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In the wake of Trump’s upset (and upsetting) win in the 2016 election, the “heartland interview” – in which a newspaper or TV reporter from the evil elite coast travels to what he or she is certain to say east-coasters call the flyover states, to interview Trump supporters – has become a staple of the news. (In the New York Times, David Brooks recently advanced the genre by not actually bothering to interview anyone, instead making up a fictional heartland voter who he named “Flyover Man,” who by an amazing coincidence has opinions that mostly match David Brooks’).
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with interviewing heartland Trump voters. Once. Or a dozen times. But by now there have been countless “coastal reporter dares to visit the heartland” stories, and it’s become clear that they’re specifically seeking out people who match the reporters’ ideas of who heartland voters are.
Black people live in the Heartland. Liberals live in the heartland (we think of states as being red or blue, but truthfully almost all the states are purple – containing significant numbers of both Republicans and Democrats). There are urban areas in the heartland.
But there’s an unwritten rule about who news spotlights when they visit the “real” America. “Real” Americans, in the view of the news, are white, are rural, are conservative, are Christian, do not live on a coast, and are definitely not immigrants.
And yes, those folks are real Americans! But the rest of us are real Americans, too.
TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON
This cartoon has four panels, plus a small additional “kicker” panel under the bottom of the cartoon. Each of the four panels shows a very simple TV set; two bucket stools facing each other, a decorative potted plant, a wall in the back with a few horizontal stripes for color, and a boom mic. Also in every panel, there’s a TV interviewer – a white man with carefully blow-dried hair and wearing a red tie and blue pinstripe two-piece suit – and Chris, a Black woman dressed in a casual-but-nice fashion, with a red shirt and orange skirt.
Pinstripe is facing away from Chris, towards an off-panel camera. He is speaking to the camera with a big grin. Behind him, Chris smiles and waves.
PINSTRIPE: I’m here in the real America – the heartland – so I can find out what real Americans are thinking! My first interview is Chris Johnson, of Kansas City.
Pinstripe as turned to face Chris and is taken aback. Chris has put one hand on her chest in a “I’m explaining about myself” gesture, and looks surprised; she is no longer smiling.
PINSTRIPE: Er… Sorry. I came here to interview a heartland person.
CHRIS: I am a heartland person! I was born right here in Missouri!
Pinstripe makes a dismissive “stop talking” palm-out gesture towards Chris. He has turned away from Chris and is talking to someone off-panel. Chris looks offended, crossing her arms and frowning.
PINSTRIPE: Sorry, you’re not the type we’re looking for. Send in a real heartland interview, already!
A new character, Aaron, has walked on panel, cheerfully waving. He is wearing jeans and a polo shirt, and a yarmulke (the small round hat worn by observant Jewish men and some observant Jewish women). Pinstripe, seeing Aaron, reacts with frustration, waving his arms and yelling. Behind Pinstripe, Chris is amused by the situation.
AARON: Shalom! I’m Aaron from Witchita.
PINSTRIPE: OH COME ON!
TINY KICKER PANEL BELOW THE BOTTOM OF THE STRIP
Pinstripe is making demands of a fat man with glasses and tied-back hair (i.e., a self-portrait of Barry, the cartoonist.) Pinstripe looks angry, Barry looks a little bewildered.
PINSTRIPE: Just find me a resentful middle-aged white Christian with a MAGA hat who’s sick of media stereotypes about the heartland!