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Author Topic: Bloom on Iowa?  (Read 36564 times)
crumpet
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« on: December 19, 2011, 12:03:18 PM »

Bloom, a professor in Iowa, recently wrote this article on politics in Iowa:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/12/observations-from-20-years-of-iowa-life/249401/?single_page=true#

It has drawn an enormous amount of criticism for how he portrays Iowa. Many feel that professors are snobs if they don't like their work location (or notice all of the warts and wrinkles).

Diversity is a key point -- political, ethnic, cultural/social -- which is why I posted this thread here (feel free to move though).

Did any of you experience a rough transition with your first job? How did you adapt? Do you feel like this type of snobbery (if that's what it is) is one of the problems in academe today?
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helpful
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« Reply #1 on: December 19, 2011, 1:20:04 PM »

He was telling it like it is. I don't think he doesn't like the state. It sounds like a nice place to live.
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crumpet
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« Reply #2 on: December 19, 2011, 1:48:50 PM »

I actually don't know Iowa so I'm not sure how accurate his description is. Some of the responses to him seem a bit too strong because his tone is really condescending. But isn't he also pointing out that the Heartland is in trouble? Isn't he saying we can't ignore this?

I work in an industrial/economically challenged town in the UK. Everyone there, not just my colleagues, bemoan their existence there. I prefer a big city, but I actually think its not bad.
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erzuliefreda
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« Reply #3 on: December 19, 2011, 3:49:05 PM »

This post from the comments is why I never tell my students how I feel about the state where I work:

"I also did my grad work at U I, and you are spot on saying this is typical of the faculty there.  These people love the tax dollars that pay their salaries, spit on the people that pay them, and hope nobody notices they probably couldn't land a job on one of their beloved coasts."

Part of the customer service part of this job is smiling and nodding and saying how nice things are here. 
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tee_bee
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« Reply #4 on: December 19, 2011, 4:24:52 PM »

I like Iowa, although that's the point. I also grew up in another distant and misunderstood state whose name begins and ends in a vowel, although it isn't anything like Iowa. But Bloom writes in the time-honored tradition of "sloppy journalists who visit a place once, record their impressions, and insist this is The Truth about an entire place."

What's most spectacular about Bloom's sloppy and silly little ravings is the sloppiness of the journalism, viz:

* No one ever calls a caucus in Iowa a chat n chew. I've studied this stuff for years. Never heard it.

* No one calls I 80 "the highway" as if it were the only one in Iowa.

* Of course people vote in the Iowa caucuses along party lines. They're party caucuses. Think harder.

* One does not hunt turkey with a rifle (legally) in Iowa.

* Consider this gem:

Quote
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, and boys under the age of 16 are commonly referred to as "Bud." Almost every Iowa house has a mudroom, so you don't track mud or pig s*** into the kitchen or living room, even though the aroma of pig sh*t [redacted, alas] is absolutely venerated in Iowa: It's known to one and all here as "the smell of money."

Wow, there are regional variations in American English? Who knew? But so what? Does calling a parking garage a ramp  mean anything? No. Also, my Iowa in-laws use supper and dinner interchangeably, and while they do have a room one might call a mud room, there's no pig within 5 miles of their house--and they live in rural Webster County.

There's more, but it's like shooting fish in a barrel. Bloom's book Postville was generally good, but, like in this "not-really-thinking" piece, Postville is as much about Bloom as it is about the Lubavichers or about Iowa. The first third of the book seems to be about Bloom's shattering cultural displacement experienced when moving from Brooklyn to the cultural wasteland of....Iowa City? WTF?

So Bloom claims to have been all over Iowa, but lives in or near Iowa City? That's, umm....not really representative of Iowa, either in the "everyone's an illegal rifle-toting turkey hunter reveling in the smell of pig sh*t" sense, or in the "Iowa is [anything else....] sense." I don't really expect professors with such displacement to be able to discern the essential nature of a state from living in Eugene, or Missoula, or Storrs, for that matter.

Sure, it's fair to hate whatever state one is in--chacun a son gout, y'all. But if what Bloom wrote is supposed to be "journalism" even in the "feature journalism" sense, it's an abject failure. It's sloppy, there was no fact-checking, it's mean-spirited without having a point, and it is nothing but a fine model of the depths to which journalism has sunk in the early 21st century. It's rubbish.

He was telling it like it is. I don't think he doesn't like the state. It sounds like a nice place to live.

It is a nice place. I'd kill to live there (my wife's from there. I rather like it). But Bloom wasn't telling it "like it is," because what "it is" is really not defined. He did tell it like he thinks it is from his lofty perch in Iowa City. He needs to get out more. Yeah, he's been in all 99 counties of Iowa; I've been to at least half that many, but whipping through on I-80 or US-30 doesn't really count.

In the end, Iowans seem less upset by the dinner/pop/ramp stuff, which they rather proudly own as an interesting language variation, as they are by the arrogance of this guy who's been on the state payroll for 20 years and who writes this cr@p. Not because it's mean-spirited or confused or whatever, but because so much of it is factually incorrect. Most Iowans suffer the opinionated very well--they have to, every four years. But they don't suffer fools well.

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glenwood
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« Reply #5 on: December 19, 2011, 4:28:00 PM »

Since this has been posted in the diversity forum, what do people make of this passage from Bloom's essay?

"An interesting sidelight to the outflow problem is the rapid influx of Chinese students at the University of Iowa. The university vigorously recruits Chinese undergraduates, and has even set up an office in Beijing with the express purpose of attracting Chinese to study in Iowa (no other recruiting office exists anywhere else). Almost all come from well-heeled families, who pay full tuition for their children to attend college. Few speak passable English, almost all congregate in majors that require little English (math, biology and actuarial science), and many drive around town in brand-new sports cars. It's a strange sight to see in Flyover County -- dozens of Chinese students moving together en masse, the girls chattering away in Mandarin, always holding each others' hands. These wealthy, ill-prepared bonus babies are seen as the future of the University"

Just a summary: he is able to identify Chinese citizens on sight (even if they are just driving by in a car, he can tell whether students are Americans of Chinese descent, born in California, or foreign students born in China!), he knows that few of them speak English well (based on the citation that he, as a professor of communications has included, . . . where, exactly?), he knows that most of them don't need adequate English for their majors (and that people who major in biology don't really need adequate English, either!), and he seems put off by their weird, foreign ways (i.e. they don't hang out together, they move "en masse", they don't talk, they are "chattering away" in an unserious manner!).

Is this man in favor of more diversity in Iowa or against it?

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tee_bee
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« Reply #6 on: December 19, 2011, 5:50:36 PM »


Is this man in favor of more diversity in Iowa or against it?


I think he's all about more diversity--more secular Jews from Brooklyn in Iowa City, for starters. No, that's not at all antisemitic. My point is that his writing seems to have a fairly consistent theme--his displacement from his native culture. Nothing wrong with that--can't get a decent bagel where I live either, and the Kosher section of our grocery store is pretty barren.

But then to spew the inane stereotypes about Asian students.... Anyway, this just goes to his one major journalistic trait: his intellectual laziness.
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daniel_von_flanagan
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« Reply #7 on: December 19, 2011, 6:16:17 PM »

Interesting.  I taught at Iowa for a couple of years, and liked Iowa City and the University very much.  I also thought the students there - excepting some from the Chicago suburbs - were a delight, which is a very positive reflection on the state.  However, I had by then lived in several other locations, both coastal and central, urban and rural, so I already had a bit of a sense of proportion.  New Yorkers can be very very provincial.  My Brooklynite mother was in her 50s before she stopped judging places entirely on how much like New York they were.  It sounds like Bloom hasn't got there yet. - DvF
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crumpet
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« Reply #8 on: December 19, 2011, 6:54:51 PM »

Its interesting how we all stereotype. People from rural areas feel like its totally okay to say 'I could never live in New York City!", "SF is full of rich, liberal, vegetarians"...etc, etc. When it goes the other way, people get riled up.

I noticed this because I'm from a small town in an area of the country reviled by most of the rest of the country. Big city people would say things about where I was from (included a high school teacher I had). I've lived most of my adult life in big cities though and my own grandmother has said horrible things about the city I call home. I'm turned off by both knee-jerk responses.

Life is easier when we learn to find the good in different places. I definitely have my preferences, but I try to take places for what they are.

Its astounding to me that Bloom lived and researched in Iowa for 20 years, but still hasn't come to terms with his surroundings. And yes, he seems to have an odd take on diversity in Iowa. Its wonderful that there are so many study abroad students there. Why stereotype? I wonder how much time he spent operating in his non-native language while at University...its incredibly challenging.
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aandsdean
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« Reply #9 on: December 19, 2011, 7:23:12 PM »

My first job was in Iowa, and that job lasted for 10 years (I started about the same time Bloom did).  I grew up in Los Angeles, and felt like I'd fallen off the edge of the planet, for sure.

However, I got over it.

A fellow Forumite e-mailed me some time ago about Bloom's essay, so I read it, and the very interesting front page article that came out a few days later in the Des Moines Register.

I think Bloom's article sounds like the writing of a smart, talented English major who has sort of an eye for satire but doesn't yet know what he doesn't know.  In other words, it's literally "sophomoric."  For someone who occupies a fairly lofty perch, in an absolute sense, in the academy, it's pretty crappy work.

In Iowa, rural mail carriers listen to NPR, by the way.

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Que scay-je?
crumpet
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« Reply #10 on: December 19, 2011, 8:08:02 PM »



In Iowa, rural mail carriers listen to NPR, by the way.



Heh, funny you should say that. My mother was born in Iowa and she told me that ages ago.
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tee_bee
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« Reply #11 on: December 19, 2011, 10:01:52 PM »


In Iowa, rural mail carriers listen to NPR, by the way.


Oh, yes. WOI radio is everywhere. Thank goodness. And yet, they're clinging to guns and NASCAR.
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aandsdean
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« Reply #12 on: December 19, 2011, 10:04:08 PM »


In Iowa, rural mail carriers listen to NPR, by the way.


Oh, yes. WOI radio is everywhere. Thank goodness. And yet, they're clinging to guns and NASCAR.

KUNI. 

Is there a NASCAR track in Iowa?  I know there's lots of dog racing.
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Que scay-je?
canuckois
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« Reply #13 on: December 19, 2011, 10:18:16 PM »

Since this has been posted in the diversity forum, what do people make of this passage from Bloom's essay?

"An interesting sidelight to the outflow problem is the rapid influx of Chinese students at the University of Iowa. The university vigorously recruits Chinese undergraduates, and has even set up an office in Beijing with the express purpose of attracting Chinese to study in Iowa (no other recruiting office exists anywhere else). Almost all come from well-heeled families, who pay full tuition for their children to attend college. Few speak passable English, almost all congregate in majors that require little English (math, biology and actuarial science), and many drive around town in brand-new sports cars. It's a strange sight to see in Flyover County -- dozens of Chinese students moving together en masse, the girls chattering away in Mandarin, always holding each others' hands. These wealthy, ill-prepared bonus babies are seen as the future of the University"


While I disagree entirely with Bloom's tone, as someone who teaches at another large Midwest university I have to say that he is not altogether wrong.  We too have a great many Asian students on our campus, and yes, almost all of them are from mainland China.  Many of them drive expensive cars, and they are enticed to our university precisely because their parents pay exorbitant fees to send them here.  NPR had a story on this a couple of months ago, in fact.

I have had such students in my classes.  Many have a poor grasp of English, and will often drop those classes that demand much writing (like mine).  I have no idea what their majors are, and again, I find Bloom's tone obnoxious, but as far as the facts go he has much of it right.
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tee_bee
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« Reply #14 on: December 21, 2011, 10:46:01 AM »


In Iowa, rural mail carriers listen to NPR, by the way.


Oh, yes. WOI radio is everywhere. Thank goodness. And yet, they're clinging to guns and NASCAR.

KUNI. 

Is there a NASCAR track in Iowa?  I know there's lots of dog racing.

I don't think there's a NASCAR track. Big dirt track in Boone, though. I was at the drive-thru lane in the KFC in Boone on race night, about a half-mile from the track, and the cars were so loud you couldn't hear the order taker on the intercom.

I didn't note a huge interest in NASCAR while in Iowa. Bloom clumsily wields the idea as a symbol of all that is redneck. In so doing, he shatters no stereotypes about his culture.
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