Iowa Under Attack

Stephen Bloom

A professor of journalism at the University of Iowa, Stephen Bloom, has written an article for The Atlantic about life in Iowa.  In the piece, he argues that the state is ill-suited to help determine the next president of the United States, declaring, “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.”

This may seem harsh, but Mr. Bloom is just getting started.  In his rambling and unfocused 5700-word article, Mr. Bloom has much more to share about Iowa, using descriptors such as “depressed,” “crime-infested,” “slum town,” “polluted,”  ”schizophrenic,” “culturally-challenged,” and “bizarre.”

Mr. Bloom seems to have a particular interest in rural Iowa, declaring that, “Those who stay in rural Iowa are often the elderly waiting to die, those too timid (or lacking in educated) (sic) 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.”

Wow, and though I don’t know what a “waste-oid” is, I’m betting that it’s not a good thing.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Bloom’s observations have generated many comments and even some anger, but he accepts this as a price to be paid for “raising uncomfortable truths.”  In response to the aftermath of his article, he released a statement, which began ““For 40 years as a journalist, I’ve tried to shine a light into dark corners.  That’s what good journalists do. They don’t accept what politicians, government bureaucrats, corporate spokespeople say is the truth. Good journalism isn’t just reporting. It’s making observations, trying to make sense out of the world and its shadows — even if readers don’t agree with those observations.”

He throws in a few statistics (usually incorrect and misleading, which I’ll discuss in another post) to show how rural Iowa is a wasteland of broken residents and failed towns, but this is where his argument falls apart.

Iowa should not be condemned for having problems, because every state is facing these same problems in varying degrees.  Given that no one state is a perfect representation of our country (and Mr. Bloom doesn’t identify another as a better choice), he seems to use his notion of Iowa’s unsuitability as a primary state as an excuse to unleash his mean-spirited barrage of criticism.

Here’s my advice to Mr. Bloom…  move. Find a new home. Live somewhere else.  You are very unhappy with your surroundings and neighbors, and you need to find people you like, and who like you. Life is too short.

He may be disappointed, however.  Every place has people who are annoying, mean, intolerant, small-minded, selfish, and rude, just like Iowa.  Every place is also home to people who are kind, loving, generous, caring, outgoing, and open, just like Iowa.  And sometimes all these traits even inhabit the same people.  Sort of like family.

If your final, ultimate indictment against Iowa is that people comment during your dog-walking, asking if your yellow Lab “hunts well”, then there are deeper issues at play, and you need to try a new city, to discover and chronicle all its irritating quirks.
(Readers – I am not making this up about the dog-walking. If you have not read the article, I urge you to do so.)


4 Replies to “Iowa Under Attack”

  1. I don’t know why Sperling has to defend every damn town or city or state in America just because he publishes some column about best places in America. It is not his duty to defend every place in the country.

    I can understand the suggestion Sperling makes that Bloom should just move. I basically agree with that – hey Bloom, get out of there. Sounds horrible. If you hate an area, get out. But some people are stuck. I sympathize with Bloom – who has lived in Iowa for 20 years – it is not easy getting a professorship job – perhaps he feels a little stuck, which is understandable. There are many PhD’s who went to nice westcoast or eastcoast or midwest or southern schools in nice university towns or major stimulating cities – and who end up with professorships in less exciting rural locations all over the country – I guess that is part of the academic game.

    HOWEVER…. Re dogs: Sperling is way wrong here. Dog lovers really do have a sensitivity to other living animals beyond dogs – once you get to the place in your emotional development where you recognize how emotional and sensitive a dog is and how much unconditional love they and many other animals can have, it is difficult to pick up a gun and go kill some poor deer or bear or pig or any living thing.

    Personally, I find hunting disgusting and cruel, like dog fighting -and the people who hunt are twisted and sick and quasi perverted – getting some sort of bizarre (sexual?) thrill out of killing a deer or a moose, or a wild pig, or bird. Look at Dick Cheney – he is a classic example of a twisted old geezer who probably hasn’t had an erection for the last 40 years, but can still squeeze the trigger of a hunting rifle and watch an animal die. What kind of sicko gets into that? I find hunters to be generally insensitive to animals. Who but a butcher could shoot a defenseless deer or bear or wild boar- and then finish it off with a knife if the bullet didn’t do the job. It takes a sick character to be a hunter.

    And hunters think of dogs in a utilitarian way – ie, “can he hunt.” And a high percentage of people from other farming communities everywhere, often think of dogs as “work animals” and can’t conceive of connecting with them. For the typical Iowa farm person, a dog sleeps in the barn or outside in a doghouse – but is never allowed in the house and is rarely taken on walks and is rarely thought of as a “companion” animal. If a dog gets real sick or requires an operation or intervention that costs money, many farmer/hunter types will just tell the vet to euthanize the animal – hell, they’ll “get another one.” Hey, if you don’t believe me, go ask a vet about this! Sure there are exception, but generally this is true. So when a rural country Iowan asks if the dog is a good hunter, that totally reflects their mentality and attitude about dogs. And about living things other than dogs. Dog’s and other lives are viewed as essentially disposable and they are work animals to be essentially exploited. Bloom is right on. That question says it all.

    Sperling’s critique of Bloom’s dog comment seems to reveal perhaps, in my mind, that Sperling has never had a dog and can’t relate to the love people have for their dogs. I would be surprised if Sperling is a hunter – but I don’t know him – maybe he is. And if he is not a hunter, I wonder if he ever stops and thinks before he eats a burger from cows tortured and slaughtered at factory farms. I wonder if he eats bacon and has ever considers what pigs go through when they are slaughtered and raised in confined gestation cages. They are miserable and tortured – and pigs and intelligent animals with emotions who many have raised as pets.

    All over rural America, animals are abused. The midwest (Missouri in particular) is the center of puppy mills – and legislators from rural districts everwhere (including my sttae of California) continually block legislation that tries to improve the quality of life of farm animals. Doesn’t Sperling understand the mentality of a hunter and how that disregard for animal life can often be translated to a low regard for dogs? I see the connection that Bloom is making – I don’t see why Sperling doesn’t.

    One last comment – when I visited Sioux City, Iowa about 10 years ago, we walked with our dogs to the top of a hill in the greater downtown area – and looked down over a major Hormel slaughterhouse right at the base of this hill at the edge of the downtown. With many railroad tracks and trains running up to the slaughterhouse. And just from our vantage point, we counted a half a dozen bars sort of surrounding the place. This is where the quasi-illegal immigrants probably go after a shift (or before) to take away the horror of what they just did to those animals. Hey, if slaughterhouses had glass walls, everybody woud be a vegetarian. But the obese, diabetic Americans just prefer to look the other way while they stuff their faces blissfully. “I’ll have another burger, Coke, and fries, please.!”

    1. Derek,
      Thank you for your empassioned commentary.
      I confess that I hadn’t made the connection about the question regarding Mr. Bloom’s dog ability to hunt revealing a deeper insight into the values of the questioner.
      I think about some of points you’ve raised, such as how can I enjoy a steak or bacon when animals are raised and slaughtered for my benefit. In the same way, I think about people in the U.S. and abroad who do not have enough for health care or decent meals. It bothers me, and I try to make sense of living in this modern world with its many complexities. I just try to do the best I can, balancing all the opposing considerations.
      For the record, we’ve had dogs in our family for most of the last twenty years, and they have been beloved companions. Even as I write this, some tears are welling up thinking about our Molly who died of kidney failure in the spring of 2011.
      Best, Bert

  2. I just spent a week in Iowa City at Memorial Day. My sister and I were struck by how clean, peaceful, and friendly the area is. I have lived in the LA area for almost 50 years; my sister in the Bay Area for almost 40. Both are areas where many of the things Bloom claims about Iowa are, in fact, true; facts he should well know. I was born at the University of Iowa Hospital where my mother, both my aunts, my uncle, and two cousins trained as RNs or MD. Perhaps Mr. Bloom, before he moves, would like to look at the Citi-Data for Iowa City. If is a reliable source, the statistics from several years make Iowa look pretty good: unemployment for the city and the state below the national rates, high school and college graduation and higher education rates high and better than many other places, crime rates lower than national averages. There are some small towns that are failing, as is the case in too many other states in this country. However, for some towns that have failed, others are succeeding. The small town where I attended kindergarten while we waited for my father, a career USAF man, to return from Korea, has doubled it’s population and the boy I ran from after leaving him a May Basket has a home worth a million dollars which is peanuts in LA or some places in the East Bay, but not bad for Iowa…again, if Spokeo can be believed. Demographics list the White percentage about equal to the rest of the US, depending on what ethnicities are included in Hispanic/Latino and how ‘other’ is differentiated. There appear to be some types of pollution that are worse than national rates, but some types are also better. I was unable to determine how many wastoids or meth addicts there are. While not a meth addict, I have taken my pale skin and teeth, fillings and crowns, back to California. I missed his article, but would like to suggest a place he might be happy and find safety. It’s called Shangri La. Thank you for drawing this to our attention.

    1. Hi Marilyn,
      I agree. No place is perfect, and there are good aspects to every place I’ve visited.
      Mr. Bloom feels that Iowa doesn’t represent our country.
      Well, Iowa may not represent the entire United States, any more than one person is the average citizen or a single day encapsulates a whole year, but it represents many of the issues that exist throughout our country.
      Thanks for your comments.
      Best, Bert

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