“Cedar Rapids” the Movie

So in my last post I made some references to the upcoming release of “Cedar Rapids.” I should clarify that I don’t know that much about the movie and it may well paint Iowa in a good light; I don’t know. But I admit that I’m confused when, say, the editor of the Cedar Rapids Gazette entertainment section, who also hasn’t seen the movie, refers to it as an “homage” to Cedar Rapids and how great that will be for our national image. Really? Was “Fargo” an homage to that town?

Even as I ask that question, I know that many of you will say it was in fact an homage. It’s true that the Cohens displayed great affection for the people of Fargo even as they severely ridiculed them. Masters that they are, the Cohens can deftly maneuver that fine line. And maybe this movie will do the same, but I certainly wouldn’t jump to conclusions that this is what the movie is trying to or will do. Rather than an homage, it’s better to think that the location of Cedar Rapids offers the movie-makers something helpful for their plot. And this is a comedy about an earnest but naive man from Wisconsin on his first adventure into “big-city” experiences. So you’ve got to think that the comedic value has to be the irony of “big city” and “cedar rapids,” no? What makes it funny to go to a convention in Cedar Rapids? Maybe our slogan, the City of Five Seasons, is enough (can we please get rid of this city motto–for those of you who don’t know: the fifth season is “the season to enjoy all the others” so it’s all year long. No, I’m serious).

Here’s the thing. I’ve said some less-than-flattering things about Iowa in this space, some of it fair, some of it not. But ultimately I don’t look down on Iowa or Iowans–Cedar Rapids is a good town and I feel good to be here. My heart broke and still breaks for its struggle following the flood. It’s a town filled with big-hearted people who are giving it everything they can to recover. I wish the community well and do what I can to help it along its way. On the other hand, it has always seemed to me that Iowa on the whole is about 20 years behind the rest of the world. Even that doesn’t really bother me. In the right light, this can have its own charm. What ultimately bothers me is that we don’t even see that we’re twenty years behind. If it’s a conscious choice, it may be kitsch but OK, I can live in a world of nostalgia as well as the next person, but if we live with our heads stuck in the sand then the process of recovery is always going to be stuck in the same sand.

Let me give one example (and then I swear this will be the last time I bring this up–or I will try): I’ve written more than my share about the crazy beer/liquor laws we’ve been living under before last year. So what happened during that time was a craft brewing explosion around the country. Now I would have been upset had we been aware of it but chose to not participate in that explosion. But the reality was that people in this state didn’t seem to get that the explosion was even happening, that we were actually losing money to those states around us that carried better beer. During the final debates about the issue, the real fear was that young drinkers would buy higher alcohol beers to get drunk. Proponents of course kept saying, look at other states please. Craft beers are also much more expensive. College kids are not buying these beers. And now we have a more reasonable law and our beer culture can slowly grow. But we’re twenty years behind everyone else. Most national breweries have unfavorable views of Iowa and aren’t too concerned with having us as a market–this will change, but my point is that we now have to sell ourselves to catch up. I say this not to rehash the beer debate but because this is the easiest example I have. We seem to be stuck behind the times in terms of food, movies, coffee, music, etc. And this makes it even harder to draw in businesses, or young professionals, or even keep the youth we have.

I’m looking forward to seeing this movie. And I hope it has some good-natured fun with Iowa. I also hope and trust that the people of Iowa will see it as good-natured. Part of me is skeptical, though, that we’ll necessarily even see what’s funny to people elsewhere. We’re an earnest lot we are. I hope the pundits are right and this movie will bring a little recognition to an area that’s been struggling and could use some help. Of course it won’t help that they had to actually film it in Ann Arbor.

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