Thursday, January 12, 2012

Rural Iowa: waste-toids, meth-addicts, and elderly people waiting to die

How’s that for a sensational headline? I would take the credit for the creativity, but these are not my words. These are the words of Stephen Bloom, a journalism professor at the University of Iowa in an article that he published in The Atlantic in December.

Bloom, a New Jersey native, reflects on the twenty years he has spent as an Iowa resident in an attempt to educate readers about the state as the Iowa Caucuses approach. Page three of the article focuses on rural Iowa. Bloom brings the idealistic and mythical view that he claims that outsiders have of Iowa- the one where:

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.

Bloom spends the next several paragraphs with a harsh rebut to this myth. He cites a faltering economy, loss of jobs, and a surge of undocumented immigrants being mistreated while working dangerous factory jobs as characteristic of rural Iowa. While many of these points appear to be well-taken, he seems to go pretty extreme when describing the inhabitants of rural Iowa:

Those who stay in rural Iowa are often the elderly waiting to die, those too timid (or lacking in educated) to peer around the bend for better opportunities, an assortment of waste-toids and meth addicts with pale skin and rotted teeth, or those who quixotically believe, like Little Orphan Annie, that "The sun'll come out tomorrow.”

The article, particularly the description of the inhabitants of rural Iowa, has unsurprisingly offended many Iowans. Bloom, who is a visiting professor at the University of Michigan this year, has reportedly received many threats and fears for the safety of his family. The reaction hasn’t been limited to angry citizens and commenters, - many of his peers in Iowa have been blasting Bloom as well.

Bloom certainly has the right to his opinion, but one can’t help but point out the irony in Bloom’s attempt to dispel one stereotypical view of rural life (the idealistic version of “the country”) while promoting another (residents are all lazy, drug-addict, white-trash wastes of space). It is terrible if Bloom’s family is receiving threats, but at the same time, he might have realized that people would be highly offended by those remarks.

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