Fly-Over

I am always the last to hear about the introduction of truly idiotic expressions into the language. I am still catching up after moving back to the US from Europe just over a year ago, and I am not always paying close attention.

But, "Fly-over States?"  Seriously? 

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Here is how the on-line Urban Dictionary defines this term: The middle class Midwest that is typically "flown over" by scheduled airlines in their hops between their major hubs. The bounds of flyover country vary from urbanite to urbanite. People from Chicago tend to think it runs from the Mississippi River to the Rockies (and also Indiana). Bay Area, it's the San Joaquin Valley east to Chicago. New York, it's anything that is not within an hour's drive of The City.

Does the idea of Fly-over States derive from the inability of disinterested individuals to figure out what and where the American Midwest is?  Rich, informed thinkers consider history, geology, geography, politics, and immigration patterns when grappling with the idea of the Midwest, its boundaries and its people.  There is no formal or informal (only Census Bureau) agreement about the definition of the Midwest. But people with attentional deficit disorder apparently make up jet-set sounding words to substitute for this complexity.

The erroneous intuitive social psychology about homogeneity and its implications conveyed here is also impressive. First, the “sameness” inherent to the idea of Fly-over States glosses over the facts.  I looked up the percentage of foreign-born population by state in the year 1900 (because the effect of diversity should take centuries and not several years to be incorporated into the culture). Of the states that had highest foreign populations (NY being the highest for obvious reasons), Illinois was third in the country, Michigan fifth, Wisconsin sixth, and Minnesota was seventh.  Many New England states of course fell well to the bottom of this list.  So, if you want to talk about diversity, try taking a longer look at what that means.

And does what appears to be the present-day “ethnic diversity” of the Fly-to States – appearances that sometimes depend upon jerry-rigged perceptual strategies – guarantee tolerance and supportive relationships between peoples?  Sorry, the data don’t support your hunch. Individuals in the Fly-to States might tell facile stories of embracing diversity, but clearly lack the same tolerance for whoever lives in Fly-over States.  Does their interest in the currently trendy groups to champion actually absolve them of the prejudices they hold about peoples who seem to have less social currency at the moment?

Well.  No.

Then there is the problem of the rest of the country. New Hampshire, Mississippi, and Idaho are not even visible when flying from JFK to LAX.  And by the way, those states fall to the bottom of the foreign-born populations according to the census of many decades.  So what are those?  Fly-past States?  Insulting terms all around, I say!

The defensiveness of the Fly-to folks came out in a shrill way when a recent survey reported the level of Happiness of US college students.  Although three of the top-10 happy students were at universities in the state of New York, and two in the state of Massachusetts, three were in the Northern Midwest and number one was the University of Wisconsin at Madison.  Students around LAX didn’t seem to be as happy as one might have naively predicted.  Who cares really about this survey; what was most interesting was the nature of the reactions.  Commentators asked, “Have these people in Madison even heard of Cambridge or New Haven?”  Well, yes.  And is this question coming from the same people who ask me if Minneapolis is the name of the state or the city?  But so what?  Does selectiveness of the institution have anything to do with on-site happiness?  Why would they believe that to be the case?

The use of the term Fly-over States is heightened around the upcoming general election and the feelings of alienation of the people working hard in the middle of the US.  But although defined as a pejorative term, I think we can start to embrace it as an ironic reference to (mostly) coastal ignorance.

Paula NiedenthalComment