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Joy, Community and Stephen Bloom

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Recently my home state was, in my humble opinion, disgracefully attacked and stereotyped by a local college professor writing for a major magazine.  I, like many of my fellow Iowans, were hurt and dismayed at the national portrait being painted of us.

I have traveled the length and breadth of this country; I have lived in large cities, tiny towns and everything in between.  While I will not hide the fact that there are many problems facing our local communities – such as a fleeing young population, drug abuse and fervent and opposing religious and political ideals – these problems are not found only in the rural communities of Iowa and to be singled out as such and with such derogatory language is disgusting.  We are a proud state.  We value our agricultural roots (yes hogs and corn equals money here) and many of us are proud to have mudrooms in our homes because we understand that sometimes the necessary work is dirty.  We value our educations and within our three public universities, not to mention our private colleges, we can boast among the top medical, engineering and education programs in the country.  We have the only City of Literature in the United States, and there only 5 such cities in the entire world.

We laugh and find things to proud off when our ways seem a little old-fashioned; it’s true we have a thing for fairs, parades of Ford F-150’s and casseroles and a good number of our population still hunts as way for putting food on the table (and the chest freezer in the garage).  Despite the authors 20 years in Iowa he seems to have found no way to experience any of the joy and beauty of his community; he seems content to lump his friends, co-workers and student both past and present into a box tied with strings of exaggeration and stereotype.  In my more angry moments I wish to tie up his own little box, to put in the hole he’s dug himself, with the old adage “Those who can’t, teach.” however that would be insulting to friends of mine who have gone on to be excellent journalists after learning from him.

I was born here, I was raised here.  I spent many summers in towns with tiny populations complete with Pancake Day celebrations and a few instances of “Chicken Scratch Bingo”.  I wanted to leave when I was in my early twenties and I did; but I could not think of a better place to raise my family so I returned and I know many others who share this mind frame and are out of the state, experiencing the world and waiting for the perfect moment to come home again.

This Thursday we took our son to a little Holiday Celebration at a local theatre.  It is one of those old theatres, turned movie theatre (single screen of course), went under because the multiplexes and was luckily saved by the interest and love of the community and handwork of the local artist community.  I might take a stab in the air and say Mr. Bloom might turn up his noise at it; there were local musicians, dancers and choirs which got together to put on a free holiday show for the local families.  It was nothing extravagant or expensive, but it was wonderful and my husband and I left reaffirming our decision to move back across the country.

In the future, as in our pasts in this state, we will continue to experience the joys we’ve found in our community.  We will attend concerts, ballets and theatrical performances.  We will go to state fairs, flea markets and 4-H meetings.  We will hold college and high football in almost equal regard.  We will go to college only to return to our family farms and businesses.  We will mourn the passing of too many towns and communities to natural disaster and economic woes and take pride in those that are still hanging on.  We will eat too many pork chops, casseroles and desserts ending with the words “fluff”.  We will talk to you in stores and wave to you from our cars (whether we know you or not) and at the end of the day, most of us will continue to smile, nod and let those who assume they know everything about our backwards, quaint and callous ways because we are taught that it’s rude to point out such things and draw attention to your own achievements in such a brash manner.

Mr. Bloom I, ultimately, feel pity for.  I feel pity that given the opportunity to realize and expound on the careful dichotomy that is his home of the last 20 years he instead decided to compile an essay filed with error, vitriol and outdated stereotypes which give no credit to his lifetime of work and the community he calls home.

Mr. Blooms first error was an assumption not written in his essay; he assumes our differences divide us and that is where he is wrong.  We are a remarkable mixture of politics and religion, we come from little towns and big cities, we are tradesmen, farmers and professors. we have our problems and our beautiful moments; but we are not the sum of our parts because we are Iowans, plain and simple; all or nothing.

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2 responses »

  1. Very, very well said.

    Reply
  2. Here’s our show about Bloom’s article:

    “Yale talks with four native Iowans about the depiction of them and the state they call home in Stephen Bloom’s scathing and controversial article in The Atlantic Monthly, his motives for publishing it, the response its generated across the state, and its national implications with regards to Iowa’s first in the nation voting status.”

    http://patv.tv/blog/2011/12/18/talking-with-stephen-blooms-observations-oniowa/

    Reply

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