Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Brief (Iowa) Interlude

I apologize in advance, but I have to get serious for a moment.  You see, recently University of Iowa professor Stephen Bloom wrote a relatively scathing article in The Atlantic, entitled "Observations from 20 Years of Iowa Life."  And, it upset a lot of people whose hearts belong to the heartland.

Now, I hate to see it happen to a rookie, but obviously Dr. Bloom wasn't aware of this important rule of thumb: don't upset Iowans.  We might laugh it off at first, but I assure you we'll find ways of plotting revenge.  Like misspelling your name on a thank-you note.  Or, worse yet, not even sending you a thank-you note.

Dr. Strange-Bloom or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the BS

I remember being in the eighth grade, and being pissed off.  I had just read an article in that heralded beacon of journalism, Teen People.  It claimed that, with the advent of online shopping, girls who lived in "the middle of nowhere, like Iowa" were no longer forced to buy clothes at Walmart, but could instead join the rest of the country in shopping at "real stores" like "Delia's."


It stung.  Why would people, who very likely had never even been to Iowa, write such hurtful things?  The factual inaccuracies were clear -- thanks to a recent expansion of our local mall, we now had both a Maurice's and an American Eagle.  How dare they claim that we shopped exclusively at Walmart!!

I felt frustrated.  And infuriated.  But you know what else I felt?  Dis-empowered.  When people write things that you consider untrue, and patronizing, and stereotypical, in mass media or elsewhere, it's only natural to feel a little helpless.

Which is why I'm glad to see the thoughtful responses that Stephen Bloom's article has received (this one is particularly beautiful).  Because, people are using this opportunity to empower themselves to speak up in response to what they feel to be inaccurate and shoddy 'journalism.'

I'm not really surprised that a widely-read magazine was used as a platform to espouse controversial views and present them as truth -- this kind of stuff happens all the time.  After all, Bloom has garnered publicity in a way that would be difficult to do with just "facts."  As a result, his piece has received attention -- and subsequent debate -- on a magnitude that most true journalistic pieces do not.

Ultimately, Bloom's article has reinforced all the things I love about Iowa -- and they don't include our inclination to "cling to guns and religion."  Or the "skuzzy*, crime-infested slum towns" on the banks of the "commercially-irrelevant" Mississippi River.  No, I love Iowa because it's full of people who have an ability to be presented with unfounded criticisms, thoughtfully respond, and then move on.

And we can still make a hell of a casserole while doing so.

note: I was not familiar with the word "skuzzy," so I turned to the internet.  According to, skuzzy means: "a grade A whore or slut."  Now, I'm not sure if Dr. Bloom meant to call Keokuk, Iowa a "whore," or whether he just misspelled the word "scuzzy," meaning: dirty or grimy.  In any event, I've been to Keokuk, and they seem to do a nice job keeping their streets both clean, and free of venereal disease.


  1. Carrie,

    I appreciate that you took the time to prepare your own formal response to this article. For the most part, I decided to let it go (because it's so clearly ridiculous), but not without a few responses on various webpages along the way.

    In all seriousness, I think that the author does present some harsh truths that Iowans would be wise to consider; however, I'm convinced that his shock-and-awe presentation, riddled with overblown stereotypes, thoroughly gutted his most salient arguments.

    Thankfully, it seems impossible to think that Bloom is not now acutely aware of his failure as a fair and impartial journalist, and we can hope that he's begun the process of deflating his horrifically swollen ego.

    Hope this message finds you well and that you enjoy a warm holiday season.

    Shane Beckmann


  2. Holy crap, Shane -- it's been forever! Hope all is well. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to respond.

  3. 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.”