I and thousands of other Iowans, including those of us who hunt and fish, hardly recognized ourselves in University of Iowa journalism professor Stephen Bloom’s portrait of us published last week in the online version of The Atlantic magazine.
This may have been at least partly because we don’t like to acknowledge the darker corners of our minds and hearts, but it is largely because we are not nearly as grotesque as he thinks we are.
Bloom notes that he has not taken up two of what he calls the three main pastimes of rural Iowans — fishing and hunting — which may explain why he knows nothing about them, as evidenced by his assertions that we hunt deer and turkeys with rifles, a practice generally illegal in Iowa; that alcohol “seems to be the drink of choice whenever a man suits up in camo or orange overalls”; and that Iowans’ only use for a dog is “to track and bag animals that you want to stuff, mount or eat.”
Bloom’s lack of personal experience does not, however, explain why a journalism professor would expound on subjects about which he is ignorant. My parents and grade school teachers cautioned me against that long before I ever studied journalism in college.
Bloom’s penchant for focusing on small quotients of the bad to the exclusion of large quotients of good is apparent in his characterization of the Mississippi River as a sewer in which kayakers steer around “garbage, beer cans and assorted debris.”
Yes, you can find garbage in the Mississippi, but most of the river along Iowa’s eastern border is more often reminiscent of the Boundary Waters.
Had he been in my boat last week in the tail waters below the Mississippi’s navigation dams, he’d have seen a massive flowage as transparent as any trout stream, occasionally giving up a tasty walleye or sauger, constantly overflown by tundra swans, bald eagles and wave after wave of migrating ducks and geese.
The experience didn’t make me want to be elsewhere, and it sure didn’t make me feel like I was waiting around to die.
In his eagerness to think ill of his fellow Iowans, Bloom too readily accepts President Obama’s mistaken characterization of rural people as bitter clingers to guns and religion. Had either of them known many rural Iowans, they’d have found the churchgoers and gun owners among us to be joyous and responsible practitioners of constitutional rights ranking right up there with the academic freedom that allows Bloom to besmirch those who pay his salary.Bloom’s apparent inability to see any good in Iowa or its people makes me think he has his head someplace even less pleasant than his vision of the state.