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.
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.