When you’re in broadcast journalism, you’re often told to speak with a “neutral accent,” no matter what audience you are speaking to. It’s why stations from New York to Florida and Texas all have newscasters who talking the same, as if they are speaking to an assumed universal American public. Luckily for me, a “neutral” accent is shorthand for a “Midwest dialect,” specifically the kind you find in Michigan and Ohio.
As a kid growing up in Cincinnati, it always felt like the news was speaking directly to me, and I also couldn’t help but notice that a disproportionate amount of movies and TV shows I watched took place in Ohio — from Scream and Heathers to Rain Man and Little Giants. I would be looking at a suburban Everytown only to find out it was supposed to be my town and those picket fences were my fences. (We were poor and lived in a trailer, so they were clearly in a different side of town.) It’s like any location was secretly the Midwest, just waiting to be found out.
According a new survey from The Atlantic, Americans agree: The Midwest is everywhere. Their Cities section asked Midwesterners and non-Midwesterners how they define what the Midwest is, and the answers greatly differ from the reality. The U.S. census lists 12 states as “official” Midwest states: Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois (hay, gurl!), Wisconsin, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska and Ohio.
To me, including 12 is pushing it, as I’ve always considered the Dakotas, Nebraska and Kansas to be Plains States, but who am I to argue with the Census? I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the people in charge of keeping track of America’s geographies know what they are talking about. Apparently I don’t know shit.
However, when asked, it seems no one else knew exactly what the Midwest was either. According to the Midwesterners The Atlantic surveyed, the Midwest stretches all the way from Montana to New York, adding an an additional 9 states to the mix for a total of 21. That’s almost half the country.
If you think that’s steep, non-Midwesterners toss in even more states, including much of the Deep South and the Mountain States. It’s not that surprising to see folks throw in Oklahoma, Ozark Territory, but when you start calling Idaho, Alabama and Mississippi the Midwest, all hell breaks loose. By that logic, there are more Midwest states than non-Midwestern ones.
But if we have to draft any non-Midwestern state, I want Colorado, the land of legalized marijuana — just as long as the South keeps Florida and Arizona stays in the Southwest. I live in Chicago. We have enough problems of our own.
Readers, what is the Midwest to you? Sound off in the comments section.