I was doing some office cleaning this past weekend when I stumbled upon an object I had collected on a road trip back in 2005—a list of “Rules to Enter Iowa” that I had ripped out of a local gazette in a hotel in Dubuque, Iowa. At the time I imagined it might come in handy for a discussion about socioeconomic class, regional identities or just rural/urban identities more generally. Since I’m not sure when I’ll use it, and I don’t want to misplace it again, I figure my blog is the place to put it. Reading through it was entertaining—if a bit intimidating at moments. It was a cheat sheet for numerous stereotypes about other parts of the US—”East Coast and California-types pay particular attention!”—as well as a statements that assert local differences. Since I spent a few years growing up in Iowa, and my wife is from Berkeley, CA I figured the list was something to which we should pay even closer attention!
There is a grab bag here of gender, race, class, diet, family dynamics, and religion. We have oppositions: “Lexuses versus pickup trucks (#2),” ”catfish versus sushi (#7),” “steak versus vegetarianism (#10, #11),” “local sports versus national sports (#13),” and “local colleges versus national colleges (#15).” Women should be “cute, know how to shoot, drive a truck, have long hair (#12)” and be someone that men will “open doors for (#9).”
There are indirect commentaries on the clothing styles (#1), drug use (#12), and incivility (#5, #16) that is stereotypical of urban life. Outsiders are elitist (#3), snobby (#4), Godless and not patriotic (#15), disdainful of hunting and fishing (#6, #8, #14).
Locals, by contrast, are comfortable with dust and dirt (#2), smells (#3), killing (#6, #7), meat-eating (#10, #11), neighborly behaviors (#5, #9, #15, #16), God and country (#15).
Tellingly, beneath the civil exterior there is a simmering threat to violence against those who don’t belong. Those “friendly locals (#5) will gladly show you the way out of town (#3), “whip” your “flabby behind” for being uncivil (#16), or even shoot you in the head for disturbing their hunting (#6).
Of course, I also read hints of great insecurity and discomfort at dependencies created by state-led industrialized farming. The incredible debt and risk that farmers take on (#4) and the fears of change (#15). Even the final quote by the heroic general and president Eisenhower that “IOWA can make it without the United State, but the United States can’t make it without IOWA” is asserted with a kind of puffed-up blustery pride—one that overcompensates for the fact that the quote is no longer true. As the excellent documentary King Corn observes, Iowa grows feedcorn and soybeans that are as indigestible by humans as they are digestible by the processes of agribusiness. Iowa no longer grows enough food to feed itself. Iowa is entirely dependent on national and international markets.
Regardless, every time I read this I can’t but agree with #11. I’d really like myself a few Maid-Rites. They are the perfect nostalgic representation of the lost rural past. Mary Jane, is that you? Let me get the door.
After reading this post, one of my colleagues shared with me a whole bunch of variations of this list that have been tailored for Kansas, Montana, South Dakota, Texas, Nebraska, and Minnesota. I don’t have time to write up a summary of their differences, but there are some interesting ones!