Iowa, the Hyper-Normal State, by Dan Coffey | Let’s Hear It for 9 PM Bedtime!

The women’s fashion industry serves to limit the number of women who can be considered beautiful. In this way, it increases the value of those who make their grade. By arbitrarily diminishing the supply, they artificially increase the value of women who conform to the standards. And when they loosen those standards, a willing press considers that news. “New supermodel takes fashion world by storm!”

The same principle applies with celebrities. Surely, no one seriously thinks that Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise are the nation’s best actors, but today on television I saw a crowd of thousands gathered in front of a movie theater in LA, hoping for a mere glimpse of these show biz superstars. By having the same few people appear in all the movies, producers inflate the value of the actors they have chosen. Never mind the fact that tens of thousands of worthy and talented actors never get work, the system is working the way it was designed to, the way it always has. It has inflated the value of the few by denying most people access.

Systems like this only work when there’s an over-supply of a needed ingredient. Trendy nightclubs in New York hire bouncers to screen those lined up and willing to pay an exorbitant fee to enter. Warning to nightclub owners: don’t try this in Omaha or Des Moines. Most Iowans, even the young, wealthy, and beautiful, would rather rent a DVD and watch it at home than stand in line hoping to be chosen.

Foreign countries maintain a lot of their value by being foreign. If you trade your tourist status for citizen, you run the risk of eventual buyer’s remorse. What is charming in small doses can be insufferable in large. Imagine that you live in the Swiss alps. Winter mornings are crisp and clear, spring and summer show fields of buttercups rolling in a vast yellow and green carpet down to the valleys below. After a couple of years it’s like, “Ho hum, here come some more German tourists. Quick Heidi, grab a bouquet and call the Saint Bernard. Tell them rooms are 300 Euros a night, satellite TV and breakfast included. Now hurry up before they catch sight of the neighbor’s place!”

Those ex-pats who finally traded a California ranch home for a Swiss chalet are now dreaming of a thatch-roofed affair in Bali. Have you noticed how little tourism there is in Iowa?  That’s because everything in Iowa is hyper-normal. In a state that celebrates hard work, family values, and going to bed early, there’s nothing to entertain or divert even the strangest stranger. Visitors from a galaxy far away would take one look at Iowa and head south to Branson.

Las Vegas is really the best tourist city in America, because it’s all artificial. From a water resources standpoint, there shouldn’t even be a city there. Think of all the gigawatts of power we spend air conditioning the place.  On my last visit to the Sin City Burger King, I made the mistake of trying to walk across a 20-acre black asphalt parking lot. It was July. A little past the point of no return I realized that I might well die from my stupidity. Yellowed newsprint flyers advertising out-call massage had blown up against the cyclone fence I trudged along. Right in front of my eyes, these pieces of newsprint turned raw sienna, then burnt umber.

Fortunately, I made it to the Circus Circus Burger King before I melted into the tar, and found myself revived by air conditioning, a Whopper, and a giant iced tea. Here were Americans looking for exotic yet wholesome family fun. All the showgirl boobs Dad could stare at and funny clowns for the kids!

Where do people who live in Las Vegas go for vacation? Omaha? Peoria?

Our search for novelty is sort of like a dog circling three times before it lies down, a ritual that accomplishes little. We are all just passing through. Don’t get too attached to the scenery, or the people you meet. They’re eternal beings too. We’ll have other chances to connect, down the road. Time isn’t as big of a deal as we think it is, because all the really important stuff transcends both time and space. With that in mind, please God, don’t let me bake to death in a Burger King parking lot.         

You can buy a whole book of Dan Coffey’s essays online: My World & Welcome To It.

Visit the Index for more essays by Dan Coffey and other Iowa humor writers.