Dear Professor Bloom

Dear Professor Bloom,

I was disappointed by the sweeping generalizations and the descriptions you wrote about Iowan life in this recent article in the Atlantic.

As a whole, I think the article touches on important issues. There is economic trouble in Iowa. There is no doubt small rural towns are dwindling. And yes, we are losing our young educated adults for greener pastures.

But articles like yours do nothing to help us keep young educated people in our state. Articles like yours only feed into a condescension East Coasters have for Iowa, which causes these young Iowans to want to leave for bigger cities.

I can forgive some of your descriptions. The things you describe sometimes happen in rural Iowan towns. However, I still think it’s lazy journalism to only mention the stereotypes – the casseroles at the pot luck dinners, the rabid Christianity, the hunting and fishing and pickup trucks – and not talk about the contrasting picture found in larger Iowan cities – the vegan restaurants, the feminist women’s health care centers, the gay bars and independent book stores.

I think the last lines of your article sum up your myopic view of the state. It describes you walking your dog in Iowa City. You write:

And here’s the point: I can’t tell you how often over the years I’d be walking [my dog] in our neighborhood and someone in a pickup would pull over and shout some variation of the following:

“Bet she hunts well.”
“Do much hunting with the bitch?”
“Where you hunt her?”
To me, it summed up Iowa. You’d never get a dog because you might just want to walk with the dog or to throw a ball for her to fetch. No, that’s not a reason to own a dog in Iowa. You get a dog to track and bag animals that you want to stuff, mount, or eat.
That’s the place that may very well determine the next U.S. president.

As a fellow resident of Iowa City and a fellow dog owner, I have never had anyone, ANYONE ask if my dog was a hunting dog. They have called him handsome. They have asked what mix he was, but I have never had a pickup truck slow down and ask me questions about his hunting prowess.

But, OK, maybe this happened to you once or twice. You’re still just taking isolated anecdotes and trying to explain, as you say, “in both a real and metaphysical way, what Iowa is.” Your anecdotes no more paint an accurate picture of Iowa than mine would. However, taken together our two views of Iowa might coalesce into a more nuanced whole.

And isn’t that the point of good journalism? To show differing sides of an issue, rather than just stringing together some personal observations, layering them with your smug perceptions and calling it the essence of a place?

Instead you offer us gems like this:

Those who stay in rural Iowa are often the elderly waiting to die, those too timid (or lacking in education) 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.”

Nice. Not condescending at all.

I was born in Davenport, Iowa, a town that falls under this umbrella description you wrote:

Almost every other Mississippi river town is the same; they’re some of the skuzziest cities I’ve ever been to, and that’s saying something.

Thanks. I’ll have to pass that description onto Davenport’s Convention and Visitors Bureau. No doubt they’ll want to use it in their marketing materials. I guess I haven’t found Davenport very skuzzy with its Farmer’s Market, outdoor festivals and theater events.

Additionally, Davenport, Dubuque, Iowa City, Des Moines and other similar cities are not full of farmers and their families. Growing up, there were more pizza chains in a square foot radius of my house than there were corn fields. Again, I know some smaller towns contain some of the stereotypes you described. But I grew up with a different experience of Iowa, and articles like yours are why I have to spend hours explaining to people in other states that the only time I’ve ever set foot on a farm was on a kindergarten field trip. Articles like yours are why people from other states are surprised I’ve tried vegan food, traveled abroad or know anything about international politics.

Does my state have problems? Yes, it does. It has serious economic issues that need to be addressed and which your article has no solutions for. Does my state include some red necks and uber-Christians and people who think Michele Bachmann is swell? Yes. But my state also includes millionaires, Pulitzer prize winning authors, social activists, feminists, and many other types of people.

But I’m sorry. I’m afraid I have to go now. I need to finish baking a casserole and an apple pie for the church supper. Afterward, I’m going to go to a tractor pull before watching my cousin compete for the title of Pork Queen.

All the best,
Rebecca
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33 thoughts on “Dear Professor Bloom

  1. slowprint.com says:

    Bravo from Dubuque ;-)Iowa also has great letterpress printers (like SlowPrint.com 🙂 and MacArthur fellows like papermaker Tim Barratt at the UI Center for the Book

  2. Adam says:

    Dubuque/Dyersville native; D.C. resident here. I'll keep it short. Bloom's article is a load of tosh, thanks for defending our wonderful, beautiful, intellectually diverse state. It hurts me to know that his crap will influence the perceptions of people who don't know any better, but I'm glad to see so many Iowans stand up and dispute his nonsense.

  3. Nic says:

    Very nicely done! His article is condescending, and reflects his general attitude well. Clearly he's wasted 20 years of his life here in Iowa City, and he lets everyone know that's how he feels. I'll bet Michigan is a very nice place to settle down…

  4. IABeachHawk says:

    Great article. I, too, grew up in Davenport and graduated from the University of Iowa in 2010. Professor Bloom was one of my professors, and though I do think he is a talented journalist, his article couldn't be farther from the truth of my experience in Iowa. I've never been to a tractor pull, my home never had a mudroom, and I own a dog, not for hunting, but for companionship. I have been with a woman for the last 3 years, and although we considered moving across the country after we graduated from college, we decided to stay in Iowa. Neither of us are farmers, nor does our idea of entertainment consist of watching corn grow. The sad state of the economy Professor Bloom references in his piece is true of the entire nation, which is why we decided to stay in Iowa, a state where we can get married if we choose to do so. We go to shopping malls, check out live entertainment at Iowa City's many bars and theaters, and love to travel. But when vacation is over, we choose to return to Iowa. Many of my east coast friends wonder why we'd choose to stay in a state that's cold 6 months out of the year and {insert Iowan stereotype here}, but we're happy here, and many of our friends say the same. We're not "stuck" here by any means – we just choose to stay in a state where jobs are more plentiful than in other parts of the country, where we don't have to worry about being attacked while walking our dog at night, and where we don't have to pay several grand to live in an average apartment, regardless what metropolitan city I can see from my living room. I appreciate your response to Bloom's article, and hope other Iowans with more realistic views on the state will speak up.

  5. M. Gigi Durham says:

    Rebecca — thank you for writing this. Your response is thoughtful, lucid, and intelligent. I wish The Atlantic would publish it! I'm glad you're doing well with your writing.Best wishes,Gigi Durham

  6. Ben Wantland says:

    You're right on the mark, Rebecca, but – I would go a step further and suggest that we, as Iowans, not feel compelled to apologize for the rural people and places here, either. They represent a unique culture. It may not always be culture that outsiders can view positively, however, it's always disgusting to hear (or read) disrespect from someone who believes themselves to be above those they describe (particularly when they're describing the poor and uneducated). Perhaps Professor Bloom should turn the critical lens through which he views those who are different upon himself.

  7. KD says:

    I've lived more years in Davenport than anywhere else….I wonder what he is trying to say about river cities being skuzzy. I live in Iowa City now and I am married to someone who grew up in small town Iowa.I don't think you can define Iowa by any one representation…no matter how hard Bloom might want to.

  8. KD says:

    Interesting statement by Ben about not needing to feel compelled to apologize for the rural people.I partly agree with that…but there is definitely frustration in feeling also that Bloom is trying to misrepresent the culture of rural Iowa.

  9. Leah says:

    I found your blog through a friend's link on Facebook. I, too, am a writer and an Iowan living in Iowa City. I was a graduate student in the J-School back in the early 1990s, and I found Stephen Bloom to be arrogant and condescending even back then. I really appreciate your cogent and eloquent response to his absolutely offensive and ludicrious article. And for the record: I, too, had the same reaction about his hunting-dog anecdote. He lives on Summit Street, for God's sake! Can you imagine anyone in that neighborhood shouting out something like that to him during his walk with the dog?! It's preposterous–as is so much of his article.

  10. Ben Wantland says:

    KD – you're right; much of Bloom's commentary is a misrepresentation – from anecdotes which were clearly fabricated (or, at the very least – exceptional) to his combination of imagery culled from many subsets of the rural population into a single portrait of a group of people which does not actually exist. I just wanted to make the point that everyone's defense of Iowa (it pains me to have to constantly defend it, in the first place) consists primarily of listing things which can be appreciated by the offense, when we ought to be working to broaden their horizons, rather than simply catering to their myopic view.More importantly, Bloom's belief that Iowa represents nothing and is not worthy of its caucus is preposterous. It represents me, first of all, for which I am thankful. More importantly – the 1% of US citizens residing in Iowa deserve to be heard, just like everyone else. If you zoom out a little more, it is very representative of the Midwest, which contains over 20% of the nation's people, as well as being the geographical and population center of the Continental US. Not insignificant, at all.I'm sure that it's difficult for Mr. Bloom to live on what he perceives as a philosophical island, but I would hope that such a champion of diversity would learn to appreciate not always being surrounded by like-minded hordes.

  11. cassiecares says:

    Could Bloom say nothing about the Writers' Workshop? What about the fact that U of I was the first public university to accept women? I grew up in Council Bluffs and went to college in Iowa City. I've spent time in cities all across the state, and I haven't seen this "Iowa" Bloom has fabricated. It's a pretty harsh caricature. I have to think he was trying to be funny? Anyway, thanks for the retort. I hope he rescinds his inflated opinions. (I once wrote a similar blog about this, because Nebraskans have this same horrible attitude toward Iowans… http://cassiecares.com/2011/03/30/why-iowans-hate-the-nebraskan-attitude-and-you-should-too/ )

  12. Lydia says:

    Kudos from Iowa City, and from a small-town-raised girl who CHOSE Iowa — I didn't "settle for" it. I'm sharing this with my friends! 🙂

  13. Kassidy Chen says:

    Rebecca,I grew up in a rural Iowa town and did much more for entertainment–some of the same things you do–than watch corn grown. Yes, the stereotypes mentioned do exist, but they are sterotypes for a reason. They do not describe all, or even a majority, of the persons in rural Iowa. Sure, I detassled as a teen, but I was one of very few. My small town grandparents adore my Taiwanese immigrant husband, I am well-educated and have a Master's degree, and I certainly do not support Michelle Bachman. The contrast you describe is not limited to larger Iowa towns. I appreciate your response to Professor Bloom, but I wanted to take the time to explain that there are indeed persons of a different nature than what he describes in rural Iowa. Kassidy Chen

  14. cardinalhawk says:

    Rebecca,This is outstanding!Thank you for taking the time to respond to Bloom.Of course Iowa is not perfect. But our job is to make a place better. I see no evidence of this from Professor Bloom. There is no affection for the place expressed.As a son of Iowa, I still carry the pride.

  15. Rebecca McKanna says:

    Thanks for all the comments! I'm glad to see Iowan pride is alive and well.To Ben and Kassidy, thanks for your comments. You're right that there is more diversity of thought in small Iowan towns than what Bloom described in his article or what I touched on in my response to him. Thanks for adding that viewpoint.I think everyone's comments taken as a whole paint a much more nuanced view of Iowa than the opinions of one man. Thanks for reading and responding.

  16. Nick says:

    A great response, Rebecca.I grew up three blocks from where this guy lives, and I guarantee no one in Iowa City ever asked him how his dog "hunts"- I'd bet cash money on it. My parents moved here from New York 30 years ago and Iowa City is their home. Bloom should ask himself if it's his.

  17. Susan Appleget Hurst says:

    Thanks for your response, Rebecca. As I read Bloom's essay, I kept waiting for the other, more balanced, shoe to drop. It was very disappointing to read such a collection of stereotypical characterizations–some of which is certainly based on fact–without even mentioning the wide range of other personalities and situations. Of course it's hard to hear difficult truths, but Bloom made his entire essay subject to angry criticism by portraying Iowans in such an unbalanced way. No wonder people are mad.

  18. Jane says:

    I read Bloom's article from start to finish and was quite disgusted by the whole thing. Your post here articulated everything I felt about his opinion. Thank you!

  19. Nicole Shaw says:

    Thank you, Rebecca! I, too, grew up on one of the "scuzzy" Mississippi River towns Bloom wrote about. It was appalling to me that he could write such close-minded generalizations about a state that has fostered his career, and without a doubt, allowed him the opportunities for professional growth. He monopolized upon the diverse cultures living in Postville; he used the people across Iowa in a manner I find not only insulting but truly atrocious!I am an Iowan at heart, and I would struggle with the choice to leave the state for good. I understand that Iowa has some problems, but in all fairness, I do think the nation and worldwide economic situations have a great deal to do with this. The Iowa taxpayers who have funded this professor's salary for the past 20 years should be outraged. I, for one, am! The biased and myopic essay Bloom has contrived says little of the Iowa I know and love, and instead, puts him above all those who I'm willing to bet were welcoming to he and his family. As I learned long ago, "Never bite the hand that feeds you."

  20. Rebecca McKanna says:

    Amy, thanks for your comment. My concern is less what East Coast people will think about Iowa and more that Professor Bloom is attempting to state, “in both a real and metaphysical way, what Iowa is.” That's a pretty lofty goal, and I felt he fell short for the reasons I described above.

  21. Dead End says:

    Been hearing a lot of noise about that article the last couple days and decided to check it out today. Honestly, I don't really see the big deal.Just to preface this, for the most part, I've lived in Iowa from 1989 until March of this year. I'm 28 years old, so this means most of my life.I've lived in Dubuque, Bellevue, Maquoketa, Denison, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and Davenport.The type of jobs I've done include detassling, dishwashing, concrete, various factory and warehouse work, worked in a slaughterhouse, did flood clean-up and done farmwork, too.A couple of the finer details I felt were made up (no one is going to ask if your dog is a good hunting dog in Iowa City) or just this person's chance experience, but some of the others were so on point that they were actually things me and the people I grew up with made fun of Iowans for.And most river towns are scuzzy and I would even say depressing shitholes. Dubuque had been for a while, and is still, but in a different way. It's an extremely hard drinking town whose whole downtown depends on a gambling infrastructure that sucks in old pensioners and people hoping to not be poor anymore. Not to mention it has some questionable racial relations, which can be generalized to the whole of Eastern Iowa (all the "people from Chicago" moving in and making lie terrible for us. blah blah).Davenport is such a shithole. I lived downtown and it was just depressing. Public transportation was horrible and confusing, grocery stores were far away, lots of abandoned buildings and gutted industry, etc. Glad I got out of there. Living in the middle of a metro area where you never see anyone walking around and even the massive 4 lane 1 way streets hardly have any cars on them is depressing.I will admit, the guy's article has a cuntish latte liberal tone to it, and as a Midwesterner that shit makes me see red, but is the uproar really just a case of some weird Iowa Pride (which I actually never knew existed until this uproar)?

  22. Adam says:

    I believe this article is an example of a small minded person trying portray Iowa as a breeding grounds for small minded country bumpkins. As a 26 year Iowa resident who now lives in Idaho and has been to almost all the states I believe I have some insight on the issue. Many of the authors points are skewed with misinformation and broad generalizations. Implying that because an individual hunts he is somehow inadequate to make political decisions. Hunting has been integral to human existence and is practiced in every state, and if she was truly asked if her dog hunted it is probably because bird hunting is more frequently practiced there than in states with larger big game populations. Most of the authors statements show a disconnect with anywhere that isn't a big city. Iowa has a big part in deciding elections because they have a proven track record for common sense and rational thinking. In general Iowa has better education than most states, which is probably why so many holes are being poked in this article by Iowans. I grew up in Iowa City one of the most progressive and educated cities of its size in the country, and having been to most other states, and I have been frequently reminded of that fact on many occasions in my travels. What scares me most politically are the extremes. People who are from small towns that have no outside social experience tend to be small minded and socially ignorant (in any state), individuals who grew up only in the city tend to not understand the reality outside of the city or what really drives/sustains the country like agriculture and transportation.

  23. Codeman says:

    The article was poorly written. This blogpost sums up my feelings very well. I am from Davenport, and I have never been on a farm ever. I have lived in Iowa City,Bettendorf, Davenport, and Des Moines. I am half Mexican and half white. I'm gay. I graduated from the university of Iowa in 2010 with 2 bachelor's degrees. I am not a part of the picture he paints of Iowa at all. Iowa has such a good progressive past, and has some of the best laws for gay equality in the country. Davenport isn't as crappy as some have accused it of being. I lived downtown and had a great time every weekend. Lots to do. Just like in Iowa city and Des Moines. The Des Moines metro area is pretty sizeable, as is the Quad City area right behind Des Moines. Your blogpost was refreshing.

  24. sarahskerik says:

    Well said, Rebecca, and kudos from another product of a scuzzy river town (Burlington.) I was shocked to see that Bloom is a journalism professor, given the loose treatment of facts and significant personal biases in that article.

  25. Hawks says:

    Well said, but I would also like to remind Stephen Bloom that when compared to some of his 'progressive' and 'educated' liberal leftists from the coast, Iowa allows gay marriage, helped put Obama in office, had some of the first black athletes in the entire US, had the very first mosque in the entire US built in Cedar Rapids, has a top 10 best overall hospital and health education system in the country, and the list goes on. Maybe what Mr. Bloom should be writing about is how the coast needs to catch up with Iowa.

  26. Cat says:

    Hey, Rebecca. You may not remember from the DI (I was pining for my stint to be over as it started), but I was shocked and even hurt as a non-Iowan by the article. I'm glad other were, too, and I think your words have really touched the greater issue at play. Bravo!Cat Gaa

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