[ed note: Found! In a dumpster behind Hamburg Inn, the first draft of University of Iowa professor Stephen G. Bloom's anthropology dissertation for Atlantic magazine explaining the bizarre cultural mores of the primative Aborigines who pay his salary.]
IOWA CITY -- On January 3, Iowans will trudge through snow, sleet, sludge, mud, ice, corn, beans, pig feces, flaming lakes of ethanol, gale-force blizzards -- whatever it takes -- to join their neighbors that evening in 1,784 living rooms, barns, community halls, recreation barns, silos, wigwams, and public-school Corn God sacrifice altars in a kind of Norman Rockwell-meets-HR Geiger old timey bygone-era past-that-never-was town-hall folksy-regular-folks go-to-town-meeting at which they'll eat and debate, and then battle with corn hoes and pitchforks to choose their presidential candidates along party lines. The local tribal elders call this "Kaukkassqaatsi," the Iowa word for "run on sentences."
We now know these as the Iowa Caucuses, which create a seismic shift in the presidential nominating contests. In 2008, after Obama catapulted to the top of the Democrats' rain-dance card, the resultant seismic tremors swept him to victory at the Democratic Convention. The tremors were also thought to be the cause of the volcanic eruption of long-dormant Mount Pleasant, which tragically destroyed over half the final term papers of my students in C3101, Introduction to Communication Studies.
Since Obama is the presumed Democratic candidate in 2012, this year it's the Republican candidates who must now woo the sad, semiliterate populace of this benighted barren outpost beyond the frontier of rational civilization. They're falling over each other in front of grain elevators and cornfields, over biscuits and hogslop in breakfast cafes, in ghost-haunted tornado-ravaged baseball cornfields, and at potluck dinners (casseroles are the thing to bring), under the covered bridges of Madison County with lonely sex-starved Italian war widows, glad-handing and backslapping and eyepoking as many Iowa voters they can. Great photo ops, you know. Hoisting a baby in the air is good politics. So's gulping down a brat (short for "bratwurst" - contrary to popular myth, Iowans seldom eat misbehaving children).
Considering the state's enormous political significance, and all the falling-over-slap-handing of hoisted babies, I thought this would be a good time to explain to those fortunate enough to live elsewhere a little about Iowa, including where Iowa is, and perhaps more importantly, in both a real and metaphysical way, and, at the same time, a postmodernly theoretical way, what Iowa is. And, possibly, why Iowa is. Because I have tenure.
For almost 20 years I've lived in Iowa, where as a professor at the University of Iowa I've taught thousands of university students. When I arrived I was mortified how few of them were prepared to write an impactful, 300-word, two-paragraph, fully-hyphenated sentence. After my initial shock subsided, I became curious about the strange culture that produced these fascinating young drunks. I overcame my agoraphobia and began walkabouts into Iowa's foreboding outback. I've written a couple of books on rural Iowa, traveling to all 99 counties, and have spent much of my time when not teaching or applying for safari supply grants, visiting with and interviewing Iowans from across the state of Iowa in Iowa. I haven't taken up hunting or fishing or methamphetamine, the main hobbies of rural Iowans, but I'm a fan of University of Iowa Hawkeye football, so I'm told I am a good third of the way to becoming an adopted Iowan. According to my students, the final two steps of my official Iowa adoption ritual involve challenging and defeating an Iowa State player in a bar fistfight. I even have a dog, born and bred in Iowa (more on that later) .
* * *