Friday, December 16, 2011

Observations on Stephen Bloom's Essay


Grain elevators near the Union Pacific rail lines at Norway, Iowa. 

This week Stephen G. Bloom, a journalism professor at the University of Iowa published an essay in The Atlantic about his 20 years of living in Iowa. (Read his work here.) His essay is a raw look at the Hawkeye state as it nears the first in the nation presidential caucus season in a few weeks.

Many readers who live in the 42N tall corn state reacted predicatively with outrage. Outside of his right to publish his observations and being critical of his employer (the State of Iowa) there are other issues of balance and context that the author chose not to address.

Bloom, a transplant from New Jersey via San Francisco who landed in Iowa City, enjoys a tenured position at a state university. His essay in a popular culture online magazine is based on a negative image of Iowa and its residents. Are some things true in his observations? Yes. The state's small and aging population coupled with a rural heritage makes easy pickings for dissecting Iowa's current culture as compared to metropolitan living. In his article Iowa's attributes become the basis for why the 29th state to join the Union is allowed to play an important role in the selection of presidential candidates.

What's the difference between this Iowa hit piece from others? Simple, the timing in the publication is directed squarely at the caucus season. Every four years discussion about how this process is structured is vetted. This time it included slashes upon middle America. Secondly, the attitude of the writer is one of projected large city know it all versus the perceived agrian salt of the upper Midwest.

It would be easy to describe New Jersey or San Francisco in terms of deviancy, aloofness, counter culture and other criteria using Bloom's template. But that is not what Iowans or constructive writers do.

Look, each state or region of the country has good and bad issues with all sorts of things like the weather, employment, population, immigration, economy, quality of living, education, etc. But look around. We collectively have the best of many worlds right here in the USA. Sure Iowa is agriculturally based. We provide some of the best corn, soy beans, and livestock to feed the world. And our technology helps many non-farm businesses also from avionics to telecommunications to medical advancements. 

Iowa has much more to offer, just like all other states. So what if our mid-continent, land locked state population isn't considered hip or cutting edge. Aren't we all in this together?

Iowans can take the criticism. Iowans can strive to fix what is broke. And, Iowans can highlight the positive qualities of living in such a great country.

For many, Professor Bloom's thought piece is a call to defend our freedoms and way of life between the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. Can we be better? Sure, that idea is what always made America strong.

Iowa's state motto is, "Our Liberties We Prize and Our Rights We Will Maintain." It is a concept relevant to Iowans and to all Americans. In under three weeks we will exercise our Liberty and select qualified candidates for the highest office in the government. Know that.