I finally got around to reading your Atlantic article about Iowa. I don’t know what took me so long. I suppose I figured I didn’t need to read some bloated attack on the state I call home. What would be the point? But I kept reading about it and hearing about it and because I have a need to be in tune with the zeitgeist, I finally caved. I read it.
Let me say right of the bat, that I’m sure there is valid criticism against the Iowa Caucasus. Not only the system, but even being held here. I’m sure there is something to be said about how unrepresentative Iowa is of America (I guess, I’m not sure, but I think I could read a reasonable discussion about it and not be offended). Personally, I don’t invest much in them. Perhaps I should. Perhaps they are important enough. Or perhaps their very inability to stir up some feelings of frustration within me when once every four years all major news organizations talk about nothing else, is a sign of their unimportance. That’s another discussion, I guess.
My sense of you, Professor Bloom, is that you have a bone to pick. Something about Iowa really pisses you off. Perhaps it the outsider feeling you have as a devout Jewish man stuck in a very Christian part of the world (although as anyone who lives in Iowa City or has been to Iowa City can tell you, you can’t get much more inclusive, progressive, and open-minded than this place). I can’t speak to the experiences of the Jewish population in Iowa City or Iowa in general. But I have a feeling that the level of religiosity that exists in our city is nothing compared to many places in this country one might find oneself. Unfortuantely or not (I’m not religious) America is an overwhelmingly Christian nation and the “Merry Christmases” and “God’s Way” kind of talk are everywhere, even amidst the largely liberal populations. Most of my liberal friends and aquaintances are church goers. But I have to imagine if you were living in Alabama or rural Texas or Utah, you’d encounter religious zealism at a much higher level. I certainly see the anti abortion signs when I drive to smaller towns, but they pick up more after crossing the state line to Missouri and certainly the sightings grow significantly higher when down south.
I know Iowa City pretty well. I received my undergraduate degree at the University of Iowa and after having moved away to Texas for a decade or so made my way back here. It’s been almost four years now since we’ve been back. I know Iowa City, but I can’t say I know Iowa. Of course I’ve been to Des Moines a few times and traveling back and forth to my parents house in IL and the in-laws in MO, I’ve passed through towns along the way–the Quad Cities, Le Claire, etc. We have made excursions to Cedar Rapids, Kalona, Amana Colonies and Fairfield. We drove through Dubuque once on the way to Madison, WI. It looked like a cool, old river town.
Certainly there are “scuzzy” parts. There are scuzzy parts to most places. But people live in these towns. People call these towns home. They have favorite restaurants and hangouts and scenic routes. They do their best to make their towns special. They are proud of where they live even when they might complain about the lack of movie choices and things to do on a Saturday night. All towns have drugs. All towns have crime. All towns have poverty.
So I may not be an Iowa expert, but I do know that Iowa is not alone in being economically depressed. Or having a small town with no traffic lights. Welcome to the midwest. Welcome to America. We are full of small towns. We are full of farmers and people with limited options for Saturday night entertainment and folks who know too much about NASCAR and women that collect doilies and terrible Italian restaurants and too many McDonalds and signs with bad grammar and guns and cowboys and trailer trash and women with big hair and too much makeup and white boys who want to be black boys and gum chewing and amusement parks and highways and billboards and greasy diners and Jesus Freaks. That’s America. Not just big cities and interestingly diverse populations. It’s not just Iowa. It’s Nebraska, too. And Arkansas. And Idaho. And huge chunks of Texas. Are they also not representative of Americans?
Why pick on us? Why pick on Iowa unless somehow, somewhere, someone pissed you off and this has fueled a fire?
It just doesn’t ring true. This whole piece just feels forced and generalized and bitter. Perhaps once or twice someone asked you about hunting with your dog, but I just don’t see it happening like that. Not in Iowa City. I can only think of one guy I’ve met here who hunts. I have a beagle and no one has once remarked to me about her hunting skills (Beagles are good hunting dogs, right?). I feel like we don’t live in the same place.
It’s just weird, I guess. I’m not really angry, just perplexed. I don’t see the point of the thing. What was your motivation? Do you really and truly feel like you fairly, humanly, and evenly represented your hometown? Your home state? With true journalistic integrity? I wonder. I wonder.