Saturday, July 14, 2007

The heartland: leaves in the wind

The Midwest is often referred to as the heartland, but as this article puts it, the towns and villages of the heartland are merely leaves in the wind:

For those on both the east and west coasts, it must be galling when the Midwest is referred to as "the heartland." After all, the coasts are far more populous, and a good case could be made that the American character owes more to the changing mix of Brooklyn, than all the tree lined streets of all the tiny towns scattered over Indiana, or Ohio, or Iowa.

But those Midwestern small towns define a certain idea of America. Those are the towns that were home to Mr. Smith, and yes, to Mr. Lincoln. From a distance, there's an impression of stability, and an impression of monotony. Of church socials, mushroom soup casseroles, and parking lots filled with F-150 pickups. But the timelessness of those places is generated more by the scarcity of images than it is by reality. It's as if the national media took a photo "Middle America, circa 1960" and has used the same image ever since.

Having grown up in a small town, I can tell you that they're not islands of stability in the national stream. They're leaves on the wind. A single plant closing, or a few bad crops, or even the placement of a new highway, can tear a town up by its roots. Towns that grew up over lifetimes, can be brought low by one disaster.

This is indeed very well put. On my Midwest trip last week, I stayed overnight in a little town called Austin, MN. The motel were we'd put up was owned by a Gujju and was quite full: turns out an ethanol plant is coming up in the neighborhood. This town was, and is still, known for Spam, but global warming and its response is about to change things there.

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