Why hate the midwest
March 21, 2007 4:58 PM   Subscribe

Why is it that many people from outside of the midwest (US) think that we are somehow 'different'? It seems like every time I hear someone talk about people in the midwest, they make us all out to be slow. A bunch of yokels. All farmers (grrr, I hate that!). Whats the deal?

And before someone jumps down my throat for the farmer thing - I have nothing but respect for farmers. Its one of the toughest jobs I know of, and have done. But there are other things going on around here.
posted by ducktape to Human Relations (71 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'm originally from Chicago, and I constantly get the "I've never met anybody from Chicago I didn't like." And yes, I really am from Chicago. (I'm not from Rockford and say I'm from Chicago because nobody's ever heard of Rockford - although I get accused of that too, it's a vicious cycle, I tell you.)

I guess if you're talking nebraska, oklahoma, or kansas, I can sympathize, there is a certain stereotype. But I think it's based largely on ignorance. And keep in mind the stereotype isn't as harsh as your typical "Southern redneck fuck". I drove through Lincoln a couple of months ago, and I loved it out there!
posted by phaedon at 5:06 PM on March 21, 2007

They are just jealous of our honest ways and corn fed good looks.
posted by mrbugsentry at 5:12 PM on March 21, 2007 [4 favorites]

technically, that happens for each region. I meet plenty of people not from New England or the Northeast who ascribe to some pretty stupid stereotypes of what we are all like.

It's definitely not just the midwest.
posted by AthenaPolias at 5:13 PM on March 21, 2007

There are stereotypes from everyone, based on narrow perceptions of the region. I don't think it's just about the Midwest. And like most stereotypes, they're both widely prevalent and largely inaccurate. The problem is that they're true about a small, visible portion of the population, so the entire region gets misrepresented. People who use these generalizations have usually never travelled to that region.

For example:
People from the South are racist, Confederate flag-waving hicks. People from New England are cold, elitist Yankee snobs who have yacht parties on Nantucket. West-Coasters are Starbucks-drinking, hybrid car-driving, dumb blonde surfers. And Midwesterners love NASCAR and corn, and produce abnormally large, blond farmer boys.

You can't tell me you've never had thoughts along those lines about people outside the Midwest.
posted by landedjentry at 5:15 PM on March 21, 2007

I think its all about the accents.
posted by lain at 5:18 PM on March 21, 2007

I agree with lain. Think of the negative characteristics sometimes associated with accents from New Jersey, South Carolina, Southern California... I'd assume the same (lack of) logic applies to those with a Midwestern lilt?

If it makes you feel any better, I've never come across a region that doesn't have an associated negative stereotype and a jokey accent to accompany it. Likewise, I heard a guy from Santa Fe make fun of an Albuquerque accent the other day. Who knew?
posted by juliplease at 5:22 PM on March 21, 2007

I know what you mean. I'm a transplanted Detroiter, living on the East Coast. I don't know what it is, but any time I do... well, anything I get the "you are SO from the midwest!" from my coworkers (all from New York). That or "you are just SO NICE!" Which I am, but I'm not sure that geography is necessarily the defining factor in that. Personally, I think the attitude toward *us* in the midwest says more about them. I did spend a semester in CT (a long long time ago) and when I told people I was from Detroit, Michigan they all were like "... ... so... you grew up on a farm?" Are you kidding me? Has anyone ever HEARD of Motown or driven a car?

(And, like Phaedon, I get the "are you really from Detroit or outside Detroit?" Yes, actually from Detroit. And then people try and test me, like 'where in Detroit?' and when I give them an answer they're like 'oh' because they have no idea what Detroit geography is like. If someone tells me they're from Brooklyn, I'm not automatically like Bed Stuy? Park Slope? What?)
posted by indiebass at 5:24 PM on March 21, 2007

What's the Matter with Kansas?
posted by frogan at 5:26 PM on March 21, 2007

Response by poster: landedjentry - I haven't had those thoughts about people outside the midwest. Maybe because I've traveled a bit, or have a better awareness about accepting people from different walks/areas of life.

lain - What accents? Most of the major network news anchors you see on TV are from the midwest because of the general lack of accent. Sure, there are regional variations (ahem, Fargo [the movie]), but for the most part we're pretty white bread when it comes to accents.
posted by ducktape at 5:27 PM on March 21, 2007

*takes bait*

I'm bitter that you midwestern types can buy houses so easily. I figure it correlates with complacence and greed. Also it's a boring monoculture and you can't get decent ethnic food, even. I don't assume midwesterners are slow, but damn they can be judgmental. I really didn't need to be derided as a Californygirl at 7 years of age. By adults.

No flaming, please. In real life, I'm a very openminded sweetheart. I devote .00001 of my brain to pre-judging midwesterners aside from my South Dakota/Nebraska family members (whom I still love, I guess) that gave me these lovely impressions. Also, I've never met a Chicagoan I didn't like.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 5:29 PM on March 21, 2007

I think this is human nature in general. I'm Canadian. What do you think of when you think of Canadian people? Is it anything like these guys? This is the popular stereotype of Canadians that we get in American media (and I know the McKenzie brothers sketches were working that stereotype ironically). We include "aboot" and "eh" in every sentence. New Yorkers say "fuggedabouddit!" Texans wear Stetsons and six-shooters. Californians carry surfboards and say "duuuuude" all the time. Folks from West Virginia wear straw hats and overalls, and sit on their porches in their bare feet all day long. This is what I've learned from watching American TV all my life.

They're all silly shorthand for people from other places where they dress differently than we do, and talk funny, and eat weird things. I'm from a major Canadian city, and when I drove to a remote area of my province last summer, people would ask where I was from and say "Vancouver? Ah, nobody knows how to drive there."
posted by good in a vacuum at 5:31 PM on March 21, 2007

Garrison Keillor ain't helping.

(I don't think negatively of the Midwest but seriously, I hate that dude.)
posted by birdie birdington at 5:34 PM on March 21, 2007 [2 favorites]

The last time I toured in the US, I heard the word 'nigger' more during three days in the midwest than I did during the other two weeks I spent on the road.

Aside from that, it didn't seem much different from anywhere else.
posted by Jairus at 5:35 PM on March 21, 2007

Maybe this is the minority opinion in the stereotype game - but I never met a person from the Midwest that I thought was a jerk. I've also never heard of a person complaining about a midwest person.

Apparently this mustn't be the case. The worst I ever hear is people in that region are too-good-to-be-true.

Of course, I'm from Jersey - I get the feeling a person is a saint if they don't steal my paper.
posted by mrgreyisyelling at 5:37 PM on March 21, 2007

Response by poster: Ambrosia Voyeur - OK, there's another thing I don't get, about the monoculture thing and lack of ethnic food. I travel across most of Iowa a few times a year, and there's no lack of either in big cities or small towns. Sometimes you just have to look a little harder.
posted by ducktape at 5:39 PM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

I have always wondered about this, I am from the Canadian prairies and my US contacts usually seem to lump me in as a "midwesterner" - I have never really understood what they are talking about... So could someone explain the "Midwestern" stereotype to me?
posted by Deep Dish at 5:43 PM on March 21, 2007

So could someone explain the "Midwestern" stereotype to me?
posted by Deep Dish

This has to be the all-time funniest juxtaposition of question with username.
posted by phaedon at 5:44 PM on March 21, 2007 [2 favorites]

A very large number of people in the large costal cities are from the midwest originally. (Here's a fun game: Try to meet a native San Francsican in San Francsico.) I always assumed they did so for good reason (for them) and found more hapiness there as a result. So it's natural that people hold a little bit of negative feelings for what, in thier expeierence, is an inferior place.

The Midwest is (in general) less culturally and racially diverse than the coasts. Many people associate diversity with sophistication ("Why can't I get authentic okononomiyaki in Des Monies?!").

Clothing styles in stores, makeup, and hair styles are not as current in the Midwest, nor is how people look as important. Say what you will about that, but it is more important to people on the coasts and makes Midwesterners look out of fashion and/or sloppy. (Similarly Americans look sloppy compared to Parisians and Tokyoites.)

However, Midwesterners are famous for being nice, generous people and being very well educated. Which you can't say of many other regional stereotypes.

(And what landedjentry said.)
posted by Ookseer at 5:45 PM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

I have lived, at various points, in Alaska; Saudi Arabia; New Mexico; Iran; Nebraska; Wyoming; North Carolina; South Carolina; northern and southern California; Texas; London; New York City; and central Illinois. No one is a special snowflake.

Everyone likes to think they are, though. And some people are lazy enough to think the shortest way to bond with someone is to generalize about someone from someplace else.
posted by MsMolly at 5:48 PM on March 21, 2007

A very large number of people in the large costal cities are from the midwest originally. (Here's a fun game: Try to meet a native San Francsican in San Francsico.) I always assumed they did so for good reason (for them) and found more hapiness there as a result. So it's natural that people hold a little bit of negative feelings for what, in thier expeierence, is an inferior place.

<somewhat jokingly>
The only Midwesterners I think are slow are the ones who are still there. The transplants I know here in the Bay Area are good people, but I can't for the life of me imagine any reason other than brain damage to live in the flyover states. I can't claim extensive experience, but the one time I drove through the Midwest, I found it to be the flattest, ugliest, boring-est landscape I have ever seen in my life.
<somewhat jokingly>
posted by lekvar at 6:00 PM on March 21, 2007

Do you mind if I amend your question? Why is it that many people from outside of the midwest (US) where I am from think that we are somehow 'different'?

I've lived in Texas, North Dakota, DC, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, California, and points off-shore. All of these places had people who asked this question about why people "elsewhere" thought "we" were different.

I suspect this is simply a universal feeling that people feel when they think about the stereotypes that sometimes are held about "their" group. Or, maybe it's selection bias -- you notice the comments about Midwesterners, for example, but just try mentioning Texas on the Blue. :-)

Or maybe (not for you personally) it's hyper-sensitivity or heightened awareness of negative perceptions. If we are members of a "less-than-cool" group, we may focus more on the negative stereotypes. Just brainstorming...
posted by Robert Angelo at 6:01 PM on March 21, 2007

ducktape, I won't argue that stereotypes are right, but I am spoiled rotten and I love my town. In my head I keep thinking of the lists of things I've seen and done in South Dakota in the months I've spent there (passion plays, bible camps, hog farms, tourist traps, rodeos, wings bars, walmarts, trailer parks and yes, wonderful scenery,good company, remembrance of history and prairie dawgz) compared with the stuff I can walk to in ten minutes here in the cradle of high priced liberal California (two each indie movie and live theaters, sea lions, an antique rollercoaster, libraries, redwood forests, beaches, public art, at least 14 flavors of bar, hippie food, co-ops, an art museum, a university) How hard am I supposed to look?

Maybe this question would be best answered by one of the very many midwesterners who leftt.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 6:03 PM on March 21, 2007

When I first met one of my (oft-referred to) friends in Egypt, the only things he knew of America were the things he'd seen in movies or on television. One day, he asked me the following questions: "Okay, so Los Angeles and San Francisco are on the west coast of America, right? And New York is on the east coast? Well, what is in the middle? Is it just empty land in between the two?"

It was very cute. He was very serious about the question, so I gave him a map and explained about all of the other states and how they relate to eachother.

Thing is, I'd be lying if I said that I didn't have to stop myself from going with my immediate answer to his question, though. Which of course was "Well, a lot of people think that is true, yes."
posted by miss lynnster at 6:10 PM on March 21, 2007

Oh, and I am definitely bitter that you midwestern types can buy houses so easily. That is 100% totally true.

But then I'd have to live in the midwest. And I'm already bored enough.

posted by miss lynnster at 6:12 PM on March 21, 2007

What accents? Most of the major network news anchors you see on TV are from the midwest because of the general lack of accent.

Strictly speaking *everyone* has an accent, it is just that the Midwestern accent has become the "standard American accent." All other American accents thus become regional accents.

But anyway, stereotyping is universal - probably hard wired in our tribal brain. Ask a nice New Yorker how many times he or she has been told "You're so nice, you're not like a New Yorker at all!"

A woman our company hired to lead a diversity sensitivity training workshop at our office in, yes, *New York* said the same thing to us during the seminar.

So being good New Yorkers we beat the crap out of her and stole her Blackberry. Showed her!
posted by xetere at 6:16 PM on March 21, 2007

This has to be the all-time funniest juxtaposition of question with username.

Deep Dish the house music outfit, but I've tried the Pizza...
posted by Deep Dish at 6:25 PM on March 21, 2007

I stole my husbands account to answer this. I'm a midwesterner who left and never wants to go back.

Ducktape, where in the midwest are you from, because that makes a very large difference. Areas around Chicago I don't consider midwest, it's too big of a city to have a midwest vibe, much like New York City is drastically different in feel than the rest of NY.

I grew up in very southern Indiana, complete with southern hick accent (which is the accent most people associate with midwesterners). And while the people are generally friendly, they aren't very accepting of different people, nor are there a lot of them. Heck, my high school (my class had 300 people in it) had 1 jewish family. One. The one guy brave enough to admit being gay was mericiously ridiculed and probably beaten up a few times.

Also, I grew up in a largish city, but there was never anything to do besides watching a movie, and you only ever got the mainstream movies. Everything closed at 9pm, except Walmart and Denny'. The only ethnic food I ever saw in was Chinese food (which we never got) and "Mexican" food.

The only perk I could come up with for living in the midwest is the cheap housing prices and the large yards you can have with those houses.

As far as everyone thinking midwesterners are dumb, that's the accent for you. Most midwesterners sound like the guys on Nascar, though the more northern you get, the less this is true, but up North isn't what people are thinking of when they think of the midwest. And it isn't just the midwest; New Yorkers, Bostonites, Texans, and Californias are all considered a different type of dumb based on their stereotypical accents.

As for the farmer thing, the midwest is known as the corn belt because we have so many farms, it isn't that out of place for people to think you might have been a farmer (especially since it seems you were one).
posted by JonahBlack at 6:28 PM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Sorry to be so boring and bring politics into this, but a lot of people around the world have a low opinion of middle America because you voted, and keep voting for, George Bush in incredibly large numbers. Untold damage to the environment, Iraq, death & destruction etc. Is it any wonder the stereotype is you are a bit slow?
posted by dydecker at 6:31 PM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

As a Minnesotan teaching at an east coast college, I'll admit that I am self-conscious of the cadence and speed of my speech. Speaking more slowly doesn't necessarily mean thinking more slowly, but the two are often equated unconsciously in people's minds.

Also, I think part of the ducktape's frustration, which definitely resonates with my experience, is that an urban midwestern experiences can vary greatly, and be far from the images being mentioned here, whether in jest or not. For example, responding to Miss Lynnster's comment above, I never thought that Minneapolis was boring when I lived there. There's a lot going on in that city and others like it. As a result, many blanket statements regarding the region end up feeling totally distant from my personal experience.
posted by umbú at 6:32 PM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

The only Midwesterners I think are slow are the ones who are still there. The transplants I know here in the Bay Area are good people, but I can't for the life of me imagine any reason other than brain damage to live in the flyover states. I can't claim extensive experience, but the one time I drove through the Midwest, I found it to be the flattest, ugliest, boring-est landscape I have ever seen in my life.

Having lived in both the Midwest and California, let me pose a question: where would an educated, urbane, sophisticated, arty person rather live - Madison, Wisconsin, or Modesto, California?
posted by billysumday at 6:51 PM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

having lived in both the midwest and the south, i would say that the midwest is more racist than the south, and also more provincial in its attitudes. that's probably inevitable--long-distance travel and communications only became cheap and easy in the past couple of generations, so it would be very easy to get isolated on the prairie. people on the coasts just had more opportunities to interact with the rest of the world and develop commercially.

i think it also has to do with influence and innovation--because of the above, the midwest suffers from brain drain and the result is, perhaps, an adult population that doesn't represent the midwest's best and brightest (who left). chicago would be the main exception to this.
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:55 PM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

I saw a woman here in Indianapolis with a sweatshirt that said "Indiana: We So Corny!"

Seeing that and thinking about the new "In God We Trust" license plates and a pending anti-gay-marriage constitutional amendment, I felt sad. Why do we get treated like yokels? Because we all too often proudly wave our yokel flag.

I'd still rather live here than where people are fake or mean. And I do love my big house!with reasonable mortgage payments!
posted by SteveTheRed at 6:59 PM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Their love of cornhole and that they don't know why non-Midwesterners laugh every time they mention it. Only in the midwest will you see signs hanging on telephone poles advertising cornhole at Catholic churches...
posted by seymour.skinner at 7:04 PM on March 21, 2007

billysumday, I'd dfinitely choose Madison over Modesto, but that's a pretty unfair comparison. Madison is Wisconsin's capitol city, whereas Modesto is best described as provincial. A more apt comparison, from what I understand, would be Madison and San Francisco. While Madison has a great reputation as a funky, artsy, creatve, generally wonderful city, San Francisco has a global reputation as the same and nearly four times the population.
posted by lekvar at 7:14 PM on March 21, 2007

Plus, I know one Madison artsy expat who would rather live in the hinterlands of the East Bay rather than move back to Wisconsin.
posted by lekvar at 7:15 PM on March 21, 2007

Also, why is there such a brain drain from the small towns in the Midwest? I would argue that it has less to do with the allure and temptation of exotic food and independent movie theaters in the big cities than it does with the refusal of many small towns/communities to progress in any meaningful way. I know of many friends (and I count myself among their company) who have a great fondness for the small town in which they were raised, but cannot imagine living there because of the politics/religion/perverted patriotism that seems to pervade the consciousness of those who choose to stay behind. Those towns in the Midwest that are actively liberal and progressive are incredibly charming, and I would choose living in one of them over quite a few East Coast cities (maybe not West Coast - Oregon is pretty great). Of course, the weather can be awful and there's no ocean for days, but the houses are cheap and the summers are grand. I also find it really interesting that if you were to go back in time, 200 years ago, the people populating the Midwest - which, at the time, was the edge of the American Frontier - were adventurous and courageous, taming an unexplored wilderness and turning it, little by little, into a habitable, civilized land. They were immigrants, mostly, who had left behind family and safety and had embarked on a dangerous expedition to the edge of the world in the hopes of wrangling some land for their family, and of putting their mark on the world. Fast forward five generations, and overweight schoolteachers with embroidered sweatshirts shopping at Wal-Mart and loading up their SUVs is the norm of the depressed towns of the Midwest. It has evolved from the land of the industrious to the land of the sleepy, and perhaps its children are getting restless once again, like their forefathers before them.
posted by billysumday at 7:17 PM on March 21, 2007 [3 favorites]

I've certainly heard the negative stereotypes about people from the Midwest, but I've also heard plenty of positive stereotypes.

People will talk about Midwestern Values: hard work, independence, stoicism, integrity, etc. If you read a bio of Warren Buffett, you'll get a lot of this. I suppose Garrison Keillor is another example.
posted by mullacc at 7:18 PM on March 21, 2007

billysumday, I'd dfinitely choose Madison over Modesto, but that's a pretty unfair comparison. Madison is Wisconsin's capitol city, whereas Modesto is best described as provincial. A more apt comparison, from what I understand, would be Madison and San Francisco. While Madison has a great reputation as a funky, artsy, creatve, generally wonderful city, San Francisco has a global reputation as the same and nearly four times the population.

Well, I'd choose SF over Madison, too. I'm sure most people would, if things like salary, proximity to friends/family, and opportunity were comparable between the two cities. But the point is that it's silly to say "California is better than the Midwest." There are charming cities in the Midwest, and there are banal, bland, soulless cities in California.
posted by billysumday at 7:20 PM on March 21, 2007

Response by poster: Sometimes happiness doesn't come from all the cool stuff to do within your immediate area.

For me and my wife, family is one of the most important things. Most of them live around the midwest area, so by staying here we can be closer to them. Thats just one of many things that we stay here for.

I've got no problem with folks from around these parts moving on to wherever they want or need to go. Heck, I've thought about it several times myself. But I like it here. I just don't like the hatin'.
posted by ducktape at 7:22 PM on March 21, 2007

I am from the south, and pleased to have anyone think I'm stupid, slow, or lazy, or married to my sister.

My sister's cute, too. It's nice to be from a place where you can meet girls at your family reunions.

I can cipher and count to 21, if I take all my clothes off. My best friend in high school was so poor, he didn't have a middle name. (True!)

Further more, I am well connected. My late wife's sister's third of four husbands new wife's sister is Andie MacDowell. (True!) (We keep track of our lineage or whatever the hell that is. We may need to blame someone for something.)

For me, it's a schtick! I have gotten huge mileage out of it over the years, though my accent sounds midwest/non-regional. (I do have a pile of fake 'characters' I pull out for for improv , each with specific cadence, accent, affect. Some pretty damn real and many based on folks I encountered in my bucolic prior life, before my barefoot Yankee child bride came south and snagged her ass a genuine hillbilly to drag back to the frozen northern wasteland of Vermont.)

Why not embrace it? There is charm and humor in abundance in these regional pigeonholes. Don't take it personally... OWN it!

That said, I am like Don Rickles when it comes to the midwest... He suggested once that Johnny Carson's parents just sat on the front porch of their isolated farm house eating locusts, watching paint dry, and asking 'When is Johnny coming home to visit?' What's not to like about that?
posted by FauxScot at 7:33 PM on March 21, 2007

Oh, I was really only kidding about the midwest being boring. Thing is, I get bored very very easily, I need to feel like I'm constantly accomplishing things or I go nuts. I have an older half-brother in Michigan and last time I went to visit him, I wanted to pull out my hair after the 30th game of Uno on a Friday night. But really, there was nothing else to do. I mean, other than when he pulled out his night vision goggles and wanted to go hunt deer... which I wasn't really into. And I really didn't want to do bible study with his family either.

I am jealous of people being able to afford property, though. My brother owns 98 acres and his own lake. My friend in Oklahoma has a kickass house & it cost about what a parking space would cost in San Francisco. I covet those houses from a distance. I just know that I myself couldn't live there.

BTW, I'm thinking the way the OP worded things might leave some people fighting the urge to give answers that would push the very buttons he is trying to learn how to cope with, though. Kind of felt a bit like a "Why do you stereotypical bastards always stereotype me?" question... but YMMV. Many of us have nothing against the midwest, we just don't relate to it or wanting to live in it. That doesn't mean we think you're a hick farmer.
posted by miss lynnster at 7:42 PM on March 21, 2007

I am a midwesterner and not ashamed to admit that I still live in one of the "fly-over states." With technology and a growing diverse population; the midwest, particularly the medium sized cities, are not the same as they were 20 years ago. At all.

I walk to work, own a big historic house with a ridiculously low mortgage, grow my own organic food, have property for my dogs to run around on, eat ethnic food at a variety of great little restaurants, see an indie or foreign films, ride my bike without worrying about gulping smog, enjoy $2 microbreweded pints, buy awesome stuff at thrift stores & auctions and buy whatever else I want off the internet. Best yet, the cost of living is so decent that I can regularly afford to travel and visit my friends who live on the East and West coasts.

I'm in love with the prairie, the big skies and the clean air. It's Spring here now and soon the fields will look like lush green velvet and the redwinged blackbirds will punctuate the sky. I can't wait.
posted by pluckysparrow at 7:52 PM on March 21, 2007 [6 favorites]

Why is it that many people from outside of the midwest (US) think that we are somehow 'different'?

Because you are. It's not in a bad way. We just enjoy a lot of recognizable regional diversity in this nation. You and I could have the same exact tastes, points of view and personality traits, but you call it pop and I call it soda. Bingo, different. We shouldn't go to war over which side of bread to butter, but frankly, I think it's part of the fun of being an American to develop, encounter and debunk preconceptions/indoctrination. Anybody actually dismissive of your choice of lifestyle, based on your vital stats is hella weak.

*designs indie tee shirt reading "TEAM MEAN & FAKE"*
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 7:59 PM on March 21, 2007 [2 favorites]

Having moved from St. Louis to NYC, I know exactly what you're talking about.

I think a lot of it is political. People in the "blue" states don't know why anybody in their right minds would vote Republican. They assume that it has something to do with religion, homophobia, or nationalism. And let's be fair - in many cases, it does.

However, they don't take into account that the Midwest is full of beleaguered Democrats, and that some of those "red" states used to be "blue."

Many people on the coasts see Midwesterners as inherently conservative and afraid of change. Having lived in the Midwest for half of my life, I also see the flip-side of this - Midwesterners have a good thing going on, and they don't want to see it go away.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:01 PM on March 21, 2007

But the point is that it's silly to say "California is better than the Midwest." There are charming cities in the Midwest, and there are banal, bland, soulless cities in California.

It's best to think of Nevada as extending to about Sacramento, and Arizona extending to Riverside. Then, what's left of California is way better than the Midwest. Or any place else in the entire country.
posted by rkent at 8:09 PM on March 21, 2007

Well, I can definitely say that I would probably be much, much happier and more content living in Minneapolis/St. Paul or Chicago than in Lodi or Modesto, California.

The only reasons that I would choose to live in Lodi or Modesto over Chicago or Minneapolis/St. Paul would be that I could easily escape Lodi or Modesto by driving to the big California cities once in a while. But that said, since those cities are close, I would never even consider living in Lodi or Modesto to begin with... I'd just go ahead & live in a city where my life would probably suck less.

With all due respect to Mefites in Lodi & Modesto.
posted by miss lynnster at 8:33 PM on March 21, 2007

I think a large part of it is that people tend to forget that the Midwest has actual cities. I lived in Minneapolis for eight years, and in a lot of ways I found the area more liberal than even Manhattan. Like any Red State/Blue State bullshit, it all boils down to an urban/rural dichotomy, and the Midwest happens to have more rural to work with.
You also have to factor in sheer lack of experience. In the same way that a lot of Midwesterners have never been to L.A., a lot of people from L.A. have never set foot in the Midwest. Their idea of a Minnesotan is Rose Nylund on “The Golden Girls” or the cast of “Fargo” or some other exaggerated lunacy. Just like homophobia comes from not understanding that a gay person might still be a person, the misconception that Midwesterners are slow comes from never having actually spoken to one.
posted by Help, I can't stop talking! at 8:34 PM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

dydecker: regarding the way the midwest votes, I have to say my friends overseas used to say this all the time and it would tick me off to no end. They'd say how the people in the midwest and middle America were all fat conservative christians ruining everything for everybody, but if you look at the majority of the midwest, it is Bee Ell You Eee, BLUE. (Now, Indiana and Ohio are their own thing, but as a native Michiganian I am inherently biased against the both of them and as my mum used to say, if you can't say something nice...) The overweight thing is kind of true, but I think that comes from a number of things to be sure, and I think most importantly it's just working class wages. Simple fact: wealthy people can buy healthier food. There's no getting around that. Two apples or a dozen packets of Ramen for a dollar 20?

Again, personal bias might come into it, but I was actually shocked at how progressive Detroit was only once I moved away. And yes, I was spoiled with any kind of ethnic food you could have possibly wanted there. I still run into people here on the East Coast and I'm like "how can you be over 20 years old and never tried Thai food?" Or Greek food. Or whatever!

And I've been informed that yes, I am part of the problem in that I did leave, but I still love The D dearly and would move back in a heartbeat if only there was any work to be found. Unfortunately that's just not the case (also I've chosen a field that doesn't travel well). In Michigan, there's a 7.7% unemployment rate right now and that's down from 8% late last year. That's a LOT of people looking for work.

There are far too many people to address here upon preview; I've written too much already. Y'esh!
posted by indiebass at 8:42 PM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

*designs indie tee shirt reading "TEAM MEAN & FAKE"*

Leave me out of this, I live in the Great Middle West.
posted by fake at 9:10 PM on March 21, 2007

There is a reason. It's WGN. Not just WGN but the broadcaster that is the true satan of the airwaves. Every day he reminds us that... Yes, you live in a big city... but just sixty miles away from you are cornfields as far as the eye can see.

You'd be different too if you had to grow up listening to Orion Fucking Samuelson on the radio every day. Hog futures my ass.
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 9:12 PM on March 21, 2007

Another reason to live in the Midwest? Have you ever noticed how your friends from the Midwest always seem to look younger than other people their age who aren't from the Midwest?
posted by FlamingBore at 9:13 PM on March 21, 2007

As a teenager from a (supposedly) predominantly liberal college town in South Dakota, I find myself torn. On one hand, I love the Midwest. I love the extreme seasons, and the prairies, and - although I might feel foolish admitting it - the niceness. And I'm proud of the people; at least, some of them. I'm proud of the Replacements and the Talking Heads and Paul Wellstone and Chuck Klosterman. My god, sometimes I even feel lucky to be from the same region as Prince.

And then there are times when I understand why we're so stigmatized by the rest of the nation. After the state amendment "redefining" marriage; during the abortion ban proposal. When the main weekend attraction for 90% of my classmates involves racing go-carts and four-wheelers and screwing their girlfriends in trailers by the river. And every goddam time I pass another "CHOOSE LIFE - YOUR MOTHER DID" billboard on the highway.
posted by punchdrunkhistory at 9:29 PM on March 21, 2007

The problem is people on the coasts know shit about geography. The core states of the Midwest* are Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. As indiebass pointed out above, these states vote mostly democrat, (thought Indiana just sucks and Ohio was so close), and they have large urban communities that are full of diversity. Of course there are rural areas, but I would choose upstate Wisconsin over upstate New York any day.

Usually when ignorant people complain about hating the Midwest they are actually talking about the great plains states such as Kansas or Nebraska. These places are much more conservative and homogeneous than the rest of the country, but they are not the Midwest.

*that map inexplicably includes Kentucky as part of the Midwest, but Kentucky is definitely part of the South.
posted by afu at 12:43 AM on March 22, 2007

I'm from Michigan. Not Detroit, although I did happen to be born there. On one side of my family, my great-grandparents were in fact farmers. On the other side, you'd have to go back at least another generation to find a farmer, maybe more (not counting a great-aunt who ended up a genteel cattle breeder).

Stereotypes? I've lived all over. Meanest bunch I ever encountered were in Kansas City, MO. Bunch of smiling-faced, back-stabbing shits (in between the nice folks, who were mostly from more rural places).

What I found different were some little essential social rules. After that, folks were mostly folks. Nice people are everywhere. Truth is, a little bit of my heart still is back in the Texas hill country, although the place I feel the most at-home in is around New York City (where I've lived the most time other than Michigan).

"Midwestern" stereotypes? Um, what's wrong with a reputation for being open and honest, and very unpretentious? Aren't those good qualities? I certainly value them. But then, I've been living abroad for 9 years, and at this point, openness seems more an American trait, and I'm missing it.

Probably the only negative stereotype I tend to subscribe in the States these days is towards Angelinos. "10 million images, searching for a personality". LOL! (of course there are nice people in LA. Those are the newly arrived midwesterners, New Yorkers, and large numbers of various minorities).

Farmers? What's wrong with farmers, anyway?
posted by Goofyy at 1:25 AM on March 22, 2007

Usually when ignorant people complain about hating the Midwest they are actually talking about the great plains states such as Kansas or Nebraska.

The US Census Bureau includes Kansas and Nebraska as part of the Midwest (link to pdf).
posted by mullacc at 1:51 AM on March 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

I grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and then moved to Boston for college when I graduated high school. Five years later, I'm still here, having gotten a job here and still liking the city.

I always knew I wanted to leave Ohio, because I found it too boring. I had a really strong travel bug that meant I was bored with driving three hours in any direction and still being in the same state, and I hated, even living in the capital city, not really having access to any international airports with fares cheap enough that I could get out of the country. I had never eaten Thai or Indian food until I moved to Boston (I couldn't even tell you where in Columbus we had such restaurants). I'm the only liberal in my family, and my family is relatively open-minded for your typical Midwesterner. I went to a relatively elite private all-girls' school, and the father-daughter outing one year was definitely to a shooting range. I'm also kind of crazy about college football, which I am discovering basically no one outside of the Midwest really cares about.

I know that now that I'm in Boston, I get 'blamed" for the transgressions of my home state -- typically, anything involving an election -- and made fun of for my accent, which is more vocabulary and grammar than it is sound: I say "Y'all" and "folks" a lot, and I have this grammatical thing where I say that I've got laundry that "needs washed" instead of what is the apparently correct "needs washing" (which sounds completely wrong to me). The wrong grammar in particular probably helps contribute to the "uneducated" thing -- my accent isn't even as strong as people living in rural Ohio, and if people think I sound silly...

That said, I do miss some things. I miss cheap housing (what I pay for an apartment now could buy me a huge house in the nouveau riche suburb of Columbus). I miss the community stuff -- where everyone knows everyone from preschool on, family all live around, the big Fourth of July potlucks, block parties, bonfires, caroling at Christmas, etc. In the Midwest, I think there's much less flux of people -- people grow up and stay. You get to know your neighbors. I am at a particularly voltaile point in my life where I haven't lived in the same building for more than a year for the last five years, and even staying in this one I'll probably pick up and move and head to grad school in a year or two -- so for the foreseeable future, I won't get to have the neighborly thing going on. That's a little sad for me. But the industry I'm in mostly confines itself to the coasts, so I can't see myself moving back Midwest any time soon -- plus, I love the ocean too much :) And mountains. We're short on those in the Midwest.
posted by olinerd at 3:29 AM on March 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm in Kansas and trust me, everyone here perceives this state as solidly Midwestern. It's a "Great Plains" state, but that doesn't mean much to people here - it's akin to how Ohio is a Great Lakes state. It's still the Midwest.

There is a brain drain here; nearly everyone of talent moves away sooner or later. I am about to do so, there just isn't much opportunity. Housing is dirt cheap, and if you're pretty conservative it would be a reasonable place to raise a "traditional" family, but that's not enough for me and my love.

I'm not American and don't have a bias, but it is much more boring here than other places in America, even other rural ones (give me rural New England or even the South over the Midwest any day.) People are nice, but very into family and their local situation - tough to get anyone into a conversation about much else. I've made many friends, but the xenophobia is intense.

The speech patterns weird me out too. I do like how people here say things like "Anymore you don't see dark brown rabbits." It seems distinctly Kansan. But I hate how people do not differentiate *at all* between "cot" and "caught" or "jaw" and "Jah" in their speech - it's as if there are only about six vowel sounds.

People here do look younger. Not necessarily better, but younger.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 3:38 AM on March 22, 2007

But I hate how people do not differentiate *at all* between "cot" and "caught" or "jaw" and "Jah" in their speech - it's as if there are only about six vowel sounds.

I'm not from the midwest, but I can't (saying those words out loud) hear any difference between them. So that's not just the midwest.

I think that this question is conflating two separate questions:

a) Does the midwest have a clearly distinct culture from the rest of the US?

b) Whether or not the midwest has a distinct culture, do Americans in other regions have negative stereotypes about the midwest, and if so why?

The answer to the first is "yes, kind of" as long as we gloss over the racial and cultural diversity of the midwest, which brings us to the second -- the midwest has been so caricatured as the place of white protestant homesteaders who are "plain-spoken," "salt of the earth," and so on, that it is easy to forget how much variation there is within the midwest, from state to state, from urban to rural, and so on.

Milwaukee had socialist mayors for decades and decades; Detroit was the focus of generations of radical socialist and communist organizing, much of it by black activists; midwestern farmers were heavily involved in the Populist Movement and other radical endeavors; states from the Dakotas over to Ohio continue to elect moderate and populist politicians with some regularity. The southern edges of the midwest -- Kansas, say -- has a lot in common with the rest of the bible belt, including a lot of antipathy to evolution and gay marriage, sure, and the rest of the midwest gets tarred with the same brush.
posted by Forktine at 4:26 AM on March 22, 2007

The US Census Bureau includes Kansas and Nebraska as part of the Midwest

That's why i said the core states of the Midwest. Kansas and and Nebraska aren't that similar geographically or culturally to the other states generally included in the Midwest and are on the edges of several regions, I think they fit in better with the great plains and the mountain states. Missouri is a strange one, a combination of the south, great plains and the Midwest. Still Anyone who criticises the Midwest as a being a hotbed of conservatism when the majority of the area is quite progressive, is either being ignorant or insincere.
posted by afu at 5:30 AM on March 22, 2007

All I could think of was this map, from The Onion.

Especially the "Here there be Tractor Pulles" part.

Sorry. I mean no offence. And I'm a Canadian with little idea of what really goes on in the Midwest. But. As stereotypes go, I found that one pretty funny.
posted by kmennie at 6:41 AM on March 22, 2007

There are significant differences. I spent 17 of the formative years of my life in the midwest. People in the midwest do talk slower and to any intelligent person that does not equate to think slower, but that's where stereotypes come into play. My Yankee boyfriend had steam coming out of his ears trying to get faster than snail's pace service anywhere in the midwest. I was like, just relax, no need to get all worked up about it.
posted by bobobox at 6:52 AM on March 22, 2007

bobobox: I'm so with you. As I said before, I work with ALL New Yorkers and when I take contemplative pauses when I speak it either a) drives them nutz and they start guessing what I'm going to say or b) they think I'm done talking and start talking. I've learned to fill those gaps, but two days at home or if I have friends come out and visit and I'm right back. Professionally I think it has been a hindrance because I don't seem... I guess urgent? So people think I'm lazy or unfocused, when actually I just give the appearance of making everything look casual. =)

As ducktape says, our style of speech is particularly well suited to the broadcast arts, where the equipment muddles fast talking. I think that is another reason the midwestern 'accent' has been so ubiquitous on radio and television.
posted by indiebass at 7:11 AM on March 22, 2007

I think your opinion of core Midwestern states really depends on where you live. I grew up in Indiana and think of Midwestern states as being IN, KY, IA, IL, OH, KS, places like that. Michigan and Wisconsin are something else to me, almost like mini Canada. And I think my set of midwestern states ar emore similiar than the more northern version, at least in terms of political and cultural attitudes, along with climate. And I think alot of people think of the midwest as being anything between Colorado and Penn. that is above the "south" of Alabama, Georgia, Texas, etc. So when other people talk about the Midwest being conservative, Republican, red states they actually aren't that far off.
posted by JonahBlack at 7:17 AM on March 22, 2007

I grew up in the Dakotas & we considered ourselves "Midwesterners" although it's probably Great Plains to the rest of the nation. I left because I've always loved writing/editing/technology. So, the availability (or perceived availability) of certain types of jobs (and thus lifestyles) might be part of it. There is a definite brain drain (or maybe just a liberal drain) from the Great Plains to other states or the few big cities (i.e., Minneapolis, Chicago).

I'm now living in Chicago & I consider it more a city in the middle of the Midwest (possibly b\c of my Dakota paste), although it has a Midwest feel. But, I still miss some of the job opportunities I would have had in NYC if I'd stayed around. Chicago has equally good ones, otherwise I wouldn't be here, just slightly different. Also, the center of TV/movie & publishing is in NYC and LA, so that might affect the press/image the Midwest gets in print and on-screen.

My college roommate, a New Yorker, definitely sometimes viewed me as needing a little help in the "city ways". But then again, I did have trouble with a revolving door & knowing to tip someone at the coat check the first time I went to the City. & I remember being scared of all the people the first time I went to Austin 6th street at 18. I knew about music, arts, etc., but admittedly there were some things I was in the dark on. & then in later years I'd go back and be surprised that my aunt didn't know what Feta cheese was.
posted by ejaned8 at 8:41 AM on March 22, 2007

Okay, to those of you badmouthing Los Angelenos... keep this in mind. The vast majority of annoying people in L.A. (and there are more than a few) are not Southern California natives, but rather they are people who left their homes (mostly in the midwest) with a dream and headed West exclaiming, "I want to be a great ________!" at the top of their lungs.

People NEVER say "I want to go to Los Angeles to make friends, start a family, be part of a community, make the world a better place, be a good human being." They come to LA with a dream of being better at something than everyone else. Of becoming rich. Being famous. Whatever. And while they live there, they are focused on themselves 99.5% of the time. Then, often they fail and move back to where they came from. Or they succeed and say, "I am successful enough now that I don't have to live in L.A." L.A. is just the means to an end for a lot of self-absorbed & annoying visitors who don't care about the city itself and generally stay in it for less than five years.

Those are not the people who grew up in Southern California though. Just as the original poster is frustrated by the stereotyping of the Midwest as being farmers, it drives me crazy that the annoying wannabes that litter that city whether we like them or not are thought to be Southern Californian. They're not. They're just using it for the moment.

And trust me, I have a love/hate relationship with Southern California. I definitely don't think it's perfect.
posted by miss lynnster at 9:54 AM on March 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

People seriously overestimate how important farming is to the economy of midwestern states, and I think it's primarily because you drive through a lot of farmland without realizing that large modern farms can be run and operated by a handful of people. The biggest sector of the economy is industry of various types, mostly located in medium-sized communities within spitting distance of an interstate.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:58 AM on March 22, 2007

I guess I should chime in with the rest of the Midwestern expats, having grown up on a 380+ acre farm in the middle of nowhere (honestly!) in Missouri, but now living in Vermont (which I hate just as much). I will be escaping to Canada in early May though--I'm very excited about that, and I plan to stay there and eventually become a dual citizen.

Anyway, the Midwest has, like many places, its good and bad points, several of which have been mentioned above. Personally, I really loved it growing up--tons of space to play in (I had several acres of woods, a one-acre backyard, and a pond all at my disposal), great big open skies, the occasional trip into town to get books from the library or do a little shopping, and more rarely a chance to go to Kansas City and do something like go to the mall, as they had the closest one at an hour and a half away. When I got into college, I met a lot of people from wildly different places, took classes in which I learned about the outside world, and generally it started to sink in that the Midwest /= the world. It was also at this point that I got engaged and started making plans to settle down not far from where my family lived. After the wedding was called off, I thought about my life and came to realize that the Midwest was most definitely not for me--I would have been miserable there.

I moved to Vermont to get my master's degree, and have come to hate it just as much as I hated living in the Midwest. It is even more rural and also even more fucked up because while Midwesterners sometimes wake up and realize that they tend to be too conservative for their own good, people up here like to put on a front of liberalism and fail to recognize that the small towns are often very much like any small town in the middle of Missouri--just a bit wealthier with more boutique shops and a good deal of skiing.

I feel kind of bad for getting down on both the Midwest and the Northeast, but these have been my experiences, and I would be willing to venture a guess that they are quite similar to other people who grew up in the Midwest, came to dislike or even hate it, and moved elsewhere. I often get a very clear sense of boredom, pathos and hopelessness whenever I encounter people who are growing up in the Midwest or here in the Northeast--there's often very little for them to do, they feel like they are stuck in their small town because they don't want to leave their families, and they have ideals that are different from those of the older people but feel hopeless about changing anything.

All I can say is that I'm delighted to be moving to Canada soon, where I can become a permanent citizen and Canadian-in-training and hopefully soon be assimilated into the great white north(west--aiming for a job in Vancouver).
posted by Trinkers at 2:36 PM on March 22, 2007

afu said: That's why i said the core states of the Midwest.

You'd be much more pleasant if you just admitted your mistake. You said people on the coasts were geographically ignorant because they included Kansas and Nebraska as part of the Midwest. They're not ignorant, they're right, at least about geography. The mistake they make is trying to paint a diverse group of people with one brush.
posted by mullacc at 4:50 PM on March 22, 2007

Usually when ignorant people complain about hating the Midwest they are actually talking about the great plains states such as Kansas or Nebraska. These places are much more conservative and homogeneous than the rest of the country, but they are not the Midwest.

Others have partly addressed this, but as someone who grew up in Kansas (and who is posting from Kansas at the moment), I need to chime in. Kansas and Nebraska are in the Midwest. It's not a matter of opinion.

But just as importantly, your statement that KS and NE are "more conservative and homogeneous than the rest of the country" is laughably ridiculous as well. Clearly you've never been to greater Kansas City (much of which is in Kansas), or to Lawrence, KS, a college town that is probably the most liberal place in the Midwest. And Nebraska may not exactly be a hotbed of cosmopolitan discourse, but it's a lot closer than some other places...I won't get specific, because that's not what this is about.
posted by bingo at 1:31 AM on March 24, 2007

"I do have a pile of fake 'characters' I pull out for for improv , each with specific cadence, accent, affect."

posted by FauxScot at 3:33 AM on March 22 [+] [!]

posted by Lotto at 4:59 AM on March 24, 2007

The Midwest is horribly underrepresented in the media and when it is represented it is usually someone who hasn't been there and thinks we all some sort of walking Hallmark/Lifetime movie of the week. Yeah women with knitted vests of reindeer and santa who get too excited when football games come (because her and the girls can finally go to TJ Maxx) do exist. As do perpetually unemployed actors working in the catering exist in LA and as do arrogant New Yorkers who compete to see who has the most expensive stroller and the most desirable handbag for the season.

Anymore, while there are certainly many small towns, the Midwest is aggregated to a few larger cities (Chicago, STL, KC, etc.) and all of which have incredible inferiority complexes (Chicago->NYC, STL->Chicago, KC-STL). In all the aforementioned cities the downtowns are booming and prices for condos go upwards of $1,000,000 as speculators try to guess which neighborhood is going to be cool. You can definitely find hipster/indie enclaves in any of the cities, they just are most likely to be much smaller than any of the larger cities. Because of this I do find that such enclaves do seem to skew towards the center and are a lot more bearable and less self-conscious than the larger cities.

That said, the average Midwestern is less likely to be as provincial as one would expect. Instead they are yuppies the likes of Chads and Trixies (well represented in Chicago). Their stereotypes pretty much to a tee describe everyone I know in the Midwest that is still there.

Oh on racism: It is really weird here. I do notice it a lot more than other areas. There is a large amount of non-black minorities that are very well assimilated, but the black/white divide is evident when you literally drive down a major street and can see the white half and the black half. They simply do not co-mingle, they don't have the same jobs and the cities are rather segregated. I think its an extension of the Chad/Trixie phenomena. Oh and don't call a Midwestern racist or make a joke about it, suddenly it is you who are racist ("I totally love volunteering with the after school care", "Yeah and it evens out your karma, so you don't have to hang out with them later").

Oh and absolutely no culture to speak of. It fits nicely with the no accents and the Pottery Barns.
posted by geoff. at 2:50 PM on April 3, 2007

« Older How do I connect a Nintendo Wii to a Samsung...   |   Needed: Antique/Used/Abused lumber or tables Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.