In Defense of the Midwest
Could a region that produced Prince, Eminem, Bob Dylan, Madonna and Nat King Cole really be that boring?
By Josephine Werni, University of Minnesota Twin Cities
The cozy knot of states that hang out in the middle of U.S. have commonly been referred to as the “Heartland” and “America’s Breadbasket.”
They’ve also been called less flattering things, like the “flyover states” and the “Corn Belt.” Like pretty much anything else that dares to exist, the Midwest has been linked to its fair share of stereotypes, false perceptions and unsavory myths. As a native Minnesotan who has grown up in and spent a considerable amount of time traveling the Midwestern region, I’d like discuss why there is far more to the Midwest than dorky accents, Nordic white people, passive aggression, cold-ass winters and food that looks like it’s already been digested. After all, there has to be a few reasons that a guy as funky as Prince chose to stick around here all those years.
Since weather will forever be the faithful fallback topic of conversation in any exchange between two Midwesterners (one stereotype that I’ll admit is pretty accurate), it only seems appropriate to talk about it first.
1. The Weather
Yes, it gets cold in the winter in the Midwest. It gets disgustingly cold. The kind of cold that makes your thighs go numb within 5 minutes of being outside—the kind of cold that causes you to wonder why on earth you live in a place where the air hurts your face.
However, the good and bad news is that it actually gets equally as hot in the summer as it does in the winter. Despite the oddly popular belief/total disregard of geography, the Midwest is not a frozen wasteland year-round. Temperatures generally linger between 80-105° during the summer months, and thanks to the abundance of lakes and rivers, that heat is exacerbated by sticky humidity. Sort of like Satan’s armpit, or Florida.
I realize that this information doesn’t really do anything to up the attractiveness factor of the Midwest.
To make up for that, I’d also like to point out that spring and fall do exist here too, and that they are quite pleasant and mild to compensate for the extremes of winter and summer.
2. Cultural Wasteland
Another misconception about the Midwest is that it is a bland, cultureless expanse, completely void of diversity. In the minds of many Coasties, nothing/no one of worth ever came out of the middle states. While the population is primarily Caucasian, mostly of Scandinavian and German descent specifically, other ethnicities and cultures do exist. For example, Minnesota and Wisconsin are home to the largest Somalian and Hmong populations in North America and also the second largest Tibetan population.
As for culture in the Midwest, let’s begin with establishing that there is good art and oodles of it. The Cleveland Museum of Art is considered to be one of the richest collections in the country, and Minneapolis has the Sculpture Garden, a giant outdoor art park that features the iconic Cherry Spoon.
In addition to the hundreds of fantastic art museums that I could list but won’t for the sake of time, it is worth noting that Minneapolis has the second highest level of theater per capita, falling only behind New York City.
In addition to art and theater, the Midwest can also take credit for putting out an eclectic music scene. Prince, Eminem, Bob Dylan, Madonna and Nat King Cole are only a few of the loads of famous artists that were born in the Corn Belt. Along with individual artists, there are several famous music festivals that take place in the Midwest, including Lollapalooza in Chicago and Milwaukee’s Summerfest, which is the largest outdoor music festival in the country (suck it, Coachella).
3. The Food
Generally, it is assumed that Midwestern food is entirely shapeless and unrefined. Sure, a lot of traditional Heartland foods sound like they were invented by a drunk person (chances are they actually were), like beer cheese soup and tater tot casserole.
Most of these types of delicacies were created to be hearty and rib sticking for the colder months, but they aren’t the only sort of cuisine that came out of the Midwest. Deep dish pizza, bison burgers, Honeycrisp apples and frozen custard just a few of the tasty and intriguing food items that were conceived ‘round the Great Lakes.
Along with a bunch of splendid music, art and food, you can thank the Midwest for inventing tons of miscellaneous things that you likely use every day. Airplanes, shopping malls, zippers, scotch tape, Post-It notes, toasters and Social Security were all invented in Midwestern states.
5. The Accents
Now that it’s been established that there are indeed many great people and things that have and continue to come from the Midwest, it’s time to tackle one last myth that is probably the least important in general, but the most irritating to Midwesterners: the dorky accent.
While Midwesterners probably don’t get as much shit for their accents as southerners do, we’re still subject to ridicule.
I’m not saying that there is no accent at all. There is a light vowel shift and elongation that is present in the typical Midwestern dialect, and it tends to be more prominent the farther north you go. There are certain phrases and words that are common in the Midwest that aren’t usually heard in other parts of the country. I’ll admit that I didn’t know that “uffda” was a weird thing to say until I was about 10-years old (I blame my very Scandinavian grandmother). However, it’s rarely, if ever, as ridiculous as it’s often made out to be in the media. Thanks a lot, “Fargo.”
Ultimately, the Midwest is pretty similar to the rest of the country, no better or worse. Although it doesn’t receive as much attention as the other bits, and the attention it does get isn’t always super flattering, I don’t think I would have rather grown up anywhere else.