The American Midwest, (and by extension, a strip from New York State/New Jersey to Michigan, "the Eastern Heartland") as seen from the vantage point of the early 20th century, and had a resurgence in the 90's and Millenial Decade: a place of endless farmland, wholesome family values, plain good food, and small-town hospitality. People are almost uniformly white, of German, Scandinavian and Colonial English extraction, healthy, cheerful, and generally happy with their lot in life, though they wouldn't be averse to some new faces in town, no sirree! The men are strong (but gentle with their womenfolk), hunt, fish and follow sports, the women are gentle and full of inner strength of their own, and enjoy such things as playing bridge, sewing quilts and canning produce. Faith is mostly liberal Protestant, with small communities of Mennonites, Amish, and other remnants of past reformations. Teenagers are respectful, and follow in their parents' footsteps, until they go off to college, and to the Big City, where they learn sophisticated ways, drink, have sex, and finally come to realize just how great things were Back Home, after all.

Yes, it was a fiction then, and is still, more the product of Hollywood (which grafted Jewish values -- scholarship, tolerance, hospitality, and openness) onto a rather narrow-minded and puritanical culture, than a reflection of real life. It's hard, watching Andy Hardy movies, reading Oprah's Book Club picks or listening to A Prairie Home Companion, to remember that this is also the home and heart of the American National Socialist Party, Alcoholics Anonymous and the consumers of more antidepressants than any other part of the country. Neither was there a good old days here, as documented in the book "Wisconsin Death Trip".  It's also home to the Rust Belt (with its African-American contingent), Target, the largest Tibetan community outside the Indian Subcontinent and the Kinsey Institute, Prince, as well as any number of other anomalies. 

Why does the American Heartland exert such a mythic pull on the American soul? Unlike New England or the South, the Midwest was largely free of the somewhat conflicted associations with the American Revolution and Civil War. Chicago, the nation's Second City (after New York) could bill itself as a distinctly American city, as opposed to one colonized by foreigners. Before fast shipping made other sources possible, the Midwest was the American breadbasket: the source of most grain, dairy, meat, and other foodstuffs, and so Midwestern cooking became THE standard, as tasted in such products as Birdseye Frozen Dinners, Army rations and Campbells Soup. Having a (somewhat) moderate climate, flat and being inland helped, too: without too many geographical or climactic markers, it could more easily sub for "Anytown, USA" than, perhaps, the Southwest or the Mountain states could. Then, too, it was the hometown for any number of worthies from most of the NASA astronauts and Ray Bradbury to Walt Disney.

Yes, it may be a fiction. But, as I turn from my copy of O, and look at the neat stuff I got at Wal*Mart, such a seductive one...

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