Not everyone hated Bloom’s essay about Iowa

Iowa papers reported this morning that University of Iowa journalism professor Stephen G. Bloom has received “frightening” emails from critics of his Atlantic magazine piece, “Observations from 20 Years of Iowa Life.” One person said he would “kick your ass if front of your family if you keep it up.” Another message:

Mr. Bloom,

I couldn’t help but notice the glaring hypocrisy in your article.
You’re from New Jersey correct? I’ve been there. It’s a human
cesspool. Please return there. You are not welcome in this state. Go
back to New Jersey where you can surround yourself with the other
pretentious pseudo intellectuals and leave us “Pale skinned meth
addicts” in peace. Fuck you sir.

Atlantic photo that accompanied Bloom's essay

Some were worse, but so far he hasn’t felt the need to call police.

Bloom says he knew his essay would anger many Iowans, “but I didn’t anticipate this firestorm.”

“It’s the tenor and the ferocity and the hatefulness of these that indicate the piece struck a chord,” he tells me over the phone from the University of Michigan, where he’s a visiting professor. “This piece has gone viral. These people don’t read The Atlantic, and they may not have read the story,” but they probably saw what others said about it on Facebook.

“The thing that angers me is the characterization that I don’t know what I’m talking about, that I’m an elitist,” he tells me. “This is what I think good journalists ought to do. You start talking about uncomfortable truths and oftentimes people reject those.”

Stephen G. Bloom

Bloom adds: “As a journalist, I don’t sign up for boosterism, I don’t sign up for valentines.” That’s what the Des Moines Register and other Iowa papers go for, he says. The type of essay he wrote for the Atlantic “never would have appeared in an Iowa publication because no Iowa publications would have the guts to have run it.”

Will Bloom return to Iowa when his University of Michigan visiting professorship ends in May?

“Absolutely. That’s my home, that’s where I live. …I’ve been to all 99 counties.”

“I have to tell you that the university has been — as I would have expected it to be –very supportive despite a couple of my calls for my firing.”

While the Iowa newspapers have focused on Bloom’s hate mail, he tells me that “I also have some great emails saying, ‘You nailed it.'”

He shares some of the “fan emails,” which are posted after the jump.

Hello Stephen,

First I want to apologize for Iowans who may have threatened you. I am a dental student here at the University and grew up in a small Iowa town my whole life (Palo) before coming here. I agree that we have our problems as Iowans but one thing we are is fiercely loyal. Your article is true (for the most part) about rural Iowans but anyone from here, esp us city folk, are going to be upset by that stereotype.

Traveling internationally is one of my favorite things to do in life so I have seen a fair chunk of the world and been to nearly every state. Iowa is a bit hickish in parts and we def have our tractors. Whether good or bad Ill agree your description is fair for, in my estimates, 30% of Iowans. However Iowans are the friendliest people Ive seen as they will say hi and bye and smile at everyone, even in Iowa City. We are safe, trusting and generally well educated. I know the backlash you have received based on your article. Perhaps you could write another article about all the good parts of Iowa you have seen? I’m sure you’ve seen some of the good Iowa has if nothing else pride in our state haha. It would be a great PR move.

Just tossing that out as an idea. Now back to studying for my oral maxilofacial surgery class so I can take care of Iowas meth mouth patients : ).

Best of luck to you,

[Name removed]

—————–

hey stephen! what an article! i’m sure you’re being completely bombarded by every tom, dick and harry who wants to, due to the conservative and defensive nature of this state, spit on you. i have to say, and this is coming from a “native”, i loved the article and am thankful you were bold enough to write it.

i was home in ames for thanksgiving and was talking with my parents about how sad i thought the state of things were there, how the town had transformed since my childhood (seeing all the local places closed, stores boarded up, and not one, but two walmarts being some of the biggest sadnesses) and they thought i was wrong. so much for progress.

well, i could go on and on, but i wanted to drop you a line and say thanks for writing the hard stuff, hopefully it won’t just be chronicled away and it will create a change. either way, you wrote something that made a LOT of people take pause and discuss, the thing all writers dream about.

—————–

Good luck. We hope your colleagues and friends are supportive. In our time, most deserted us–including family.

If not, Iowans have a long memory, but a short attention span. They will want to be “friends” again soon, even though they have done and said egregious things.

Concerning threats: I would not worry too much–most are cowards. However, I hope your children are grown. Iowans like to attack the weak link.

Finally, you have one important advantage: You are smarter than most all of your detractors.

————————

Professor – I love your Atlantic article. I’m a former Iowan, born and bred, that went to the U of IA and got out of town immediately after graduating. I would go one step further and say Iowa is a cesspool of passive aggressiveness like no place in the world. I’ve traveled to 50 countries and all major U.S. cities and never met a more truly negative and self-loathing group of people.

Anyway, I’m sure you’re in for a torrent of hate mail and I’ll bet Mitt Romney $10,000.00 (that’s a joke) there will be a call for your resignation. I’ll go one step further again and bet you are now off Terry Branstad’s “Holiday” card list. Regardless, when they try to filet you I’ll be there to point out the nonsense of this and back you up 100%. Iowa needs more people like you and they’ll probably try to drive you out of town. Hold firm.

————–

Steve,

Wow. . . that’s the Iowa I know from living there just one year. That’s the best thing on the state I’ve ever read, and I read a lot for my book.

I hope the Kevlar duds come in time before the hit squads come to Michigan.

—————

Today, I read your Observations From 20 Years of Iowa Life online. I laughed. I wept. I fumed. I nodded in agreement and in stubborn disbelief.

You should understand why. I may only, if at all, have a few years on your tenure as a 23 year old native in this schizophrenic state. Shudder if you will, but I’m from North-West Central Iowa.

Don’t worry, I’m not writing in contest.

With the impression that you’re not teaching in this state currently, I still feel the need to buy you coffee/tea/pop in exchange for a brief moment of your time if you’re in Iowa City at all these Winter months. Why? To pick your brain a bit about Iowa, your career, and the meaning of life. (Just kidding about the last one, I swear I’m not as pretentious as I sound.)

—————–

Your piece in The Atlantic was simply brilliant. My brother sent me the link this morning and I have forwarded it to several people. Your writing style is superb, as always, and your observations are very well-reasoned.

I read with great displeasure that you are receiving not only negative feedback, but feedback that makes you fear for your family. The small-mindedness of some (or a lot, it seems) is embarrassing for the state.

I wanted to let you know how much I enjoy your work and I pray for you and your family’s safety during this difficult time. It’s a shame that you are made to deal with this sort of thing for doing nothing more than writing your observations.

—————–

I was born and raised in Iowa, growing up in Des Moines. I left the state in 1975 for Boulder, CO and return to one of the small towns outside of Dubuque in July 2009.

I found your article to be very accurate as to what I have seen in the state. I think coming in from another state, I don’t have the same bias as those who are sending you hate mail. I see the political divide between Eastern and Western Iowa and cannot understand how Stephen King got elected. As a non-Catholic, I find the discrimination that takes place daily in the area in and around Dubuque abhorrent. I didn’t encounter that in Colorado or even Des Moines when I was growing up.

My 87 year old mother has always said the smell of hog and cow manure was the smell of money. She still says it. I’ve heard it as long as I can remember.

—————–

Just read your piece, and I’m sure you’ll need that Kevlar. One of my goals when writing stories about communities, people, change — and you have way more experience at it than me — is that you try to show the subject(s) something they didn’t already know about themselves. You did that with this article. A lot of people are going to get way pissed. I’m sure they already have. Let ‘em. In some 3,500 words you encapsulated what Iowa truly is: tragic. Not in a pitiful or condescending sense. But in ways much more profound, and more importantly, compelling. Maybe that’s why you continue to live in Iowa — it’s just too damned interesting to leave. Even though everyone else calls it boring.

—————–

Read your article and had to say kudos to you. Ignore the lash back, it’s hard for people to hear the truth about themselves. I’m a native Iowan. I grew up on a farm and I couldn’t agree more with what you’ve said.

It’s a comfortable and quaint little word we Iowans live in, and it’s those from the outside (or rather those who’ve come in and lived here from the outside) along with those who see differently, that need to stir up the pot every once in a while to get some things changed. Encouraging work and words.

—————–

I found my way to your essay in The Atlantic today, through a friend on Facebook who was not pleased with your observations. We went to high school together in Macomb, Illinois and she went on to do her undergraduate studies at University of Iowa. She’s now in Texas and fuming.

I spent a good hour reading and rereading the essay. I could not figure out what she was so angry about. I read through the comments. I could not figure out what anyone was so angry about. I guess Iowans interpret observations (good ones, I might add) as criticisms, when they clearly aren’t. In fact, I saw a lot of fondness for the state in your piece.

Comments

comments

9 comments
  1. Belinda Gomez said:

    He’s a guy with a BA who’s got tenure. We all should be so lucky.

  2. Kathleen said:

    I am upset that Bloom is feeling threatened and getting violent responses. However, from reading many of the comments I don’t see anger, I see frustration with an article that reads as a weak entertainment piece on these “foreign” Iowans. In a culture of Bill O’Reilly and extremism, how can this so called journalist expect to be taken seriously when he presents his subject with so much revulsion? How is this objective in any way? I wasn’t looking for a sappy piece on the good/bad of Iowa, I was hoping for a real article not an opinion piece bloated with folksy caricatures. Just because someone has lived in a place for 20 years doesn’t necessary imply that they have a real understanding of the complex workings of their environment. I wish someone would do an interview with Bloom about this piece. The quality of this article made me question the integrity of The Atlantic, a news source I used to trust.

  3. Tork Mason said:

    I’m a reporter at The Daily Iowan, and I’d like to think my editor-in-chief would drop-kick my ass out the back door if I ever turned in a story with so many factual (and even grammatical) errors, with the order to only return so my section editor could do the same.

    You can’t claim “uncomfortable truth” when you’re using false information. You can’t “shine the light into dark corners” when you’re the one casting a shadow into the corner. And that’s exactly what Bloom has done with much of his piece.

    There’s some truth in there. It’s a fair question, to ask if Iowa is the place to give such influence in the presidential race. But the broad generalizations he makes to support his argument are FAR off the mark. I live in Iowa City, but I’ll always be a kid from Corydon, IA first. So this isn’t some born-and-raised metro kid who’s offended by being labeled with the stereotypes Bloom trots out as fact. I’m a rural kid who is more offended than any “city-slicker” could possibly be.

    The strong reaction doesn’t necessarily mean he “struck a chord.” An outright lie would garner the same reaction. The only possible “uncomfortable truth” he delivers is that perhaps Iowa isn’t the best place to have such influence be bestowed upon. But the reasoning he presents to support that position is appallingly ignorant, and THAT is what people are upset at. His main point (or at least what he says is his main point) gets buried by the generalizations that put his arrogance, pretentiousness, and elitism on full display.

    Contrary to Bloom’s belief, Iowans are actually tolerant of many things. We legalized gay marriage, for crying out loud (I have no problem with that, nor do I outwardly support it.). But among the many things we will tolerate, arrogance and elitism are not among them.

    I will never take another of Bloom’s classes while at The University of Iowa. I found him to be arrogant and pretentious even last year when I took a (required) lecture with him. After his latest work and subsequent defense of it, I find him to be more loathsome than anything else, but the other attributes can still apply. I don’t care if I need his class in order to graduate. I am not going to help pay that man’s bills, not as long as he’s willing to spit on me and where I come from.

    And for the record, feel free to make my email address visible. I’m more than willing to post a more complete signature.

  4. “The strong reaction doesn’t necessarily mean he “struck a chord.””

    And yet that’s a response today’s journalists use fairly often. It ranks up there with the classic: “If we’re angering both sides, then we have to be right!”

  5. Tork Mason said:

    You obviously can’t strike a chord and NOT garner a strong reaction, but that isn’t the case here.

    I think the offensiveness and ridiculousness of the generalizations escape Bloom. I do believe his “uncomfortable truth” is perhaps Iowa isn’t the right place to bestow such political influence upon. But the fact he doesn’t realize the crux of his argument is lost in the loaded deck of generalizations and inaccurate facts.

    Which only magnifies his pretentiousness. He doesn’t realize how offensive he’s being.

  6. Diane said:

    Bloom’s article is a rant, devoid of research and facts, failing to illuminate any truth. Why does the Atlantic think it is Ok to publish stereotypes?

  7. Derek said:

    Bloom’s article had some good points, but also a lot of pointless blather, inaccuracies and childish name-calling.

    And even when he made a good point, he didn’t drive it home. He notes that slaughterhouse jobs used to pay “$19 an hour (1980 dollars).” That’s $50 in 2011, which hits home a lot harder than what he wrote. As a journalist you’d think he’d try to maximize the effect of statistics he’s using. Was he too lazy to do the conversion?

    Perhaps, or maybe he just spent all his time and resources thinking of more oh-so-witty retread insults to apply to Iowa and its people.

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

  8. janalee said:

    Negative – and positive – responses are due to general feelings of loss of control and deep seated anger about the economy, and the return of Branstad’s state-tatorship. People in Iowa are angry and, the passive aggressiveness looks for an outlet to let off steam to become real, this time to Bloom’s Atlantic article. Thanks for being our whipping boy, Bloom.