Sunday, April 17, 2011

Meditations on the Midwest

The Internet seems to have a lot to say about the Midwest this weekend. Two nights ago, at Jordan, Jesse, Go! at the AADL, one of the preoccupations of the hosts--who were from Hollywood, maybe you've heard of it?--was to unlock some of the secrets of "flyover country," to better connect with their audience. One approach to this was to identify our regional rivals.

"Lansing," GH joked, and then went on to explain Ann Arbor's growing resentment of our new governor.

Finally, it came out that what Michigan people really hate is Ohio. Ohio. Bleh. Ohio. "What's to hate about Ohio?" they asked. "Too mild-mannered?" Apparently, Jordan and Jesse just can't tell the difference between these bland Midwestern states.

I thought about their reaction when I was reading Jezebel's response to a Slate article about how the coasts misperceive the Midwest. Slate's conclusion, from a writer who has lived in the Midwest for ten years--Iowa and then Wisconsin--but still doesn't feel like she belongs: people here are friendly, and more fashion-conscious than you would think, but you have to work for acceptance. Politeness up front, but warmth only when enough time has passed; apparently that's different from how things roll on the coasts. Here is the Jezebel piece:
America's investment in these geo-cultural assumptions also seems specious to an outsider like myself for another, more fundamental reason: Americans are the ones making them. I have never met a national population that holds so much in common, that tells such exalted stories of themselves and their creation as a nation. Americans are always so American. Americans are all much more alike than they are different. It's like you guys don't even know that what unites you — in terms of worldview, political outlook, self-conception, food mores, shared historical and cultural knowledge, television — is so much more important than anything that might divide you. Americans, of all people, are going to act like the public toleration of fleece jackets and clogs is some kind of big, cultural shibboleth? HA. You wanna see an intranational cultural divide, go check out the rösti fence. Then we'll talk.
The Jezebel writer offers a more international perspective: she has lived in several countries and doesn't get what the big deal is here. Midwest, coasts: we're not so different, are we? Jordan and Jesse take the same perspective toward the states of the Midwest--Midwesterners are all much more alike than they are different, they seem to suggest. We share a climate, a value of superficial friendliness, apparently a love of fleece jackets and clogs. Why can't we all just get along?

But, again, they're from the West Coast. They're just never going to understand.


  1. Ohio? Mild mannered? Obviously they've never seen High Street after a football game.

  2. Ohio's The Harlequins offer some Midwest Coast tunage: