A really wonderful column in today’s Washington Post about growing up in Ohio, missing Ohio, being annoyed with the rest of the nation’s stereotypes of Ohio (and much of the Midwest in general), being annoyed with oneself for leaving Ohio, and more.
I think the Midwest is a blank spot on the mental maps of many Americans who have no connection to it, blank spots that are filled in with caricatures of people and a lifestyle that is at best quaint and at worst derogatory. It’s pieces like this that both explain why many Midwesterners have inferiority complexes when placed outside of their places of origins, or why they blather on about how lucky they are to have “gotten out” in order to placate a false idea that others hold that, surely, if there was ever some place in the states to escape from, this is it.
Some favorite paragraphs:
My flashes of insecurity were snuffed out as soon as someone mentioned their parents’ two-hour commutes or used the word “summer” as a verb. What I wonder now, two years out of college, is why so many people in Washington, the adopted home of nobodies from all over the country trying to make names for themselves, are so clueless about the Midwest. Take my boss. He’s a smart guy who has traveled around the world. Yet despite all my jabbering about Ohio, he has asked me more than once about my family back in . . . Iowa.
Of course, I’m not the only Ohioan to have mixed up Brooklyn and the Bronx. But the tendency to write off Midwesterners as a bunch of simpletons strikes me as plain unfair. I recently met a man who drives through Ohio every year on the way from Washington to his summer house in Canada; when he heard where I’m from, he hopped up on his high horse and announced that Ohioans “don’t take risks.” So he hasn’t run into any Evel Knievels there. That’s surprising, I wanted to say, because the Wright Brothers were from Dayton, and it took some gumption — now there’s a word Midwesterners like — to catapult themselves into the sky in their rickety contraptions. Another gutsy Ohioan: John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth. And another: Neil Armstrong.
“No, no dreamers in Ohio,” I felt like replying. But my mother would have called that back-talk, so I let good old-fashioned Midwestern manners get the better of me and kept quiet.
Presidential candidates, in their efforts to look like regular folks, are among the chief purveyors of one of the most destructive stereotypes of Midwesterners: the working stiff who can’t work, thanks to the Rust Belt hemorrhaging all those jobs. During a campaign stop in Youngstown, Ohio, 2004 Democratic nominee John F. Kerry set up shop outside a boarded-up building so that photos and television footage would show the city’s “ugly rump,” as the New York Times wrote, rather than the new office building across the street. No hard feelings, senator. The voters of Youngstown understood: It was easier for you to show that Ohioans needed your help if you pretended that they couldn’t help themselves.
I miss Ohio most when I hear other transplanted Midwesterners belittle their parents for being intimidated by subways that they have no occasion to ride, or mock the suburbs that seemed pretty great when they were running through sprinklers in their big backyards, or dump on cornfields and cows, especially when most of them spent their childhoods not on tractors but in minivans. But of course, I too have sinned by leaving Ohio, and there are days when I feel downright traitorous for having done so.
I like living in flyoverland.
Keeps out the riffraff.
Um, except for Pawlenty.
I can’t tell you how much this article made my day. I see that kind of Midwestern suburb bashing as a sign of insecurity. If the ex-Ohio suburbanites were so comfortable with their choices, they wouldn’t feel the need to judge others, right? They’re just trying to get a seat at the cool kids table.
I visit NY a lot, and I get some of this attitude from folks I meet. I usually just posture and refer to myself as an corn-fed Midwestern breeder, and that usually shuts them up, either because they like my sense of humor or because they find me weird and frightening. I don’t care. I’m too old to apologize for who I am and the choices I’ve made.
I’d just like to note that as an expatriate Californian I also bash suburbs.
I was born in Youngstown, Ohio. I have never in my life felt the way Emily Langer feels, and I never will because championing where you are from is about as useful as a fifth leg on a cow. Also, the only inferiority complex I suffer from has little to do with where I was born and more to do with how little money and power I have compared to the top 1% of the population that are quite to content to forget about every living soul in your precious Midwest, and the rest of this country.
Point taken. Thanks for the uplifting comment. I’m glad you’ve found happiness in Brooklyn.
My second book is set here in the midwest and involves a fair amount of culture clash, so I plan to call you and talk about this stuff a lot. (Yes, I know, I have not finished the first book yet.)
Call me anytime! I can go on and on about the subject, obviously. 😉
Pingback: Are you from Ohio? « The Wondering Meanderer
Loved this article Chris! Linked the blog from my site! 😉
I’m a native Texan and have spent my whole life here (in the dallas area). Except for 8 childhood years in California. I agree we (the general public) don’t know much about the midwest. I’ve recently met someone who was raised there (for whom I have a great deal of admiration) and in an attempt to know more about him, I’ve started trying to research what the midwest is all about. The typical thoughts and ideals regarding Texans aren’t too far off track and even insulting generalizations don’t hurt me – I take pride in all that we are.