People be hatin’ on the Midwest — otherwise known as the ‘flyover states’ — but most who do so have either never visited (relying on the TV-version of the region to inform their opinions), or have only been through briefly, experiencing a horrible wedding or funeral or window-screened drive through the area, stopping only at the most red-neckiest of truck stops, supposing that THIS is all the area has to offer the rest of the — far better informed and well-cultured — world.
To be honest, some of the stereotypes are accurate, at least to a small degree. It’s more difficult to come by certain types of culture in the landlocked cities of the US, and a big part of that problem is the lack of exposure to massive coastal or airported cities (and the trade such hubs bring), and the lack of ethnic and racial diversity, especially in the smaller towns.
The charm of these places, to me, however, is that they are unabashedly themselves.
I’ll often take friends who visit me from the coast or from other countries — friends who, almost without exception, have never been to the REAL Midwest — to Branson, Missouri, to ensure they get a purified, refined version of what makes up this part of the world.
If you’ve never been, Branson is a place where Vegas acts go to die, and where everyone is gay, but no one seems to think homosexuals are real. The place is teeming with Liberace-grade flamboyance, and somehow all the little old ladies and their families who live thereabouts seem to think the Botoxed and glittery men they crush on are just ‘bachelors for life.’ It’s wild.
There are a disconcerting number of Confederate flags everywhere you look — on belt buckles and hats and bumper stickers and tshirts — and there are statues of some American Presidents who, under other circumstances, are only remembered in dystopian graphic novels.
Branson is a place that makes the rest of the Midwest seem normal, and that’s why I like to start there.
It’s easy to make any place seem like a caricature of itself, but only by viewing an actual caricature can you easily tell the difference from the get-go (live in LA for a while and tell me the rest of the city is anything like the tourism-heavy parts of town).
Branson IS the Midwest, and it does bear some resemblance to the rest of the region, but you won’t find many Confederate flag belt buckles in Columbia or St. Louis or Springfield or Kansas City. They’re tchotchkes sold to tourists who can then go home — back to the coast or overseas — and tell their friends they saw ‘The Midwest.’
(This is the reverse experience those of us who grew up primarily in Missouri had, by the way.)
Like anywhere, there are good people and bad people in this part of the world. There are those who fulfill every negative stereotype, and those who adhere to only the positive ones. Most people find themselves somewhere in between, or off the spectrum completely.
But I do find that such extremes help put non-extremes in better focus, and especially in places that have been so horribly flattened-out by popular culture, that focus is necessary to really enjoy the myriad delightful details you’d miss otherwise.