Midwest in Media
Photo by Lorien Shaull
By Charleston Bowles
Every four years around election time, national media outlets push a homogenous narrative about the Midwest as “middle-class, conservative, rural, and white. In “The Mainstream Media’s Big Disconnect: Why They Don’t Get Middle America',' Neal Gabler writes, “A country that is increasingly younger, darker and half female is being reported on by a press corps that is older, whiter and more male. A gaping demographic gulf separates the press from the people – a gulf that undoubtedly affects the kinds of stories chosen and the way in which they are covered."
Problems of selection and representation are amplified when national media covers Midwestern news through “parachute journalism,” in which reporters come into cities and towns without a good grasp of the population. Without a full understanding of the people and culture of the region today, parachute journalists tends to recycle tired tropes about the Midwest.
For years, the Midwest has been looked at as less diverse than the populations on both coasts. In recent years, young Midwesteners have taken it upon themselves to make the region's diversity more apparent to the national media. One way in which they’ve gotten national attention is through political action. Increased voter turnout in voters under thirty in Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin during the 2020 election suggests that young Midwesterners are committed to rewriting the narrative. Young Midwesterners are also emerging as activists and organizers, volunteering in their local communities and hosting events to fight issues such as climate injustice and police brutality. A figure like Shoshie Hemley is a prime example of this. Hemley, a high-school female student in Iowa, has helped organize a protest for March for Our Lives and the topic of climate injustice in recent years. The climate protest in Iowa City drew roughly 3,000 people.
In both elections, journalists came into Midwestern cities attempting to understand Midwesteners beliefs and values when it came to voting. However, they entered cities without understanding the stories of the people. If you talk to young Midwesterners, you’ll find that it’s about more than a vote for them. It’s about change, progress, and steady growth. Here’s hoping that consistent involvement in topics regarding empowerment and justice will force the media to begin painting a more accurate picture of Midwestern identity.
Representations of Midwesterners in The News
Representations of Midwesterners in Entertainment
By Max Rinehart
Arguably two of the most influential representations of the Midwest on Television include the Netflix series Stranger Things and NBC's Parks and Recreation. takes viewers back to the 1980s by presenting us with pop culture references, ‘80s fashion, and the myth of a simpler time. The nostalgia of the show is amplified even further by the fictional Midwest town that the show takes place in. Hawkins, Indiana is a sleepy Midwestern town in which “nothing ever happens.” It’s a town where kids ride their bikes until late hours with no adult supervision. The show also picks up on a cultural nostalgia that is deeply rooted in the Midwest, which can be a double-edge sword for Midwesterners. On one hand, it keeps us connected to our rich history and close-knit communities. On the other hand, it can perpetuate a myth of a past free of problems and prevent us from embracing difference. Stranger Things exposes the dark underbelly of the idealized past, figured most dramatically in demogorgons and mind flayers.
NBC’s Parks and Recreation, by contrast, confronts us with no monsters. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more sincere and likeable character than the protagonist, Leslie Knope. Smart, hardworking and diligent, Leslie is also very nice. Perhaps too nice. This ultimately makes her an iconic Midwestern figure. Leslie battles bureaucracy and somehow manages to remain considerate of friends, colleagues, and even complaining townspeople (she’s just glad they showed up). Leslie is an example of “Midwestern Nice,” our quintessential regional characteristic. But even this has a dark underbelly. Midwestern Nice is great when it’s genuine, but it can give way to a prescribed niceness that excludes cultural others. Which is ultimately complicated. This complication leads Leslie to confront viewers with certain choices which could be both good and bad; much like our own Midwestern stories.
Photo by Chris Haston / Katkuda Bulunan, NBC
Midwest in Literature
Students in Dr. Kathryn Ludwig's English 402 Cultural Studies: Midwestern Stories course discussed Midwestern identity and the contemporary Midwestern literary scene with special guests Anne Trubek of Belt Publishing, BSU's Cathy Day, author of "The Circus in Winter," and poet Beth Bowman, author of "Swan Bones." Recorded Feb. 18, 2021.