help to proceed, and lord knows I personally have talked enough shit about rural America in my lifetime. I'd just like to think that I hold myself to a higher standard of shit-talking, and I'd like to think that others might make the same effort. Especially when they're going at it by way of "explaining" a place...
posted by brennen at 11:02 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm actually glad to read everyone's defense of Iowa because my sole source of information on it is from my cousin who moved there to start his own lord's family (getting up towards 10 now!) and generally give over his brain to the extreme weirdness that is GOP-Christianity. Michelle Bachmann's virtues are extolled regularly, and anything wrong, down to ill-fitting shoes, is Obama's fault, probably because he's a gay-loving, abortion-providing Muslim, or something (paraphrased).
posted by small_ruminant at 11:08 PM on December 13, 2011


Once again I am glad to have been an English major at the U of I and not a journalism major, if this is what the output looks like. (There are other schools in the state as well, some misguided souls actually cheer for the Iowa State Cyclones, for example.)

The export of young people, that I recognize as I did the exact same thing, but a lot of the rest of this feels like the after-effects of smoking ditchweed. The state a great place to grow up, but opportunities are few and far between. But the rest of this article? I can't quite figure out what it really wants to be. Obvious things (the state slogan "Our liberties we prize, our rights we will maintain", fireman's pancake breakfasts, the majesty of tenderloin sandwiches, the sheer awesome that is the Happy Joe Special pizza) are left out, to be replaced by an inaccurate list of local vocabulary. Not even the obligatory mention of Grant Wood? For shame. Sloppy research. (Then again, given the state of journalism in this country, I should not be surprised.)
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 11:21 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I suppose I should first give a disclaimer, I worked on a book with Bloom. Yes, he's a dick.

Iowa City and the University in particular, has a perverse fascination with imported "Yankees" who come in and sneer at our "provincial" ways. There is something particularly odd about how outsiders (even those who consider themselves insiders through long time exposure) express their prejudices, that helps us define ourselves as NOT full of dickery like Bloom.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:24 PM on December 13, 2011 [6 favorites]


christ.

grant wood painted this state with more nuance.
posted by One Thousand and One at 11:29 PM on December 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Once again I am glad to have been an English major at the U of I and not a journalism major, if this is what the output looks like.

Well actually, at one time, the U of I J School was considered one of the best in the country. But that was a long time ago, back in the 70s when J students wanted to be either Woodward and Bernstein, or a "New Journalism" writer like Tom Wolfe or Hunter Thompson. Recently I met a J student, I asked her who were her role models. She said she idolized Diane Sawyer. I asked her if she knew that Sawyer worked in the Nixon administration. She did not know that, but it didn't bother her since she was a Republican (and she didn't seem to even know who Nixon was). She just liked Sawyer from her work on "Good Morning America." Sheesh.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:33 PM on December 13, 2011


Hiya. I'm one of those young adults who grew up in Iowa (Des Moines), moved out for college, and have had the great fortune to live in two great American cities (first Washington, DC; currently Seattle).

Lots of the economics in the article are correct, albeit trite. Farmland in the state is increasingly owned by corporate farmers, who are hiring legal or illegal migrant workers to keep labor costs low. Some of the highest paying employment in rural communities is in casinos. The population is getting older much faster than it's getting younger, with a worrisome unavailability of health care.

The cultural and political points are, as lots of folks have pointed out, so far out of the general context of the state it's kind of stunning this got published. First, to all this griping about Iowa's supposedly rampant conservatism, it's worth noting the state went Obama in 2008, Gore in 2000 and Clinton in 1996 and 1992. That's four of the last five presidential contests for Democrats. Further, for all the legitimate faulting of the caucus process and its lack of diversity, Iowans picked Obama at a time when most of the country thought a black guy couldn't win an election. Nobody holds a gun to the rest of the country's head and forces them to care about only the candidates that do well in Iowa and get its (relatively small number of) electors. It's the rest of the country that does that.

Even the stuff about "crazy farmers" could have used a ton more nuance. Sure, pig shit's really distasteful, but using it for fertilizer is also both economically and environmentally friendly, much more so than the compost bins Seattle's local restaurants seem to offer as the faintest headnod towards doing our part. Most of the expressions he uses are not only completely absent in Iowa's urban areas, they don't stick well with most of the rural folks I've met. In addition to all the rural crazies Bloom finds, rural areas tend to also attract folks who are pretty sane but also pretty quiet. The problem with documenting the lives of quiet people, of course, is that they're not instantly eager to tell you how quiet and sane they are.

The big lesson for me moving around is that every population has all kinds of situations and people. I moved out of Iowa because I wanted to live in urban communities that were dense and walkable, which much of Des Moines isn't. While I live in a great neighborhood in Seattle, lots of neighborhoods are as spread out and difficult to navigate as Des Moines is (if not worse), and eastern Washington state has a rural population similar to the rest of Iowa's. Yeah, the conservative Christians in Iowa sure are crazy, but so are conservative Christians most places, including Seattle's "hipster pastor" Marc Driscoll who (among a many other crazy things) thinks short hair on women is a failure to be appropriately wife-y. Some people say pop and some people say soda and everyone thinks the other person is doing it wrong. All over America, in other words, the economy pretty much sucks, there's a mixture of reasonable people and crazy people, and just about everyone is trying to do right by their communities, their families and themselves. Maximizing differences other than those strikes me as controversy-baiting.
posted by Apropos of Something at 11:40 PM on December 13, 2011 [27 favorites]


grant wood painted the state with a hell of a lot of nuance, if by nuance you mean homoerotic subtext.

i have been to des moines once, it has an amazing art gallery, some great food, and the nicest people i have ever met. i want to go to iowa city, soon.
posted by PinkMoose at 11:40 PM on December 13, 2011


Oh, and did anybody notice the not-so-subtle racial slur against first Latino migrant workers then Chinese international students who "don't know English that well"?
posted by Apropos of Something at 11:43 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Iowa is pronounced "I owe whaaa??" and thus exceptionally suited to represent the over-extended credit-dependent nature of modern America.
posted by twoleftfeet at 11:58 PM on December 13, 2011


From the article: "Indoor parking lots are ramps, soda is pop, lollipops are suckers, grocery bags are sacks, weeds are volunteers, miniature golf is putt-putt, supper is never to be confused with dinner, cellars and basements are totally different places, and boys under the age of 16 are commonly referred to as "Bud."

I've spent a great deal of time in Iowa. I (mostly) grew up there. I still make it back once a year to see family. I get the sense this author is drawing a convenient caricature of Iowa to get some publicity. For example, how could one claiming such a nuanced perspective not include the tendency of Iowans south of I-80 to say "warsh" instead of "wash"?

Oh, and no one every called me "Bud".
posted by quadog at 11:59 PM on December 13, 2011


For all this guy's fetishization of the rural Iowan, he ought to write scripts for Prairie Home Companion.

I grew up and currently live in Iowa City, and as much as I try to act like a woman of the world, I still call the Interstate the Interstate. I don't have a mud room but I do eat a brat (for you non-Iowans, that's short for bratwurst) once or twice a year. Y'all should visit and I can show you some redneck Iowa things like turning without signaling and getting gay married.
posted by thirteenkiller at 12:04 AM on December 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


the tendency of Iowans south of I-80 to say "warsh" instead of "wash"?

Exactly. There's not enough of that talk in Warshington.
posted by twoleftfeet at 12:04 AM on December 14, 2011


Lutoslawski, thank you for the link to the 1971 essay on Iowa by Laurence Lafore. It's a considerably better read and both more thorough and less caricatured a cultural description.

If Stephen Bloom had a thesis beyond "check out these rubes — can you believe we let them vote," it was buried. I almost couldn't believe he's been in Iowa for twenty years. His personal observations reminded me of what you might get from a fresh college grad who's spending nine months teaching English in Asia: a mix of confused generalizations and provincial marveling at local banalities that, rather than assuring you of the writer's being embedded in the local culture, serves to emphasize just how much of a detached tourist they really are.
posted by hat at 12:09 AM on December 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh, and did anybody notice the not-so-subtle racial slur against first Latino migrant workers then Chinese international students who "don't know English that well"?

That is Bloom's shtick. He writes books like "Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America," about how Hasidic Jews set up a kosher meat packing plant in Iowa and then imported undocumented Mexican and Serbian workers to run it, and then the Feds busted it and everyone went to jail. But that doesn't stop Bloom from blaming Iowans for everything, because they were intolerant of these outsiders (justifiably, it turned out).

I think Bloom is the kind of person that when he was a kid, he would have put a centipede and some ants in a glass jar, shook it up, and then enjoyed watching them fight it out.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:11 AM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hmm, I'm from a Iowa, let me see what this guy has to say.
On January 3, Iowans will trudge through snow, sleet, sludge, ice, gale-force blizzards -- whatever it takes -- to join their neighbors that evening in 1,784 living rooms, community halls, recreation centers, and public-school gymnasiums in a kind of bygone-era town-hall meeting at which they'll eat and debate, and then vote for presidential candidates along party lines. Chat 'n' Chews, they are called.
What the fuck is this guy talking about? There isn't any food at caucuses, and they are typically pretty huge. I've never heard of anything called a "Chat 'n' Chew"

Interestingly at least for the democrats they were perpetually getting larger. The one for gore/bradly(?) in 2000 had maybe 50 people. In '04 there were over a hundred I think, and in 2008 it seemed like maybe two or three hundred people.
Obama might have been wrong for telling the truth, which seldom happens in politics, but the future president was 100-percent accurate when he let slip his comments on the absolute and utter desperation in America's hollowed-out middle, in particular in the state where I live.
The quote was after the Iowa Primary, I think it was about Indiana or some of those rust-belt areas on the east coast. I suppose it's reasonable to infer he might mean Iowa republicans, but who knows.
Indoor parking lots are ramps, soda is pop, lollipops are suckers, grocery bags are sacks, weeds are volunteers, miniature golf is putt-putt, supper is never to be confused with dinner, cellars and basements are totally different places, and boys under the age of 16 are commonly referred to as "Bud." Almost every Iowa house has a mudroom, so you don't track mud or pig shit into the kitchen or living room, even though the aroma of pig shit is absolutely venerated in Iowa: It's known to one and all here as "the smell of money."
Other then pop and maybe the thing about parking ramps and maybe cellars this is complete B.S, at least in moderately urban areas. I've never heard of a mudroom before and no one called anyone "bud" (but that could simply be the difference between Iowa City/ Cedar rapids and the greater Des Moines area.). Also where I'm from we don't call I-80 "the interstate" because it took 40 minutes to get there on I35.

I've never heard anyone say anything nice about the smell of pig shit and the factory farms that smell the worst were fairly controversial.

(also I've never heard the term 'parkades' – sounds like a family in-joke to me)
Iowa is the source for Leslie Hall. Everything else is forgiven because of her.
My sister was friends with her in highschool.
posted by delmoi at 12:22 AM on December 14, 2011


INFOPOINT: about to fall asleep at Occupydesmoines. We've built a small encampment in a former gang-controlled park with drifters, hipsters, and farmers. There's an incredible diversity at this camp that previous to my involvement I never knew existed in my backyard. I wonder if Prof Bloom has met any real people or just the strawman retirement home.

Rylo? :D
posted by flotson at 12:49 AM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


college professor listens to his disaffected students who are planning on leaving their hometowns and thinks he's got an accurate picture of those hometowns
posted by pyramid termite at 2:41 AM on December 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


No one here wants to touch the meth thing huh?
posted by spitbull at 3:12 AM on December 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Fella's jealous 'cos he had to grow up in New Jersey.
posted by tommyD at 3:36 AM on December 14, 2011


Stereotype: people from New Jersey are jerks...
posted by MNDZ at 4:02 AM on December 14, 2011


I mean I agree, he is a jerk
posted by MNDZ at 4:03 AM on December 14, 2011


I had a mudroom growing up, but I'm from Upstate New York. Just about no one else I've ever met had a mudroom. It's weird seeing them get brought up as an Iowa thing, just as it's also weird to have actual Iowans testify that they've never heard of mudrooms.

Something something Slipknot something. This guy is a douche.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:42 AM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I find myself most intrigued at the notion of Tatertot casseroles. How have I never heard of this before?

Oh and Grant Wood painted with tons of nuance, even as he went far out of his way to cultivate the "simple farmboy painting simple pictures" bullshit. Seriously. Read any book about him. The closeted homosexuality is just one nuance, covered exceptionally well in Doug Ireland's review of Tripp Evans' Grant Wood: A Life.
posted by mediareport at 5:24 AM on December 14, 2011


Fabulous defense of the joys of living in Iowa.

How many of you actually still live there?

Or is it just the idyllic vision of the past that forms the basis for your comments?
posted by mygoditsbob at 5:35 AM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is a guy from the state that gave us "MTV's Jersey Shore" and ripper-dogs, right? The same state that's got both Camden and Atlantic City in it?

Oh, I see, he thinks he's a New Yorker. Cute.

New Yorkers show up, whine about the place they're staying, hit every tourist trap in town to compare it unfavorably with the places back home, and consider themselves an expert in the area because they read the tour pamphlet from a hotel lobby. These are people who moved into the area from NYC, not tourists, mind.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:35 AM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


No one here wants to touch the meth thing huh?

Meth and pain pills in the sticks, crack and H in the cities, weed everywhere. Pick yer poison. This applies to New York as well as California as well as Iowa as well as every fucking state in the union.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:45 AM on December 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


In making a caricature of the state that he's lived in for two decades, Bloom has instead made a caricature of himself as the academic who lands in a college town, almost never leaves it, and regales colleagues from elsewhere with a hodgepodge of cliches, stereotypes from old Hee Haw sketches, some stuff about meth and rural poverty that he scraped up from a Rolling Stone article he read a while back, and a bunch of shit that he made up late at night while in his cups and still bitter about being shot down by a farm girl who, while still a little naive, was still not impressed by his stories about San Francisco.

Yes, huge feedlot operations are gross, and yes, meth and poverty and the graying of the rural population and blah blah, but I've got a better appreciation of the state and its not-inconsiderable charms from having ridden my bike across it for a week than he has from having parked his ass in it since Bush I. What a sad little man.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:55 AM on December 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


Eyebrows McGee, that was one of the best, neatest things I've read in quite a while.
posted by Houstonian at 5:57 AM on December 14, 2011


Meth and pain pills in the sticks, crack and H in the cities, weed everywhere.

One of these things is not like the other. Hint: it grows wild by the roadside in Iowa.

I have spent significant time in every one of the 50 states. There are good people in all of them, problems in all of them, and an overarching national popular culture that is making everyone crazy.
posted by spitbull at 6:01 AM on December 14, 2011


There aren't many better places to grow up than Iowa City.
posted by fraxil at 6:03 AM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Nebraskan here (though about 5 thousand miles displaced). Slightly displaced at the moment, but only by about 5 thousand miles so, not a big deal.

As an American who has lived and travelled all around the damn country, (and outside of it) I don't get why Americans are so ignorant of America.

Actually, that's not true. I do get why. It's easy. We're huge. The part I don't understand is how we are *pridefully* ignorant of one another. We take as assumed an identity that is uniform across particular strata and decide, occasionally against our very own experience, that this can be mapped using only (regional) geography. We do this even as we are relating to people of similar social and/or economic strata from all over the place better than we possibly do our own neighbours.

It's a mind fuck.

A 2-coffee story:

The Iowa I know is Council Bluffs: right across the river from Omaha. It's an aging industrial centre whose main economy has been shifting into gambling, service, and telecom. It's also where the farmers roll in after their morning duties to enjoy an Egg McMuffin and catch up on gossip. The Iowa I know less well is McClelland and surrounding countryside, where two of my best friends from high school lived: One a bisexual pagan who was determined to drive her Southern Baptist parents into an early grave from shame. The other trying to come out of the closet in a small town, while living in a gigantic house in the middle of no where with his IT professional parents and a basement full of (constantly squawking) exotic birds and a useless arsehole stepfather. He went to Miami to escape Iowa, then got fed up with Miami and is back at UI for his PhD, happily campaigning towards prison and marriage abolition. He loves the midwest.

While he fits the profile for Bloom's small-town escapees, I don't think he'd take kindly to Bloom's analysis.

Now, Nebraskans--at least the Eastern semi-urban types--like to tease Iowa. In an affectionate way. We've decided that it's just a wee bit more...basic, than we are. We are basing this on Council Bluffs. Which is kinda short-sighted. We forget that Iowa has a higher literacy rate, almost twice the population, a better ranked State university, and for those of us on a progressive bent, politics more in line with what we'd like. But we don't take that into consideration very often. Instead we drive from the oh-so-gentrified Old Market Disctrict in Omaha over the bridge to an area that is economically deprived and regularly gets the worse end of any flooding, that hits. In high school I knew many people who nicknamed it "Counciltucky" because isn't that funny! Kentucky is hicks! LOL!

My point is, we all complain about our backward assholes, but those of us who've been around some know that, actually? Ours aren't actually all that special. And they aren't all in the rolling hills of the farming counties, either.
posted by menialjoy at 6:03 AM on December 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


Some of the biggest, most provincial hicks I've ever met have come from large cities. I kid you not.
posted by edgeways at 6:17 AM on December 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Sounds to me like someone is packing twenty-years worth of bitter about having to relocate from San Francisco to Iowa.

I'm not sure kvetching all over a national publication is the right way to deal with that, dude.
posted by valkyryn at 6:21 AM on December 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


The exports of Iowa are numerous in amount. One thing they export is corn, or as the Indians call it, "maize". Another famous Indian was "Crazy Horse". In conclusion, Iowa is a land of contrast. Thank you.
posted by ephemerista at 6:23 AM on December 14, 2011 [21 favorites]


"The Sky Isn't So Blue When It Rains In Iowa"

Ah, Sondheim.
posted by benito.strauss at 6:29 AM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have only two observations about Iowa.

1: Good gravy, that state is flat.
2: It's hard to find good Chinese food.

I blame the second on an insufficient population of Jews.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:36 AM on December 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


However, some of the best Mexican food I've found in the US outside of Arizona was in a town of about 500 people in Iowa. (See aforementioned slurred-against-in-the-article migrant workers to explain that, or at least I was led to believe.)

Even as someone who grew up 45 minutes from Iowa and has, at best, mixed feelings about my rural childhood, I'm probably pro-Iowan biased. (If you think I'm going to bad mouth the state whose public television freely broadcast every existing episode of Doctor Who into my home as a pre-teen/teen, you don't know me that well...or at all.)

But as someone who has spent weeks in Iowa leading up to the caucus in 2004 and 2008, while still a big fan of most of the people, I believe the caucuses are one of the most undemocratic parts of our democracy.

That said, say what you will about the homogenous nature of its citizens, but if the rest of the US was as politically engaged as Iowans are (at least every four years), we'd be a hell of a lot better off. The caucus system is flawed, but it would be a whole lot worse if the people attending the caucuses -- or living in the state in general -- knew as little about the candidates as this guy seems to know about the state in which he lives.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 6:48 AM on December 14, 2011


I find myself most intrigued at the notion of Tatertot casseroles. How have I never heard of this before?

elizardbits' greasy honky pie
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:04 AM on December 14, 2011


The people of Iowa may well be as stupid, provincial, and small-minded. They also spend several billion dollars a year of their own money running one of the best state university systems in the country. And that money pays Bloom's salary. Classy.
posted by miyabo at 7:07 AM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


That is Bloom's shtick. He writes books like "Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America," about how Hasidic Jews set up a kosher meat packing plant in Iowa and then imported undocumented Mexican and Serbian workers to run it, and then the Feds busted it and everyone went to jail. But that doesn't stop Bloom from blaming Iowans for everything, because they were intolerant of these outsiders (justifiably, it turned out).

Wait, hold on, this is the guy who wrote that book? Now I'm all confused -- because I agree with people on the thread about the problems with this article.

But --

Postville is a great book.

He sets it up so it looks like it's going to be a story about cloistered folks in Iowa having trouble accepting a new community of Orthodox Jews who are going to bring prosperity to their dying town. But then it turns out that these particular outsiders actually are scheming crooks, who do everything they can (both legal and illegal) to avoid letting the money they're making trickle out into the town, or to their workers. charlie don't surf's characterization fo the book as "blaming Iowans for everything" is really not right. It's a great story, well-reported and well-written, and it made people like me who buy kosher meat start asking hard questions. Without Bloom's book, I'm not sure we'd have the "ethical kosher" movement we have now, where some rabbis have ruled that meat is trayf if the workers who produced it were unfairly treated.

To sum up: despite this article, Stephen Bloom writing about rural Iowa has been on balance a good thing.
posted by escabeche at 7:09 AM on December 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have only two observations about Iowa.

1: Good gravy, that state is flat.
2: It's hard to find good Chinese food.

I blame the second on an insufficient population of Jews.


Next time, enjoy a bike ride thru my part of the state.
posted by hal9k at 7:10 AM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


1: Good gravy, that state is flat.

Well, no. This is one of the things Bloom got right. If you see Iowa the most common way people see Iowa, out the window of a car traveling N-S on I-35 or W-E on I-80, yes it's damn flat. But there is plenty of topography in Iowa, most notably in NE Iowa, which is also really damn beautiful.

I am not filled with quite the levels of indignation as I think a lot of Iowans are at this article, but he does get a lot of stuff spectacularly wrong, most of which has been covered up the thread (Red Waldorf Cake? Backdoor entry to houses? I agree, WTF?).

I'd also add that > 60% of all Iowans live in urban areas, so writing that everyone has a mud room to keep out the pig shit is ridiculous. I'd never even heard of a mud room until I moved to Minnesota, where incidentally they are quite common not due to pig shit but because of all the snow, sand, and salt you'll track in during the #$@!$@ winter months. God I hate winter in Minnesota. But I digress.

One last thing about Iowa: the K-12 education I received was exceptional. 95+% of my 330 student high school class went to college. I left the state for undergraduate study, and I arrived at college basically a year or two ahead of most non-Iowans, especially in math and science. This was true for most of my high school friends as well. I came back and did a Master's degree at Iowa State, which was also excellent.

At age 40, I'm still friends with more than a dozen of my high school classmates, and they have all been very successful as adults. The flip side though, is that not one of them still lives in Iowa.
posted by mcstayinskool at 7:12 AM on December 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


He must have meant red velvet cake.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:14 AM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Keokuk, is a depressed, crime-infested slum town."

"Crime isn't way rampant in these rural towns."

"Today, I still not quite sure"


Right now I am having a fun time imagining that The Atlantic's fact checker and proofreader fell madly in love and ran off to start a new life together.
posted by compartment at 7:16 AM on December 14, 2011 [10 favorites]


I'm no art historian, but I had no idea Michelangelo was known for punching anyone. Perhaps they are referring to some other Michelangelo. If the speaker meant that Bloom's punching of Iowans is very artistic, that doesn't seem to be right, either.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:19 AM on December 14, 2011


Isn't there a story in Vasari on how Michelangelo hit a student in the face with a hammer for making fun of his work?
posted by The Whelk at 7:20 AM on December 14, 2011


Re: Parkades

I think that particular term is specific to the Cedar Rapids area. I don't think I've ever heard it anywhere else.

I have an extremely vague (possibly false) memory of a large sign running down the side of a parking ramp in downtown CR with that word on it.

also, mudrooms are really only common in farm houses. because, really why would anyone in the city need one?
posted by ArgentCorvid at 7:21 AM on December 14, 2011


Re: Parkades

I think that particular term is specific to the Cedar Rapids area. I don't think I've ever heard it anywhere else.


Pfft -- I was coming here just to say that. CR Jefferson graduate 1987, Coe graduate 1991.
posted by thanotopsis at 7:27 AM on December 14, 2011


Spokane, Washington also has a parkade.

I grew up in Iowa City and have always called them parking ramps.
posted by compartment at 7:30 AM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


The state is split politically: to the east of Des Moines, Iowa is solidly Democratic; to the west, it's rabidly Republican.

This was the sentence that clued me in to his inability to write. I was left scratching my head because I don't know if solidly = good, rabidly = bad or if they refer to actual numbers: solidly = 70%, rabidly = 95% This article is not written very well but when you consider that it was written by a journalism professor, then it is execrable. Too bad. A good, solid look at the state would make for interesting reading. Several of the figures he quotes are sad: No. 1 in over 85 year olds, No. 2 in college students leaving the state, No. 1 in suicides.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:47 AM on December 14, 2011


Indoor parking lots are ramps, soda is pop, lollipops are suckers, grocery bags are sacks, weeds are volunteers, miniature golf is putt-putt, supper is never to be confused with dinner, cellars and basements are totally different places, and boys under the age of 16 are commonly referred to as "Bud." Almost every Iowa house has a mudroom, so you don't track mud or pig shit into the kitchen or living room.

I grew up in rural New Hampshire and fully half-to-two-thirds of those things seem pretty much standard living to me. When I first moved to the midwest, it took me exactly one short conversation to figure out the "soda = pop" business, and I didn't think about it since. It's like this guy is auditioning for Bill Bryson's job without understanding why people read Bill Bryson, and then somehow he got published in "Politics" instead of "(Places People From the East Coast will Never) Travel."
posted by gauche at 7:54 AM on December 14, 2011


We had a mud room in our house in Rhode Island. It's got a wooden bench and a row of coathooks where you hung up the coats and took off your boots, and also had the washer and dryer.

The front door was always decorated as per the season (wreaths, bunting, etc) and went straight into the living room with the nice carpet, so everyone just used the "back door" to the mud room(which was really just off to the side, between driveway and garage. The back-back door was also off the mud room.)

This is a common feature of farmhouses and houses modeled after farmhouses =everywhere=. My Uncle's place in southern New Jersey was laid out in similar fashion.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:57 AM on December 14, 2011


He must have meant red velvet cake.
Except isn't red velvet cake stereotypically Southern?

(Since moving to the Upper Midwest, I've had many discussions with people about the similarities and differences between Upper Midwestern Grandmother Food and Southern Grandmother Food. They're very similar but not exactly the same. And thinking about it, that makes me think that one of the really annoying things about this essay is that it takes Upper Midwesterners' self-deprecating jokes about themselves and plays them like they're significant sociological insights. People joke all the time about cream of mushroom casseroles being the height of Midwestern gourmet, but they're not actually serious. Perhaps the humor is too subtle for him?)
posted by craichead at 8:12 AM on December 14, 2011


What I don't get is why people don't understand that this article is not about Iowa. These conditions exist in pretty much every county in the United States and probably a good chunk of Canada to boot. If you just want to look at the dark side of everything, understand this.
posted by zomg at 8:14 AM on December 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


He had me interested until he talked about lecturing to his students that "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Easter" weren't appropriate greetings. If Iowa is as homogeneously white and Christian as he claims in the article, his point is without merit.

I can now say one of the blessings of the Web has been an encounter with a guy who gives a shit about this. Oh, the joys of an interconnected universe.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:18 AM on December 14, 2011


I don't have a mud room but I do eat a brat (for you non-Iowans, that's short for bratwurst) once or twice a year.

Isn't brat pretty universal as shorthand for bratwurst?
posted by kmz at 9:38 AM on December 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah Postville was a good book, but the article was not only bad and offensive, but so very bad and so very offensive, that I wonder what better personal rivalries at the University, or what farmer stole his significant other to make him so bitter.

His Snotty Merry Christmas lecture was so ridiculous and so *annoying liberal from central casting* that it makes me wonder if he is really a fundie false flag operation.

To paraphrase what Samuel L. Jackson said to Robert De Niro in Jackie Brown, Stephen Bloom, "What the hell happened to you?"

Then IIRC Jackson shoots De Niro to death - I am *not* advocating that.
posted by xetere at 9:54 AM on December 14, 2011


Lots of the economics in the article are correct, albeit trite. Farmland in the state is increasingly owned by corporate farmers, who are hiring legal or illegal migrant workers to keep labor costs low. Some of the highest paying employment in rural communities is in casinos. The population is getting older much faster than it's getting younger, with a worrisome unavailability of health care.

Yeah, well, but, this is true of roughly most overwhelmingly agricultural areas in Europe or North America. As commercial farming intensified and centralised, there was less work for young people, while family run farms were increasingly hard to keep going so everybody whi can leaves the area for work elsewhere and usually doesn't come back. So you get a lot of dying towns only inhabited by pensioners.

Happens in Iowa, happens in the Netherlands as well.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:47 AM on December 14, 2011


Mudroom is what my friend from New Jersey calls my back porch...a back porch is off the kitchen, (where everybody goes into the house), next to the cellar door (which goes to exactly the same place as the basement stairs inside the house) You enter a cellar (either root, storm or coal) through a bulkhead door from the outside, and you get to the basement, where the furnace , washer and dryer are, through a door in the house. A back porch is more or less enclosed, but never locked. It's where neighbors leave excess produce, and the UPS guy leaves your boxes, and they're perfectly secure, because that's where the hounds hang. I don't live in Iowa, but believe me, I'm close enough.
posted by cookie-k at 10:53 AM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I grew up in the country outside Moscow, Iowa - less than an hour away from Iowa City. As a product of the hick culture this guy hates so much, this article is not about me but some fictional population that this man sees as inferior to himself. As a product of one of the finest public school systems in the nation, I know when I smell pigshit.
posted by Foam Pants at 11:09 AM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I see no one took up the challenge upthread to those Iowans who moved away, wondering why you moved. Maybe it's a great place to be from.

I can relate, parts of Pennsylvania where I live is almost exactly as he described rural Iowa - overwhelmingly white and insular, fields of corn that go on forever, a suspicion of those who aren't from "around here." It's the kind of place that parents say is a great place to raise kids. Once those kids get out of high school, many of them make a beeline out; they can't wait to get away, see the big city, taste a diversity that simply doesn't or hasn't existed in their rural neck of the woods. Home seems impossibly small town, small minded, small horizons. And then some of them, like me, wind up back there. After all, it's a great place to raise kids. But I've no doubt my own will do everything they can to get the hell out as soon as they can, too.
posted by kgasmart at 11:15 AM on December 14, 2011


Having (finally) read Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas?, it's almost impossible to read Bloom's article as anything but conservative propaganda. Bloom's smug, university-insulated, not-from-there condescension is exactly the sort of demagoguery that has been so shockingly effective at consolidating cultural classes in singular opposition to liberal "elitism"---irrespective of economic class or interests. If neocon strategists were to imagine a bot for swaying Iowan sentiments against liberal culture (and, by association, politics), could the best-case concept possibly be more effective than Bloom?
posted by diorist at 12:35 PM on December 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


I see no one took up the challenge upthread to those Iowans who moved away, wondering why you moved. Maybe it's a great place to be from.

I grew up in Iowa and moved away (initially to NYC). I'm not sure young people moving away from Iowa is any more of a thing than young people moving away from wherever they grew up. Plenty of people stayed, plenty left for the cities. So it goes.

On of my best friends in San Francisco did tell me once, "I've never been to Iowa, but everyone I meet that grew up there and left is amazing. Why is that?"
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:36 PM on December 14, 2011


Re: Parkades

I think that particular term is specific to the Cedar Rapids area. I don't think I've ever heard it anywhere else.


They're "parkades" everywhere in western Canada.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 1:16 PM on December 14, 2011


On of my best friends in San Francisco did tell me once, "I've never been to Iowa, but everyone I meet that grew up there and left is amazing. Why is that?"

Nostalgia.
posted by charlie don't surf at 1:17 PM on December 14, 2011


"with one article calling Bloom the "Michelangelo of hick-punching."

...and if that's not an admission of Iowans being hicks, I don't know what is.
posted by markkraft at 1:20 PM on December 14, 2011


I grew up in Iowa, and later across the Mississippi river in Illinois. I moved away because there are no jobs in the area. My sister moved back to our home town a few years ago to raise her family. She and her husband both have Masters degrees in education and many years experience teaching in larger cities. She has been completely unable to find a teaching position. Her husband has taken a job as principal at a private school for a 50% pay cut.

People leave Iowa (and other Mid-Western states) because there are no jobs there.
posted by Eddie Mars at 1:23 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


My college experience was at Cornell (the one which got its name first, not the one in New York). My wife went to Grinnell. Many of my friends today are people from Cornell College, and I even spent 18 months after college living in the Iowa City/Coralville area. I've spent enough time there to state, with confidence, that Bloom not only must not get out much in Iowa City, he's apparently echoing the negative reactions on Iowa from underclass students hailing from far-flung Chicago suburbs (like Naperville) who themselves are rather sheltered.
posted by stannate at 1:28 PM on December 14, 2011


Oops, Lutoslawski. I thought your friend's quip was about how the Iowans who left thought Iowa was amazing. But apparently you're saying the people he met that left Iowa are amazing.

And in this case, I would say that anyone who gets out of Iowa and moves on, has some fortitude. It takes quite a bit of energy to overcome the cultural sloth that keeps Iowa in a rut. And I'm not excluding the Institutional Leftists here at the U of I. I ascribe Bloom's article to that same cultural laziness.

Iowa City is a particularly weird place. Vonnegut said in his autobiography that there was nothing to do here but write and drink, and that his entire residency was spent in a struggle against suicide. I have heard it said that Iowa City is like a black hole, not even light can escape its orbit. You may escape into a long elliptical orbit, but it eventually returns. I left and came back involuntarily. I know many others too, who returned and feel like living here in their home town is like living in exile.

But the most significant aspect of this town is simple. Iowa City has been called the Athens of Iowa, and there is an old quip that Athenians were incapable of living a quiet life, or allowing anyone else to. And this being a college town, everyone is invested with the certitude that they are right. And right about everything. John Kenneth Galbraith once said, "College teaches people to believe they are right," and that was not intended as a compliment. I will give you my favorite example.

One day I was in a local restaurant eating lunch with my sister. She spent the meal complaining about how the IC locals always had to be right, and were always pushing their opinions on everyone else. Then at the end of the meal, she told the waiter that she wanted to speak to the chef. The soup was too salty, and of course since she was a professional cook herself (years ago) it would be important for the chef to know her professional opinion that his soup was too salty.

And that is what Bloom learned from Iowa City. He became invested in the belief that his opinion matters. I do not exempt myself from this abhorrent attitude, but at least I am self-aware enough to realize it.
posted by charlie don't surf at 1:31 PM on December 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


A favorite town name: What Cheer, Iowa.
posted by lathrop at 1:51 PM on December 14, 2011


And that is what Bloom learned from Iowa City. He became invested in the belief that his opinion matters.

That's funny, because Boston teaches you the exact opposite lesson.
posted by benito.strauss at 1:53 PM on December 14, 2011


A favorite town name: What Cheer, Iowa.

I recently learned that the greeter "Wotcher" (used occasionally in the Harry Potter books) is a shortened form of the greeting "What cheer?".
posted by benito.strauss at 1:56 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


My college experience was at Cornell (the one which got its name first, not the one in New York)

Oh, so Coe-lite? /rivalrydig
posted by thanotopsis at 2:23 PM on December 14, 2011


delmoi: "(also I've never heard the term 'parkades' – sounds like a family in-joke to me) "

There was once a parking garage here in Tulsa called the Parkade. There is also a building called the Philcade, across the street from the Philtower, which was once owned by the Boy Scouts.

A couple of other garages still have parkade in the name, but seemingly nobody actually refers to them as that.
posted by wierdo at 2:26 PM on December 14, 2011


Spokane, Washington also has a parkade.

I was just about to say that.
posted by hippybear at 3:16 PM on December 14, 2011


i grew up in iowa, and have spent most of my life here. i've also lived in rural iowa (one of those small rural towns he talked about) for a time.

i read the whole article. there are pearls of truth, and a lot of hyperbole. if you ignore the literary fluff, he does touch on some important trends. as others have said, some specific observations are wrong, for example: de-tassling is not a universal job for teenagers. some of the observations were on point though.

one part i want to highlight, from the article:

But relatively few rural Iowans are employed in the business of wind energy. The bulk of jobs here are low-income ones most Iowans don't want. Many have simply packed up and left the state (which helps keep the unemployment rate statewide low). Those who stay in rural Iowa are often the elderly waiting to die, those too timid (or lacking in educated) to peer around the bend for better opportunities, an assortment of waste-toids and meth addicts with pale skin and rotted teeth, or those who quixotically believe, like Little Orphan Annie, that "The sun'll come out tomorrow."

that's an over generalization, but spot on in terms of the tone and general pattern in rural iowa. the article would have been a lot better if it were just that paragraph.
posted by cupcake1337 at 3:19 PM on December 14, 2011


In high school I knew many people who nicknamed it "Counciltucky" because isn't that funny! Kentucky is hicks! LOL!

It's being reclaimed/co-opted these day. I'm a proud 'tuckian as are all of my 'tuckian friends and family. In the past 6+ years I've lived on both sides of the river and I have to say that living on the Iowa side is way better. Having the mass of Nebraskans come across the river to pay their math-deficiency tax at the local casinos makes for easy living, comparatively speaking.

But, this is a digression. I normally loves me some Atlantic snobbery, but this is weak sauce. Insultingly so.
posted by Fezboy! at 3:48 PM on December 14, 2011


At least one Iowa business is attempting to cash in. (Personally, I want a Clear Lake: the Hamptons of Mason City t-shirt more. And some people here may appreciate a Gettin' Lucky in Council Tucky one.)
posted by craichead at 4:14 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


mudrooms? doesn't anyone call them foyers?
posted by pyramid termite at 4:16 PM on December 14, 2011


mudrooms? doesn't anyone call them foyers?

In houses I've been in which have mudrooms, they're usually at the back of the house. A foyer would be at the front.

The logic behind this would be that the mudroom is where you enter after you've been out doing chores. A foyer is where people coming into the house hang their coats and take off their galoshes before entering the main abode.
posted by hippybear at 4:46 PM on December 14, 2011


I have lived in Iowa City since 2006. My family roots in rural Iowa go back to 1846 (Clayton County). I do not recognize the people or the culture that Bloom recounts in his piece of schlock journalism. Shame on the University of Iowa for paying this nitwit to instruct impressionable young minds -- and at taxpayer expense! A lousy writer, and a defective observer of the reality around him, he is not qualified to teach others.

There is NO FOOD at the Iowa caucuses. The caucuses are held in large halls, such as gymnasiums. They are not social events, nor do they function as social events. They are tense political acts performed by concerned citizens of all generations. That is both their tone and their affect. I did participate in the 2008 Iowa Democratic caucus and that was my personal experience.

I have lived in giant cities on both coasts, as well as in the Southwest and the Ohio River Valley. I took a 40% pay cut to move to Iowa City for the purpose of improving my quality of life. I do not regret doing so, and my quality of life has been vastly improved.

Also, as a life-long non-christian who is sensitive to having it forced upon me by christian zombies, I refute Bloom's statements about christian ubiquity in Iowa City. Not only am I not at all oppressed as a non-religious person, but I have observed that Iowa City has a very busy mosque and synagogue. This is not a homogenous community where religion -- or its absence -- is concerned. Even in the tiny rural Iowa towns I personally know, people who don't participate in organized religion are not ostracized for exercising that choice.

I too know pigshit when I smell it.
posted by Galadhwen at 5:09 PM on December 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


In houses I've been in which have mudrooms, they're usually at the back of the house. A foyer would be at the front.

true - although my experience was that people usually called that the laundry room or the utility room simply because that's what was in it

never heard it called a mudroom - but then, i'm dated - i haven't heard a sofa called a davenport for decades
posted by pyramid termite at 6:19 PM on December 14, 2011


All I have to say is I live in the Iowa City area. I walk my dogs regularly. They're beagles. No one, not one single person, has ever asked me if I hunt my dogs. And they're beagles.

At this point in time, I am led to believe that he is simply making half this stuff up.
posted by saveyoursanity at 7:19 PM on December 14, 2011


At this point in time, I am led to believe that he is simply making half this stuff up.

Or he's spouting bigoted stereotypes of the "hurf durf flyover state bumpkins" variety, which I hate and loathe and loathe and despise and hate.
posted by hippybear at 7:28 PM on December 14, 2011


I wonder what Vermont is doing right that Iowa is doing wrong... but if my Cosmic Background Weirdness Synchronicity monitoring tool suite is correct, Iowa is on the verge of smart counterculture influx, with the attendant venture capital and old-money East Coast contacts. It may be a very good time for the native sons and daughters to come home.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:37 PM on December 14, 2011


pyramid termite: "In houses I've been in which have mudrooms, they're usually at the back of the house. A foyer would be at the front.

true - although my experience was that people usually called that the laundry room or the utility room simply because that's what was in it

never heard it called a mudroom - but then, i'm dated - i haven't heard a sofa called a davenport for decades
"

it's a similar idea to a pittsburgh toilet; the old farmhouse ones I've seen are places to change out of filthy work clothes (which is the reason for the washer and dryer) into something that is fit to bring in the house. some even have hoses and floor drains to rinse boots off with, and one house I went to had a basic shower in there.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 7:48 PM on December 14, 2011


Oh, so Coe-lite? /rivalrydig

No, I was lucky enough to afford college. If I couldn't go to college, I would have gone to Coe.

*shoots basket*
*throws toilet paper*
posted by stannate at 8:51 PM on December 14, 2011




I'm still bothered by Bloom's bonkers assertion that caucuses are called "chat 'n' chews." Maybe my google-fu is weak, but variously worded searches for chat 'n' chew iowa caucus yield absolutely nothing relevant that predates his article.

I think the reason the "chat 'n' chew" assertion bothers me so much is because it seems like a cutesy term he's used with his in-group, but he doesn't realize it's in-group slang. Instead, he's just assuming that the view from everywhere else in Iowa is the same as the view from his office.

It's first-person hearsay dressed up as journalism, light on empirical data and heavy on unsubstantiated assertion.

And at the root of it -- this center-of-the-universe assumption that "what I've experienced personally must be broadly true of the world as a whole" -- is what's responsible for the mindsets that he derides. It's the same type of assumption that causes people to say "Merry Christmas" to non-Christians.

Anyway, I wonder if Bloom isn't confusing his "food at caucuses" assertion with a minor story from 2008 when Hillary Clinton was criticized for spending about $100k on food for pre-caucus parties -- I seem to recall this story being misreported at the time as food for the caucus itself, not for pre-caucus parties.

(I also wonder if the "You hunt with that bitch?" remark wasn't an ironic dig at the expense of an obvious non-hunter.)

On a quasi-related note, Jon Huntsman took a dig at Iowa: "They pick corn in Iowa. They actually pick presidents here in New Hampshire."
posted by compartment at 11:04 AM on December 30, 2011


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