I once had a college roommate tell me that, "people are no longer well read, they are well watched."
I'm pretty sure he was just cooking up an excuse for not having read a book we were talking about, but he makes a good point.
There was a time when you had different types of readers; people who read classics (pretentious), people who read only nonfiction (boring) and people who only read the novelizations of movies with misguided aspirations of one day saying "the book was WAY better." And the list continued from there to delineate nearly every possible type of written material.
Now we have two classes of readers: People who read thinly veiled pornography (50 Shades of Grey), and people who read. They don't read any genre in particular, they are just simply known as "readers."
Do not confuse these two groups.
While the diversity of "readers" has narrowed as of late the diversity of "watchers" has expanded exponentially.
You have people that only watch "good TV" (Breaking Bad, Mad Men), people that only watch poorly conceived science fiction shows (Revolution, anything on the SyFy channel), and people that watch what they refer to as REAL TV (Two and a Half Men, other such garbage). Even the trusty workhorse of low-cost cable programming, Reality TV, has been split by the watchers into contest reality shows (American Idol, The Voice) and niche business reality shows (American Pickers, The Deadliest Catch).
Even with such mounting evidence to support his theory I would like to think that my former roommate was wrong about the totality of this "reader" to "watcher" shift. After all, he was wrong when he thought he could clean up spilled milk on our couch with Windex, so why couldn't he be wrong about this too?
I like to consider myself a somewhat well read, and most definitely well watched, individual. I read books (real ones, with pages and everything!), lots of newspapers (The Washington Post being at the top of that list) and my fair share of Internet-approved crazy rants.
So it was from this love, or at least mutual appreciation, of the written word that I found myself reading The Atlantic. For those of you that don't know The Atlantic is a magazine that people like to put in their house to appear smart. Not The Economist or The New Yorker smart, but not something low-brow like Newsweek or US News &World Report (so trashy!). They also do some pretty good writing over at The Atlantic, but their words were not my concern in this latest issue.
Facing what I can only assume was a daunting amount of unfilled pages the good people at The Atlantic decided to produce a piece called America: 50 States in 50 photos.
I think we all know how this is going to play out. Each state is going to have a picture that appears lifted directly from the most rickety of postcard stands with little to no surprises to be found.
Oh, did Arizona have a picture of The Grand Canyon! Kansas has a picture of a tornado? What's that? Rich people on boats? Must be Rhode Island!
So I was quite surprised to find an intriguing list that really captured a unique view of each state. From a cowboy riding his horse with the American flag during a Cinco de Mayo celebration in Illinois to a solar eclipse shading a windmill in New Mexico these were not the pictures I expected. A drought stricken Seattle for Washington, a damaged I35 sign from the bridge collapse in Minneapolis for Minnesota, elver fishing in Maine; this was some legitimately interesting stuff.
Then we got to Iowa.
Alright, what's it going to be? Corn? Pigs? Pigs eating corn?
It is a picture of a kid. With a mohawk. At a truck stop.
Thanks, The Atlantic! Who wants an image challenging popular cultural perceptions when you could just snap of pic of a kid at a truck stop on your way to Nebraska! Did you even get out of your car?
Where's my remote?
Copy Editor Wes Burns is a Sunday columnist. The views expressed in this column are personal views of the writer and don't necessarily reflect the views of the T-R. Contact Wes Burns at 641-753-6611 or firstname.lastname@example.org.