Is This Hell? Heck No, It’s Iowa

A journalism professor at the University of Iowa–well, let’s be specific: it was Stephen G. Bloom, who describes himself as “Professor and Bessie Dutton Murray Professional Scholar at the University of Iowa”–wrote an anti-Iowa screed in the Atlantic. Bloom offered a snide vision of Iowa which sounds like it comes from the 1930s:

In this land, deep within America, on Friday nights it’s not unusual to take a date to a Tractor Pull or to a Combine Demolition Derby (“First they were thrashin’, now they’re CRASHIN’!”). There are few billboards along the washboard-bumpy, blacktop roads that slice through the countryside, only hand-drawn signs advertising sweet corn, cattle, lemonade, or boar semen. Driving through these throwback towns, a stranger might receive a slight nod from a farmer on the side of the road, or a two-finger driver’s greeting from knobby fingers atop a pick-up’s steering wheel. Strangers are rare in these parts. Why would they be here? What would bring someone with no business or family to such a remote pocket of America, where car alarms are as unheard of as home burglar alarms? Locals don’t bother to put on their turn signals because everyone knows where everyone else is going. Some rural counties in Iowa don’t have a single traffic light.

This description is weirdly out of touch with modern Iowa, where the average acre of farm land is now worth $6,708. This means that any farmer who owns a quarter section of land (160 acres), free of debt, is a millionaire.

Bloom’s point is to heap scorn on the Iowa caucuses:

Whether a schizophrenic, economically-depressed, and some say, culturally-challenged state like Iowa should host the first grassroots referendum to determine who will be the next president isn’t at issue. It’s been this way since 1972, and there are no signs that it’s going to change. In a perfect world, no way would Iowa ever be considered representative of America, or even a small part of it. Iowa’s not representative of much. There are few minorities, no sizable cities, and the state’s about to lose one of its five seats in the U.S. House because its population is shifting; any growth is negligible. Still, thanks to a host of nonsensical political precedents, whoever wins the Iowa Caucuses in January will very likely have a 50 percent chance of being elected president 11 months later. Go figure.

Bloom’s attack on Iowa has gotten quite a bit of attention, especially from Iowans, some of whom have noted that he is paid more than $100,000 per year by Iowa taxpayers. What a waste! And what ingratitude.

It would be appropriate to fire him, but Iowahawk has something worse in store–satire. A small, hilarious sample of what Iowahawk describes as the first draft of Bloom’s article:

In this land, deep within the bowels of America, on Friday nights it’s not unusual to take a date to a Tractor Pull or to a Combine Demolition Derby. Then there are the frequent Shampooing Tournaments, and various other Friday night activities that have made it impossible for me to a find a Friday date since I arrived here 20 years ago. I mean, what’s up with that? “Sorry, Stephen, I can’t go to the Werner Herzog festival at the Bijou tonight, I’ve got another tractor pull.” Yeah, whatever, bitch. See if I vote for you at your tenure hearing.

There are few billboards along the washboard-bumpy, blacktop roads that slice through the countryside, only hand-drawn primitive signs advertising sweet corn, cattle, lemonade, or boar semen. Driving through these throwback towns, a stranger might receive a slight nod from a farmer on the side of the road, which is the secret Iowa signal for “I’ve got a fresh batch of boar semen.” Which, I’ve also discovered, is a rich source of Vitamin E.

Just about every town, no matter what size, has a water tower with the town name scrawled or stenciled on the tank’s side. Christ, talk about pathetic. “Ooooh, look at us, we’ve got a water tower!” Each summer, the 4H and Future Farmers of America sponsor contests for idiotic farmer bullshit like best pig, lamb, goat, roster or hen, and then the fat housewives compete for “best pie” (paging Dr. FREUD). A float pulled by a farmer’s pickup showcases smiling and often-hardy girls waving, to be crowned County Fair Queen, Dairy Queen, and Pork Queen. And if you approach the float for a better view, then the various Queens compete in a cop-calling contest. Don’t ask.

Iowa is these gently rolling plains, full of farms and barns and also millions of pigs and turkeys, and women who won’t have sex with you, even if you’ve been on NPR and got a positive blurb in the Times Book Review. But there also are too-many-to-count empty storefronts (and not coincidentally scores of flourishing Wal-Marts). The region has suffered terribly, particularly since the 1980’s when the ravaged farm economy started spinning out of control into free-fall. Serves them right.

Read it all, especially if you are from Iowa!

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