Thursday, December 15, 2011

Iowahawk at his best. Line by line parody.




The Atlantic has a longish piece written by Stephen G. Bloom, journalism prof at U. of Iowa (also visiting in Ann Arbor). It's one of those gorillas in the mist, quasi anthropological pieces you see, from time to time, written by someone from one of the Illuminated Coasts who has visited 'fly over country' or has landed a job in the great Midwest, had to relocate and is consequently deep in the throws of culture shock. At points it is unintentionally hilarious, at others condescending, yet others engaged in offensive stereotyping, and still others, just plain flat out silly. The flavor of the thing? Think Thorstein Veblen in 'Minnersoter' . It's one of those pieces.

What occasions the piece? Iowa's first in the nation status vis-a-vis Presidential primary politics of course. Bloom takes it upon himself to introduce the sophisticated Atlantic readership to a foreign benighted culture. Iowahawk mercilessly skewers the result. producing one of his best.

In order to appreciate the parody, you do have to read the original. Here are some choice cuts, Bloom, then Iowahawk's renditions:

Original:

On January 3, Iowans will trudge through snow, sleet, sludge, ice, gale-force blizzards -- whatever it takes -- to join their neighbors that evening in 1,784 living rooms, community halls, recreation centers, and public-school gymnasiums in a kind of bygone-era town-hall meeting at which they'll eat and debate, and then vote for presidential candidates along party lines. Chat 'n' Chews, they are called.


Iowahawk:

On January 3, Iowans will trudge through snow, sleet, sludge, mud, ice, corn, beans, pig feces, flaming lakes of ethanol, gale-force blizzards -- whatever it takes -- to join their neighbors that evening in 1,784 living rooms, barns, community halls, recreation barns, silos, wigwams, and public-school Corn God sacrifice altars in a kind of Norman Rockwell-meets-HR Geiger old timey bygone-era past-that-never-was town-hall folksy-regular-folks go-to-town-meeting at which they'll eat and debate, and then battle with corn hoes and pitchforks to choose their presidential candidates along party lines. The local tribal elders call this "Kaukkassqaatsi," the Iowa word for "run on sentences."


Original:

For almost 20 years I've lived in Iowa, where as a professor at the University of Iowa I've taught thousands of university students. I've written a couple of books on rural Iowa, traveling to all 99 counties, and have spent much of my time when not teaching, visiting with and interviewing Iowans from across the state. I haven't taken up hunting or fishing, the main hobbies of rural Iowans, but I'm a fan of University of Iowa Hawkeye football, so I'm a good third of the way to becoming an adopted Iowan. I even have a dog, born and bred in Iowa (more on that later).



Iowahawk:

For almost 20 years I've lived in Iowa, where as a professor at the University of Iowa I've taught thousands of university students. When I arrived I was mortified how few of them were prepared to write an impactful, 300-word, two-paragraph, fully-hyphenated sentence. After my initial shock subsided, I became curious about the strange culture that produced these fascinating young drunks. I overcame my agoraphobia and began walkabouts into Iowa's foreboding outback. I've written a couple of books on rural Iowa, traveling to all 99 counties, and have spent much of my time when not teaching or applying for safari supply grants, visiting with and interviewing Iowans from across the state of Iowa in Iowa. I haven't taken up hunting or fishing or methamphetamine, the main hobbies of rural Iowans, but I'm a fan of University of Iowa Hawkeye football, so I'm told I am a good third of the way to becoming an adopted Iowan. According to my students, the final two steps of my official Iowa adoption ritual involve challenging and defeating an Iowa State player in a bar fistfight. I even have a dog, born and bred in Iowa (more on that later) .


Original:

After winning the Iowa Caucuses three years ago, then-candidate Barack Obama didn't mince words about the lingering impact of the Farm Crisis.

Speaking at a San Francisco fundraiser, Obama said, "Like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. 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."*

Obama got scalded for his comments. Those are tough sentiments to share with those caught in the middle. I imagine many in the rural Midwest must have said a variation of this -- "Whaddaya expect from a Harvard-educated, black city slicker who wouldn't know a John Deere tractor from an International Harvester combine?" And what better audience before which to piss on rural America than one filled with wealthy Bay Area Democrats, few of whom could pick out Iowa from Nebraska? If the audience wasn't primarily vegan, gluten-intolerant foodies, what came out of Obama's mouth was some of the most succulent red meat he could have tossed their way.

Coastal elites love to dump on Iowa the same way Manhattanites trash New Jersey. Iowa is the place East and West Coasters call "Fly-over Country." It didn't rate even a speck in Sol Steinberg's classic 1967 New Yorker cover. Obama's comments went over without a second thought, until they wafted back to the Heartland. What Average Joe in Iowa wants to admit he clings to anything -- except hunting, fishing, and the Hawkeyes? Guns, religion, xenophobia? Them's fightin' words.

Obama might have been wrong for telling the truth, which seldom happens in politics, but the future president was 100-percent accurate when he let slip his comments on the absolute and utter desperation in America's hollowed-out middle, in particular in the state where I live.

There's the idealized version of rural America, then there's the heartbreaking real version, the one Obama was talking about.

Take One: The fairytale rendering is pastoral and bucolic; sandy-haired children romping through fecund, shoulder-high corn with Lassie at their side. It's Field of Dreams meets Carousel with The Waltons thrown in for good measure. The ruddy, wooden Bridges of Madison County (where John Wayne was born) may be in the background as the camera pans wide.

Take Two: The nightmare reality is tens of thousands of laid-off rural factory workers, farmers who have lost their land to banks and agribusiness, legions of unemployed who have come to the realization that it makes no sense to look for work, since work pretty much no longer exists for them.


Iowahawk:

After winning the Iowa Caucuses three years ago, then-candidate Barack Obama didn't mince words about the lingering impact of the Farm Crisis.

Speaking at a San Francisco fundraiser, Obama said, "Like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. 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."

Instead of the praise he should have got for that insightful burn, Obama got scalded for his comments. I imagine many in the rural Midwest must have said a variation of this -- "Whaddayewww them-thar expect from an dangity dagnab pointy-haided egghaid Harvard black boy city slicker wouldn't know him a John Deere corn-o-mometer from an International Harvester alfalfarizer?" Also I imagine them shooting guns in the air randomly, nude, except for bib overalls, with swastikas.

Coastal elites love to dump on Iowa the same way Manhattanites trash New Jersey. And why not? It didn't rate even a speck in Sol Steinberg's classic 1967 New Yorker cover. And if you don't merit a mention by the New Yorker, it's time to take the Greyhound back to Des Moines and live with the humiliation, Elmer. Obama's comments went over without a second thought, until they wafted back to the Heartland. What Average Joe in Iowa wants to admit he clings to anything -- except hunting, fishing, and the Hawkeyes? Guns, religion, xenophobia? Them's Fightin' Words, cuz I is too trajamickly durn darn dumb fer the self-awareniss that that pointyhaid Professer Bloom just cleverly pointed out them thar analogies betwixt guns=huntin', religion=fishin' and Hawkeyes = that thar Nazi zee-no-fobia.

Obama might have been wrong for telling this undeniable truth, which seldom happens in politics, but the future president was 100-percent accurate when he let slip his comments on the absolute and utter desperation in America's hollowed-out middle, in particular in the state where I live.

There's the idealized version of rural America, then there's the heartbreaking George Harrison '74 Concert for Bangladesh Double Live Album version Obama was talking about.

Take One: The fairytale rendering is pastoral and bucolic; sandy-haired children romping through fecund, shoulder-high corn with Lassie at their side. It's Field of Dreams meets Carousel with The Waltons thrown in for good measure. And also, State Fair, and The Music Man, with 76 trombones marching through sunny streets of Pleasantville with highstepping girls in pinafores and button shoes, do-si-doing with apple cheeked boys in knickers. In short, a fairytale utopian Never-ever-land where you don't have to pay women for sex.

Take Two: The nightmare reality is Children of the Corn sewn together with the Hills Have Eyes in a Human Corn Borer at Motel Hell. Tens of thousands of laid-off rural factory workers, farmers who have lost their land to banks and agribusiness, legions of female graduate students who continue to ignore your emails even though they honestly aren't that attractive, and a relationship with you could probably help their career.


Original:

Today, I still not quite sure what I'd gotten myself into. I've lived in many places, lots of them foreign countries, but none has been more foreign to me than Iowa.

They speak English in Iowa. You understand the words fine. (Broadcasters, in fact, covet the Iowa "accent," since it could come from anywhere, devoid of regional inflections.) But if you listen closely, though, it's a wholly different manner of speaking from what folks on either coast are accustomed to.

Indoor parking lots are ramps, soda is pop, lollipops are suckers, grocery bags are sacks, weeds are volunteers, miniature golf is putt-putt, supper is never to be confused with dinner, cellars and basements are totally different places, and boys under the age of 16 are commonly referred to as "Bud." Almost every Iowa house has a mudroom, so you don't track mud or pig shit into the kitchen or living room, even though the aroma of pig shit is absolutely venerated in Iowa: It's known to one and all here as "the smell of money."

Friday fish fries at the American Legion hall; grocery and clothing shopping at Wal-Mart; Christmas crèches with live donkeys, sheep and a neighborhood infant playing Baby Jesus; rifle-toting hunters stalking turkeys in the fall (better not go for a walk in the countryside in October or November). Not many cars in these parts of America. They're vehicles, pronounced ve-HICK-uls -- 4X4's, pick-ups, snowmobiles). Rural houses are modest, some might say drab. Everyone strives to be middle-class; and if you have some money, by God you'd never want to make anyone feel bad by showing it off. If you go to Florida for a cruise, you keep it to yourself. The biggest secret often is -- if you still own farmland -- exactly how many acres. Ostentatious is driving around town in a new Ford F-150 pickup.


Iowahawk:

Today, I still not quite sure what I'd gotten myself into. I've lived in many places, lots of them foreign countries, but none has been more foreign to me than Iowa. And this includes Bankok Fetish Fest on LSD during typhoon season.

They speak English in Iowa. You understand the words fine. (Broadcasters, in fact, covet the Iowa "accent," since it could come from anywhere, devoid of regional inflections.) But if you listen closely, after compressing the low band and running it backwards on a TEAC reel-to-reel, they are actually saying KILL YOUR MOTHER in Esperanto.

Indoor parking lots are 'ramps,' soda is 'pop,' lollipops are 'suckers,' grocery bags are 'sacks,' croquette mallets are 'lawn wackers,' cellars and basements are totally different places, chloroform cannot be found at the drug store, and girls under the age of 16 are commonly referred to as "underage." Almost every Iowa house has a 'mudroom,' so you don't track mud or pig shit into the kitchen or living room, as if anyone from Iowa would ever notice. The aroma of pig shit is absolutely venerated in Iowa: It's known to one and all here as "the smell of money." I learned this from a student who doused me with a bucket of Iowa money from his dorm window, explaining that in Iowa it is considered a great honor to have someone 'make it rain' on you.

Friday fish fries at the American Legion hall; grocery and clothing shopping at Wal-Mart; Christmas crèches with live donkeys, pterodactyls and an intergalactic alien playing Baby Jesus; hunters with Roman catapults stalking yetis in the fall. Not many cars in these here parts of America. They're vehicles, pronounced we-HAKE-loose -- 4X4's, pick-ups, snowmobiles. Rural houses are modest, some might say drab, and seldom have walls. Everyone strives to be middle-class; and if you have pig shit, by God you'd never want to make anyone feel bad by showing off it with. If you go to Florida for a cruise, or Bankok for a Fetish Fest, you keep it to yourself. The biggest secret often is -- if you still own a farm -- exactly which farmhouse window in is the daughter's bedroom. Ostentatious is chasing strangers out of town in a new Ford F-150 pickup.


Wow. That ain't no skewerin' that's a full on barbeeQ, flambeau. That's what that is.

So, what do actual aboriginal Iowans think of Bloom's portrait of themselves and their home? There are various reactions, shock of shocks, they are a diverse bunch, but this long comment from one woman, Holly Peterson, sums up nicely:

Hmmm. I have to agree with the criticisms of this piece. I'm from Des Moines, and this is not the Iowa I know.

The Iowa I know is found in the following real life scenarios:

1. In Iowa we spend summer nights on a restored prairie and oak savanna with fireflies and somebody playing a guitar. The kids light sparklers, we sip white wine and eat organic meat and heirloom veggies raised by the farmer and gardeners at the potluck.

2. I've worked on the board of a preservation foundation to preserve Iowa's historic ag buildings. The people on the board are the history of Iowa down to the stories of their childhoods, weddings, and farm life.

3. I'm within walking distance of five coffee shops and have an active neighborhood association. I'm friends with people who run for school board, save beloved landmarks, homeschool, build things, carve things, paint things, have dogs just for companionship, and for whom family meal time is expected and likely to be delicious and healthy.

4. We have Christmas Eve at my husband's grandpa's century farm where the gifts are often handmade jewelry made from art glass. The same candies are made and consumed every year. The same story is read. The same procedure is followed. And the roots are there for you forever. You are always welcome there.

5. My children are friends with immigrants from Yemen, Ethiopia, South Africa, and Greece. They are also friends with Buddhists, Jews, Orthodox Christians, Evangelical Christians, atheists, and everything in between.

6. In my husband's nuclear family and in my nuclear family... there is one person who has hunted one time, and we grew up in southeast Iowa! We own nothing camo print. We had a black lab and never had one person ask us if it was a hunting dog.

7. My husband (a software architect) and the history professor down the street trade book suggestions about the Civil War. My friends (professor and programmer) sold everything and started raising livestock and chickens and berries and apples. We have lots of people with grad degrees and my husband was a National Merit Scholar who STAYED in Iowa.

8. All of my neighborhood schools are International Baccalaureate schools.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, I know maybe 5-10 people who meet the stereotypes presented here. I've lived in Iowa my entire life, starting in Burlington, moving to Cedar Falls, and ending up in Des Moines. I think Iowa is beautiful, family friendly, and blissfully uncrowded. After a delightful time in San Francisco this summer (the author's home place?), we came home and sighed a wonderful luxurious sigh at the roomy tree lined streets, the clean parks, the restaurants where you can get a nice meal for a decent price, where homeless people are hard to find and ministered to on a regular basis, where I can live in a historic home that I paid a modest price for, and where I get to be a stay at home mom and live on one income.

You know, this sort of thing happened when I read the Oxford Project (which I liked). Before reading this book, I happened to be driving through Oxford. I was finally going to go to Kalona. I never made it to Kalona because of a charming handpainted sign that said, "Anna's Cutting Garden". So, my sister and I with my kids had to follow up on it. What we found was Anna and her white farmhouse, with the little potting shed. She had a zipline and cute chickens clucking about. Little children jumping from giant hay bale to giant haybale were laughing. And her garden. WOW. It was amazing, wildflowers, herbs, and cultivated flowers everywhere. Bulbs, everything. She invited us in. She had us pick a vase (on the house), she had us cut as many flowers as we liked for some ridiculous low fee (like five dollars, maybe, fifteen?) And then she showed us her outdoor brick pizza oven that she built for parties at the garden and a straw bale home that some college students were building for fun. Then later I read the Oxford Project and thought to myself that there is a lot more to Oxford than what you find in the book.

Iowa is teeming with life. Study prairies and waterways. There is so much here to be found. So much beauty. And there IS joy. And there ARE laughing, happy children (who also become naughty, grumpy children like everyone else) playing about with fireflies on farms all across Iowa.

That is MY experience of Iowa. That is why I stay. That is why my husband has turned down offers from amazing companies in amazing locations. Because, in my opinion, we have it the best here.


Well said, and touché.