Being a Midwest boy born and bred, I've always resented the fact that the heartland of America is considered a flyover zone by Easterners. When the elite Eastern newspapers report on some happening in a Midwestern city, they treat their subject as if it were part of some strange, alien culture, to be poked for clues to their own advanced civilization.
When we started Crain's Chicago Business back in 1978, I had to write a column explaining why my hometown was the logical place for our first city business publication. Our readers were tentative about their acceptance of our paper because they shared the attitude that if it were so good why didn't we do it first in New York, which they secretly and wretchedly felt was so much more worthy of such a title.
Maybe I'm being a bit oversensitive, but when I read a story in The New York Times about a new art museum in Davenport, Iowa, I got the feeling that the editors ran it because they thought it was an oddity people in the Quad Cities would actually like art enough to construct a new glass building full of the stuff.
The Times piece starts off by depicting the location of the art museum as "the moribund downtown of this historic Mississippi River city, where barges heaped with coal ply the water and freight trains rumble day and night." Later the story says of the architect, David Chipperfield: "Making his big American debut in a culturally conservative corner of the Midwest may seem an odd career move."
And listen to how Cindy Loose of The Washington Post describes Madison, Wis.: "It's like an idealized New England town designed in Berkeley, Calif." Ms. Loose, for the elucidation of her Midwest-ignorant readers, had to use illustrations from both coasts so they could grasp what a strange phenomenon had arisen from the marshes of Wisconsin, Brigadoon-like. And get this: Madison actually has a real downtown, "where you can buy not only presents, but also everyday items, like a notebook or ball of twine."
What hurts the most, though, is not the occasional references to the quirkiness of the Midwest, but the continuing drumbeat that the Midwest is an afterthought. I'm referring, of course, to how all the TV networks, hour after hour, day after day, week after week, refer to their prime viewing time as "8 Eastern, 7 Central."
This might seem like a trivial thing (and I must confess I never thought about it until I had time to spare between fish up in Canada), but can you begin to imagine the effect on Midwest psyches over the years-probably going back to network radio days-on having all central time states treated as nothing more than an afterthought?
There's no doubt in anybody's mind that "8 Eastern" is the place to be and that "7 Central" is a time period for the less fortunate (due to no fault of their own, of course). The Eastern view, never uttered aloud, is why would anybody start their prime-time viewing at such an unfashionable hour? Don't they have anything better to do out there?
Upon much reflection, I think it only fair that the networks make up for all these years of prime-time discrimination by changing their announcements to "7 Central, 8 Eastern" so that 7 o'clock becomes the preferred time period.
Needless to say, it will take many years before Midwesterners begin to feel better about themselves and their stylish time period. Gradually, it will be OK to have dinner at 6 because 7 is now the time when the night begins.
I also wouldn't be opposed to a little reparation here. For the first few years, I would not object to the networks saying: "7 Central. Easterners look up your own time."