Iowa Professor Shocked To Discover He’s In Iowa

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. Stephen G. Bloom

An excerpt:


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.

See also this and this and most especially this (Iowahawk’s new parody of Bloom).


  1. Rob

    Although your part of Cornell is in NYC and not Ithaca, you must surely have spent some time in upstate NY and realize that the exact same article could be written from there.

    The US is not a big city country – it is a small town country with small town values of being neighborly and – yes – wishing people Merry Christmas on the streets! (Even in NYC people will speak to you in the street – something that almost never happens in a European city unless they are asking for money.) It is simple to see why foreigners (like myself) take a while to “get” this because all we ever see is Hollywood media depictions of the US (Friends, Seinfeld etc.), but for a native citizen to write this stuff (in anything other than jest) shows nothing less than the most appalling elitism.

    Since I moved to the US, I have spent a good portion of my time with family and friends trying to correct their misunderstanding of the country and its people. It is the media which gives the world this misunderstanding and elitist professors such as this gentleman quoted here reinforce it in spades. And then they wail about America’s image in the world?

  2. Patrick Moffitt

    You may enjoy an article written by Beryl Crowe (1969) on the causes for the “eroding myth of common values.”
    Crowe writes:
    “In looking for the cause of the erosion of the myth of a common value system, it seems to me that so long as our perceptions and knowledge of other groups were formed largely through the written media of communication, the American myth that we were a giant melting pot of equalitarians could be sustained. In such a perceptual field it is tenable, if not obvious, that men are motivated by interests. Interests can always be compromised and accommodated without undermining our very being by sacrificing values. Under the impact of electronic media, however, this psychological distance has broken down and now we discover that these people with whom we could formerly compromise on interests are not, after all, really motivated by interests but by values. Their behavior in our very living room betrays a set of values, moreover, that are incompatible with our own, and consequently the compromises that we make are not those of contract but of culture. While the former are acceptable, any form of compromise on the latter is not a form of rational behavior but is rather a clear case of either apostasy or heresy. Thus we have arrived not at an age of accommodation but one of confrontation. In such an age ‘incommensurables’ remain ‘incommensurable’ in real life.”

  3. Wayne

    I don’t know if you were purposeful or if it was subconscious, but I sense this posting and the previous one (Hitchens) share a common theme, no? Of course, the Iowa Professor is only an acolyte to the Ascended One, but the parallels are astonishing.

    In regards to the Iowa Professor, I visited New York recently — a place he would no doubt approve of — and was shocked at how polite people have become. Perhaps as the lawless ’80’s (or was it ’90’s? who can remember) have receded, so has the need to keep extra-high walls around one’s self? Or maybe Iowan-like peoples, with their strange social customs and names for things, have migrated there?

    And talk about pig shit, have you walked down a New York street on the night before trash pickup? Boy howdy, that’s cosmopolitan, plastic-bagged shit right there. And it leaves sophisticated stains on the sidewalk that you can appreciate all week long.

    Of course, this kind of observation could merely be my own personal biases about New York, but since I have a high IQ, a graduate degree, and a large vocabulary, that’s obviously very unlikely.

    (On a non-sarcastic note, I have to admit that I wouldn’t stay in Manhattan for more than a day or two, but absolutely love DUMBO. I imagine it’s expensive — we were guests, so I don’t really know — but it’s a fun, wonderful place. And have you seen those LED stop displays in the newer subway trains? Brilliant.)

  4. Speed

    This year, [Bloom] is the Howard R. Marsh Visiting Professor of Journalism at the University of Michigan.

    Michigan’s loss is Iowa’s gain.

  5. Speed

    Fine-Tuning Your Turkey Gun

    You’ve spent countless hours getting ready for turkey season. You have scouted a great location with plenty of gobblers, and you’ve practiced your calling. What about your turkey gun?

    There are some very important aspects of accurately shooting a turkey gun that need your attention before the season rolls around. After you’ve found a load that patterns well, one that puts over 100 pellets in a 10-inch circle at 40 yards, it’s time to fine tune.

    National Wild Turkey Federation

  6. To his credit, Bloom has done more to unify the state of Iowa than anything this side of an extraterrestrial invasion was likely to.

    Of course, he’ll now doubt sneeringly refer to this as “provincialism,” but, at this point, and given the myriad errors, omissions and fabrications he’s now been found to have committed, can anything he says be accepted without a salt block?

    We talked about this on our recent show about his article and the response (ongoing) it’s created.

  7. Annabelle

    My problem with Bloom’s piece is not the content (bad thought it is), it’s his execrable writing style. I would have expected better from a professor of journalism, but perhaps I’m just hopelessly naive.

  8. Annabelle

    Oops – bad though it is …

    Nothing guarantees a typo more than criticising someone else’s writing.

  9. David

    I grew up in a house with a mudroom (Montreal suburb). No pigs in our area. Turns out it was for kids.

  10. Doug M

    Economically depressed. I read annother artice this morning that suggested that since un-employment in Iowa was only 6% (7th lowest in the nation) Iowans were out of touch with the biggest promlem in America, the weak economy.

  11. Tom Bri

    Pretty funny article, overall. Hard to believe he has lived there 20 years and still finds so much mysterious. Imagine, farmers who don’t know other farmers living in other counties! That would be like, New Yorkers who don’t know other New Yorkers living several floors down in the same apartment building. Impossible of course.
    Merry Christmas!

  12. DAV

    Before moving from Pennsylvania, I had a small game over/under that was both a rifle and a shotgun. I can see the confusion by someone who has never owned a gun. In general, the shotgun is easier to use on birds. IIRC, the Atlantic corrected the original “rifle” to “shotgun”.

    Wonder why Bloom spent 20 years in a place and with people he apparently doesn’t understand nor apparently wishes to. Maybe the article is some form of humor. His neighbors must think he is quite odd himself.

  13. John M

    Did he really spend 20 years in Cedar Rapids and never hear anyone use the term “pop” for a soft drink? One wonders if he ever ventured outside the Faculty House.

    If his measure of lack of sophistication is using the term “pop”, he’s gonna find Ann Arbor to be an positively unworldly.

  14. John M

    Alright, so it’s Iowa City, 20-25 miles from Cedar Rapids. But distances are short out there.

  15. Iowahawk’s stuff is always good and sometimes incredibly good. I’m so glad you quoted him.

    This is one of my all-time favorite Briggs posts. It just really hits the mark, every which way.

  16. Rich

    Jams T. Kirk came from Iowa. Nothing wrong with Iowa.

  17. Bob Ludwick

    Midst all the levity, keep in mind that journalism schools, from Columbia to Podunk (Is there really a ‘Podunk U’?) is populated exclusively, faculty and students, with political, social, and religious clones of Bloom. A casual review of print and broadcast journalism will confirm that it has been ‘Blooming’ for at least 50 years, and is now in full flower.

  18. Will

    This guy must hate people or something. Now, I’m from Canada, where a “big” city can have fewer than 100,000 people, so maybe I’m biased.

    Even so, in every American city I’ve visited I’ve always had people talk to me on the street (and not just beggars). Americans, by and large, are outgoing and friendly.

    I remember stopping for ice cream late one night near Orlando, FL. Some kids were doing tricks on their bicycles in the parking lot, passing time and enjoying the weather I imagine. One kid was particularly good, and all of the Ice Cream seekers started applauding when he pulled of an exceptionally impressive stunt.

    It gave me a warm fuzzy feeling, to see all of these people legitimately enjoying the company of strangers. Isn’t that kind of the ideal we all would strive for?

  19. I live in Oregon, not Iowa, but we have wild turkeys here thanks to our state F&G which dumped Miriam turkeys (from New Mexico) here a few decades ago. The turkeys multiplied like crazy and now big flocks cruise the neighborhood.

    Not sure about what weapons others use, but our wild turkeys can be felled with well-thrown rock. They are not docile birds, but they are curious and will stand around on the porch if they feel like it. Where they can be smacked with a broom if that’s all you have. The dude next door uses a paintball gun to drive them away, and I have seen a few gobblers marked with orange and blue blotches.

    The best way to do wild turkeys is do coax them into the chicken pen, and then dispatch them with a 22 at pointblank range. If you are into eating wild turkeys. They taste a little like horse droppings — their favorite food, around here. Butterballs are much better eating.

    Gobbleheads, fed with horseshit, stupid to a fault, a nuisance really. Striking resemblance to certain UI faculty…

  20. dyak

    I remember a few years ago when I could read an article like Bloom’s and not notice its overbearing Jewishness.

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