In a self-immolating polemic in the Atlantic, University of Iowa “journalism” professor Stephen Bloom (seen mugging at left in what must be a pretentious Palmolive print ad) has succeeded in making “reporting” a smug act of self-pleasure. Read it…I’ll wait. Are you reveling in his urbane wit? Neither is the rest of the state.
I loved Postville, which makes his level of probing insight gleaned from twenty years of experience into the folkways of us ignorant herkamur jerkamur locals all the more indicting. One would think there’d be a statute of limitations on vaingloriously claiming alien status, but nope, he’s apparently STILL NOT ONE OF US. Et tu, Stephen? Bloom turns the dagger against his meal ticket in Karl-Rovian fashion, swift-boating our most enduring strength into our greatest failing. The fiber of Iowan character and honesty is mystically morphed into the bullheaded complacency of the docile, meek, and stupid.
“Those who stay in rural Iowa are often the elderly waiting to die, those too timid (or lacking in education) to peer around the bend for better opportunities, an assortment of waste-toids and meth addicts with pale skin and rotted teeth, or those who quixotically believe, like Little Orphan Annie, that ‘The sun’ll come out tomorrow.’”
By that rationale, only an abject failure would choose to gorge himself on the public teat for a score of years in a dank cesspool of human filth, no? Perhaps Agent Donnie Brasco is striving to meet the irony-hungry readership of jaundiced university-town hipster literati. Unlike his target demographic, Bloom won’t be an office temp this summer. He’ll come home from his current stint as a visiting scholar in Michigan (a true, Tom Joad), where he moonlighted by scratching together an egotistical rant on the putrid state of Iowa’s economics and culture, ultimately comdemning the Hawkeye state as a place so woefully backward to not deserve the first-in-the-nation caucus on the grounds that most of the unrepresentative citizenry will probably spend the evening walking into walls and groping with childlike glee at shiny things.
With broad brush, Bloom paints a mishmash of cartoonesque semi-Southern sweeping generalizations and stereotypes that would make Joseph Goebbels proud. In any other pocket of the world, such irresponsible erudition would be condemned as racism or bigotry. Subject matter plays second-fiddle to his own reflected self-glorification when not unlike a beleaguered Jane Goodall, Bloom is seemingly forced on our public dole at a redneck’s gunpoint to entrench himself among Iowa’s mouthbreathing, knuckledragging chimps for two decades. If that’s true, kindly lift your barrel off his turtleneck, Cletus, and let this card-carrying member of the sophisticate be on his way.
Come deadline time and lacking of a poetic capstone to this composition, Bloom clumsily contrived a story a la Jayson Blair of how he can’t walk his Labrador around Iowa City without a hayseed Elmer Fudd inquiring of him how well she can track a scent. Clearly his constitutionals lead him past noted cobblestone-paved coondog haunts such as the New Pioneer Co-op and International Writer’s Workshop.
Bloom has offered up in defense that he was doing “the real job of journalism” and if you feel affronted, it is because you want to “kill the messenger, ignore the message.” That’s fine. There is a whole heck of a lot of truth in the article. All of Iowa’s fiscal and cultural ills, incidentally, are not being courageously battled in “Keokuk…a depressed, crime-infested slum town”, but by smug, suede-elbowed cosmopolitans on sabbatical in between lattes as they ride the gravy train in academia’s ivory tower. Ones like Bloom who valiantly in the face of logic persevere a cush lifestyle of oppressive yawns, having his TAs scribble red letters on top of lazy, uninspired doggerel (remind you of anyone?) and taking semesters off paid to write bestsellers. Were he a Christian (he’s not, a belabored point he trounces in every other paragraph) he’d describe this as his cross to bear.
The rub is the subtext, where Bloom basks in his own intellectual glory comparatively, finding a way somehow to thrust himself in the role of detached omniscient third-party observer while wholesale impugning the Iowa electorate as thoughtless sub-sentient bovine in a tone that would only makes sense as an expatriate, not your employee. Thank you, good sir, for altruistically miring yourself in the Marianas Trench that is Iowa for so long. We really had no idea your bathysphere went that deep, you cut-rate Jacques Cousteau.
So what will become of Stephen Bloom? He is parrying off rebuttals such as this one as examples of aforementioned ignorance and anti-intellectualism. He’ll deservedly cower behind the bedrock Constitutional principle of free speech. In Iowa City, he will be protected as a generously publicly-subsidized snob and dandy. In the hearts and minds of the citizenry, he looks like something dragged out of the packing plants he documented a dozen years ago and has rendered and repurposed in every essay he’s written since.
You see, being a pompous (insert your word of choice) is inherently and indefensibly un-Iowan wharever y’are in these here Yoonahted States. And like his absurd east-side Iowa City Labrador, that dog don’t hunt.. Lookeee ma, I can fabricate a cutsie homespun ending too.. in “skuzzy” Davenport no less.
Merry Christmas Stephen Bloom.
Hit the bricks.