Flyover Country - John Samuel Tieman

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Axar.az presents an article "Flyover Country" by John Samuel Tieman.

“Flyover country”. I heard it again on national TV. That's my home, “fly over country”. It's what people fly over when they are travelling to the better bits of my country like New York and California. It's dismissive. But mostly, it lacks clarity.

I am from Missouri. I live in the very middle of the United States. I am not a northerner, a southerner, an easterner or a westerner. I'm a Midwesterner. I speak the Midlands Dialect Of American English. I don't have a northern accent, a southern accent, an eastern accent, or a western accent. I have a Midwestern accent. I sound like the evening news, only with a trace of a twang, and an -R- thrown into the middle of some words, like when I mention, “I studied at Wa-R-shington University in St. Louis.”

Nor am I a farmer. My wife and I were driving in Franklin County, Missouri. I saw something off the road and excitedly said to her, “Honey, look – look at all those things!”

A little disgusted, she turned away and said, “Those things are called cows.” I think the first cow I ever saw was in a zoo.

I love “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”. What I hate is that folks think this is what all of Missouri is like. Let me emphasize all of Missouri. I also love the movie “Winter's Bone”, a relatively accurate depiction of the poverty in rural Missouri. But when I survey movies about Missouri, a quick internet search yields these top five – “The Outlaw Josey Wales”, three films about Jesse James, and “Waiting For Guffman”.

There are just over six million folks who live in Missouri. About three million live in Metropolitan St. Louis, and another two million live in Kansas City. (Both of these metropolitan areas are so big that they cross two state lines, and teasing out the Missouri numbers is another essay – but you get the urban idea.) So if you're going to guess at the average Missourian, an accurate supposition would be a woman on her lunch break from her downtown office, reading her “Kansas City Star” at a sushi joint.

Jesse James was born and raised in 19th-century Missouri. That's true. So was General John J. Pershing. And Mark Twain. And Sara Teasdale. In “Waiting For Guffman”, Parker Posey's character, Libby Mae Brown, the perky Diary Queen employee, well, yes, that is one kind of small-town Missourian. So is former Senator Claire McCaskill of Rolla in south central Missouri. Singer and songwriter Sheryl Crow was born and raised in Kennett, a small town in The Bootheel.

Now I will be the first to admit that there is not a week that goes by that I don't thank Sweet Loving Jesus for Arkansas and Alabama. Otherwise, Missouri would be 50th in everything. I'll also frankly admit that our state legislature, what my beloved wife calls “that great brain trust in Jefferson City”, can sometimes do stuff like propose legislation against the statewide implementation of Sharia Law. Then there was the legislator who said extending discrimination protection to LGBT Missourians infringed on religious liberty because most religions don’t consider gay people human beings. Not to be outdone by our legislature, one former governor, Eric Greitens, resigned after allegations that he had sexually assaulted and blackmailed his former hairdresser. He is accused of secretly photographing during S&M bondage, and threatening to release the photos to buy her silence. So, yeah, my state can do some pretty stupid stuff.

The problem is the stereotype. Flyover country. Pill-billies. Hoosiers. It leaves folks with the impression that Missouri brings nothing to the cultural table. We are the home of Mark Twain, Chuck Berry, T. S. Eliot, Langston Hughes, William Least Heat-Moon, William Burroughs, Reinhold Niebuhr, Virginia Mayo, Vincent Price, Kathleen Turner and Josephine Baker. Heidi Gardner, of “Saturday Night Live”, comes from Kansas City. Anna Marie Bullock, known to the world as Tina Turner, graduated from Sumner High School in St. Louis, Class of 1958, and it was here she got her start in music. Scott Joplin wrote some of his finest music here. We have great universities. The Arch is perhaps the most beautiful – or, at least, the largest – abstract sculpture in the world. We fry the finest catfish and play some of the sweetest baseball in either league. To drive through the Ozarks in the early morning, when the fog still lies low in the valleys, is to yield to more shades of blue and gray than any language ever named.

Yes, there's Ferguson, which is to say St. Louis. And we have virtually segregated schools, economic injustice, and white flight. This familiar litany can go on ad infinitum. The greatest pain of racism is to tell someone that, because of the colour of their skin, they will spend their life unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. And that pain, that is as All American as, well, the Meramec River or Route 66.

But look. I've been to New York City. So let me conclude with these three points. First, Donald Trump isn't our fault. Missouri may have voted for him, but we didn't give birth to him. Second, true, 60% of New York state voted for Hillary, and 60% of my state voted for Trump in 2016. But don't make it like this is some sophisticated versus unsophisticated thing. 40% of New Yorkers voted for the orange booty grabber, and 40% of Missourians voted for the feminist. Lastly – and this is elementally important -- just because we speak the Midlands Dialect Of American English, just because we speak with a twang, that's no reason to presume that, at some point in our lives, every Missourian has gone recreational possum tossing. Some of us go to the symphony.

2023.02.06 / 10:15
John Samuel Tieman
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