Stephen Bloom is a long-time professor of journalism (“Double spacing has twice as much space as single spacing”, “On-line journals are called ‘blogs'”) at the University of Iowa. Bloom thinks rather well of himself. So much so that he thought he should inform the country of his travails at being stuck far from civilization in a think piece (the technical phrase for articles like this, a fact one could learn in Professor Bloom’s class) in The Atlantic.
DAY ONE: BASE CAMP, IOWA CITY
We all have a mission, I thought. For those faceless students: diversity seminars, Nam Jun Paik film retrospectives at the Union, maybe Dollar Pitcher Nite at the Airliner. For me: Von Drehle.
It – or rather, he – is the mission that has brought me to this dismal and lonely outpost on the edge of reason. Tomorrow I will make the dangerous trek north on Dubuque Street to Exit 242, merge into the river of semi-trailers on Interstate 80, and head west into the great red unknown between here and Boulder.
It is the same route Von Drehle followed before he went missing: I-80 to Nebraska, then south on highway 77 through Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Ironically the Post had sent Von Drehle on his own mysterious mission – to learn why the natives were suddenly agitating against Post subscription offers. He went missing on January 11, emailing his final story draft with a cryptic personal note: “the horror… the horror.”…
“Is it true what they say?” asked Fleming, the young photographer whom the Post has assigned to accompany me on the journey up-asphalt. “I mean, about the religion, and the cannibalism?”
Actually, that is from a classic Iowahawk column, “Heart of Redness.” The only difference between it and Bloom’s piece is that Bloom actually quotes Keith Olbermann as an authority on political extremism. Evidently, irony is a subject taught only in the English department at Iowa.
The purpose of Bloom’s cri du foie is to calm fellow academics who, because of pressure to find work, must venture inland away from the coasts and the comforting civilization arising from correctly held political views, and find work in “schizophrenic, economically-depressed, and some say, culturally-challenged state[s] like Iowa.” Like Bloom had to do.
Bloom doesn’t like white people very much, which is surprising given that he is one. That is, he might not mind whites in isolation, or when their population is kept within officially designated limits, but he’s agin them when they forms herds. “Rural America has always been homogenous, as white as the milk the millions of Holstein cows here produce.” Earlier he (incorrectly, as it turns out) quotes the percent of whites in Iowa; later, in case one forgets these lessons, he twice mentions how many whites there are. They shop at Wal-Mart! They call bratwursts “brats”!
“Just about every town, no matter what size, has a water tower with the town name scrawled or stenciled on the tank’s side.” Journalists with PhDs aren’t taught about how water finds it way to taps, so it’s no wonder Bloom find this wondrous.
Remember when The One, when he was campaigning for president (and who thought he was off-mike) said, “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”? Bloom says these words are truth. Who said college journalism professors have a political bias?
It especially shocks him that complete strangers will greet him with a “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Easter.” He battles back in the classroom and gives his students a taste of his own theology. “Such well-wishes are not appropriate for everyone, I tell my charges gently. A cheery ‘Happy holidays!’ will suffice. Small potatoes, I know, but did everyone have to proclaim their Christianity so loud and clear?”
What especially shocks Bloom, and what he thought worthy of mentioning, were the non-religious, apolitical practices in which these hicks engage:
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…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…
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; shotgun-toting* hunters stalking turkeys in the fall (better not go for a walk in the countryside in October or November).
The asterisk led to a correction where the The Atlantic editors inform us that Bloom was unable to differentiate between shotguns and rifles. Anyway, what poor Bloom—who purports an expertise on flyover peoples behavior—does not know is that many non-Iowan houses have mudrooms for the very good reason that most people don’t have doormen, that the American Legion is comprised of those who have served their country by risking their lives and that these men enjoy each other’s company, that meat actually comes from animals, and on an on. In short, all these weird, perplexing things to Bloom are normal for the majority of the population.
Merry Christmas, Mr Bloom. May your unwanted tarrying in purgatory allow you to see things As They Really Are.