Last week, I trekked homeward to Iowa, where I spent the better part of my first 24 years of life and couldn’t wait to get the hell out the entire fucking time.
I’m still the hell out.
In case you hadn’t heard, Stephen G. Bloom is the University of Iowa J-School prof (full disclosure: I went to U of I, took some journo classes. I think I even had this guy, but I forget) who wrote the article in the Atlantic that caused quite the stir across the state—enough to warrant death threats and hiding out for the holidays.
It also warranted this pussy-ass apology from the University’s president—I mean, you gotta keep bodies coming thru the school, right?—and a heap of articles, this one a pretty fair assessment of what’s going on by my writer friend Jen Wilson.
Seeing’s how I just spent a week in Iowa during what is one of its least attractive months of the year—like catching Gwyneth Paltrow the day after the Oscars stuffing her face with Big Macs and farting like mad—I thought I’d comment on a few of Bloom’s observations.
And, of course, add a few of my own:
1. “…potluck dinners (casseroles are the thing to bring)”: I can’t remember the last time I ate a casserole. In Iowa. This is probably my biggest problem with the article.
2. “The state is 91 percent white…”: True. And Scary. One of the biggest arguments against Iowa not leading the political presidential pickin’ charge is that it’s hardly representative of the United States. Walking around Iowa is like visiting an Aryan Nation convention—if an Aryan Nation was moderately to severely obese and considered a new sweatshirt its “good” outfit.
3. “Not much travels along the muddy and polluted Mississippi these days except rusty-bucket barges of grain and an occasional kayaker circumnavigating garbage, beer cans, and assorted debris…and today, Keokuk, is a depressed, crime-infested slum town. 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.” The degeneration and abuse of the Mighty Mississippi is a tearjerkin’ sight indeed. One of the most majestic, jaw-droppingly gorgeous rivers in the world has been beaten, abused and put out. It’s a lot of farm run-off, agri-business dumping its chemicals, etc. And those river towns. Christ. The signs should read: “Come for the Meth. Stay for the Unplanned Pregnancy and Domestic Abuse.”
4. Iowa’s pretty fucked up politically. (paraphrased…I’m tired of quoting here): Yep. You got the same old politicians, to use a regional phrase, older than dirt; “rabid” Republicans to the West (where I grew up); Liberals to the East (where I went to University); and a bunch of religious idiots fighting tooth and nail to oust the justices who legalized gay marriage—probably the one and only decent thing the state has done in the past decade. Show me an Iowa Republican, and I’ll show you a redneck who can barely read. At least where I’m from, most of these so-called Conservatives don’t read the paper or follow events, and Obama is still referred to using the “N” word. I’m not kidding, people.
5. Here’s a bunch of other shit about Iowa that Bloom mentions that makes me sad: “economically depressed,” “culturally challenged,” “few minorities,” “no sizable cities,” “almost all the corn Iowa farmers grow is feed corn…it’s meant for pigs, not humans,” “empty storefronts,” “flourishing Wal-Marts,” etc.
6. “So it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations…” Granted, this is Obama’s famed quote from a speech in San Fran, and it’s argued he’s talking about western Pennsylvania, but here’s the truth, whether Iowa, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, or anywhere outside a major metropolitan area: It’s easy to get your ire up if you don’t understand something; or if something confuses you; or if you just don’t want to open up your mind and take a listen and maybe learn something. Republicans paint this as “Being American.” It’s just being Plain Stupid.
7. And this takes us to…. “Coastal elites love to dump on Iowa…” Look, I’ve lived all over, and now on both coasts. Really, except for election time, coastal elites don’t spend much time discussing Iowa—or any other state. It’s also about the time I figure you all get ruffled about us coastal elites getting married after our gay sex orgies and Free Abortion Wine and Botox Parties. (Actually, those both sound pretty fun…). Also, I can tell you that I’ve witnessed more than my fair share of idiots, morons and the clueless wandering around New York City, Chicago and elsewhere’s, spreading their ignorance and hate. You can have a smart conversation and good meal with good people just about anywhere. Just try. No place is all shit—or a fucking bed of roses. Just ask Bon Jovi.
8. Religion. Oooo, boy. This is the BIG one. I’ve touched on this a bit, and man, do I not have time for someone if they bust this out as reasoning in a discussion about politics, government or rights. Separation of Church and State, remember that? Iowa is pretty damn religious, but like most shit, it’s dying with the old folks. Most of the younger folk aren’t into the fire-and-brimstone—Iowa did legalize gay marriage after all—so there’s hope yet. My mom kept bitching about all the right-wing assholes she goes to church with, and I said, “Maybe I should buy an ad in the local paper, offering free abortions for anyone who needs one?”
9. “Those who stay in 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…” Just watching a waste-toid walk from his house to his truck to grab a half-drunk bottle of Mt. Dew in my parents’ once-sweet little hometown made me want to cry. While there are hardworking folk in rural communities, the scourge of meth and unemployment has left an army of resource-sucking mouth breathers in its wake. Ask anyone. It’s a sad, difficult, complicated state of affairs that has to do with economics, policies, government, education, ambition…
10. Oh, and I’m not moving back either.
All told, it was a fair article. But the truth is hard. It’s like all those messy little lies we tell each other—and ourselves—every single day to get by instead of getting at the crux of the problem because getting off our asses and fixing problems is hard. Also, nearly impossible in many cases (see: recent documentary Gas Land if you want a good dose of hardworking, honest Americans getting fucked by Big Business and Government. Side note: Dick Cheney has to be the biggest dick on earth…and why is it that most guys named “Dick” are actual dicks? Ever wonder about that?).
Iowans have a hard time staring at their state through all the hog crap and corporate corn because, damnit, it ain’t Grant Wood’s Iowa any more. But, really, nowhere in America is…those images of little pink houses for you and me? Bull. Shit.