To be sure, Bloom’s essay is a long sneer. When I read it last Friday, I thought some of Bloom’s observations were spot-on and funny (collecting, casseroles, Iowa City at spring break); I thought others were tired stereotypes and wrong (tractor pulls on a Friday night?). The essay lacked balance (“Why does he still live in Iowa?” my mildly peeved mom asked) and I assumed Bloom exaggerated things for comic effect and literary flair. It was an essay, a picture of Stephen Bloom’s Iowa.
But however flawed his picture may be, I’ve been more alarmed by my state’s shrill and almost completely humorless (over)reaction to it—save for the efforts of Raygun, an Iowa store which is cranking out “You’ve survived” Iowa t-shirts.
Over the past week, Bloom-bashing has become a great and giddy sport in the state, with the most fastidious of Iowans going online to fact-check even the most trivial of Bloom’s statements:
I feel better about my state already.
It should be noted that Bloom also raises a few issues in his essay (“those dark corners”) that Iowans should probably think about. In squabbling about the finer points of turkey hunting, they might be missing some bigger, important ones like declining opportunities in rural areas and the state’s immigration issues. That said, Bloom, in his zeal to deride the state paints an unbalanced picture. Iowa is a place like any other—with all sorts of people, a good number of whom are educated professionals. The state also comes with—among other things—fine universities, hospitals, and public schools. Iowa City, Stephen Bloom’s hometown, is home to perhaps the most esteemed writing program in the country.
I’m not sure whether Iowa has lost its sense of humor, or it just doesn’t have one when getting roasted by someone from New Jersey (granted one that has lived in Iowa for decades).
Or maybe it just takes time. Though the state embraces Grant Wood’s iconic image now, Iowans were initially livid with the artist when “American Gothic” debuted in the Cedar Rapids Gazette in 1930s. One farmwife even threatened to bite Wood’s ear off. Hopefully it hasn’t come to that for Bloom.
Bloom could certainly have been less harsh and more fair, but Iowa, it’s a single piece of online opinion journalism: lighten up!