To Hollywood writers, the midwestern United States consists mainly of farms and towns of fewer than 10,000 people. The only cities of note are Chicago and Detroit. The cities of Minneapolis, St. Louis, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Kansas City, and Indianapolis only appear if the writer feels like being different.note In the minds of most TV and film writers, the idyllic culture of Little House on the Prairie persists into the 21st century.
This comes from the pre-1950s idea of life in the Midwest as it actually used to be. Since then, however, much of the region has been urbanized or at least suburbanized (that famous Prairie is probably a strip-mall now), but the image has persisted despite being a mostly idealized version of modern times. In old theatrical cartoons with farm settings, the soundtrack may include such standard snippets as "Old MacDonald Had a Farm", "Chicken Reel" or "Turkey in the Straw". And of course, Hilarity Ensues when the City Mouse tries to fit in.
It is a part of Flyover Country and you can expect it to cross into Wild Wilderness if it's a remote part of the country, or to dip into Sweet Home Alabama even if it's set in the Midwestern region. Can overlap with Everytown, America if it's near or set around a town. Do not confuse it with it Deep South (that is a trope dealing with social structure and people, not the region itself), or a 'countrified version' of Suburbia, as this trope exemplifies the openness of an area, sparseness of population, and lack of housing.
Compare and contrast Arcadia, an idealized vision of pre-modern country life.
- Hiromu Arakawa's manga series Silver Spoon takes place in Hokkaido (considered the "farming" prefecture in Japan), and is about farming.
- Softenni is set in Hokkaido, and Asuna the main protagonist lives on a farm. Her family cow Hanako wandering loose is a Running Gag.
- Non Non Biyori is set entirely in a rural rice-growing community that is six hours by bullet train from Tokyo, has a school with a total of only five students, where no one locks up their houses, public buses come by once every couple of hours, and a view of the mountains to die for!
- In the DC Universe, pretty much any presentation of Superman (be it comics, movies, live-action TV, or in the DC Animated Universe) is bound to depict Clark Kent's (only rarely doomed) hometown of Smallville this way.
- Late in the run of the 1980s Superboy series saw Smallville deal with the possibility of getting a shopping mall (Superboy's time-era by this point having just entered the 1970s), which prompted concerns it'd ruin the town's economy (with the locally-owned businesses, including the Kents' general store, unable to compete with the mall's chain stores). The mall also had shady connections involved in its approval. While the storyline was unfinished (the title being canceled), it did see Pa Kent decide to run for a city council seat.
- the Astro City story "Pastoral" takes place here — with the City Mouse main character frequently discussing it as something alien.
- The Final Plague has the Michaels family farm, which is located near Leigh, Iowa.
- Knights of the Dinner Table is set in Muncie, Indiana but largely averts this trope as it is portrayed as a typical mid-sized city: albeit one with more than its fair share of quirky inhabitants. However, every so often there are references to bizarre goings-on in the rural areas outside the city. These were more common when Bob was working for Harness & Hoe insurance. It is worth noting that strip creator Jolly Blackburn attended Ball State University in Muncie.
- Animator Don Bluth grew up on a farm and several of his films involve them; Banjo the Woodpile Cat, The Secret of NIMH, Rock-A-Doodle and Thumbelina.
- Barnyard is a film that explores the lives of farm animals that act much more like humans when the humans aren't looking. Otis, a party animal cow, has to learn to accept the responsibility of looking out for others when one night of irresponsibility leads to the death of his father, Ben, at the hands of the evil coyote Dag and his pack.
- Paige in The Prince & Me lives on a Wisconsin dairy farm. Where they race tractors despite having no other reason to own them. And still milk cows by hand.
- Dorothy's Kansas farmyard from The Wizard of Oz is an iconic example.
- Hoosiers shows a good portrayal of life in the Midwest, Hoosiers being people from Indiana, where the movie is set.
- Used fairly realistically and sympathetically in The Straight Story.
- In the Lifetime movie 12 Men of Christmas, a New York City Mouse is transferred to Montana. Before she leaves, she only knows two things about it. 1) The only person who lives there is the guy who hangs up the sign. 2) It doesn't actually exist. "It's just a hole... Says "Montana"... That's it."
- A Simple Plan is set in rural Minnesota. Hank is one of the few college graduates in the town. His brother Jacob wants to buy a farm with his share of the money they found, but Hank thinks he is being ridiculous as neither of them knows anything about farming.
- Our Daily Bread is about a City Mouse who goes off to work his wife's uncle's farm, because it is The Great Depression and he has no better options. He winds up recruiting a real farmer and various tradesmen to work the farm with him, and they eventually establish a socialist commune.
- In Now and Then, grown-up author Sam Albertson, after living in New York for years, describes her home town of Shelby, Indiana as a very safe, uneventful place to live, being small and surrounded by rural land.
- Most of City Girl takes place on the bucolic Tustine wheat farm. The film is a Deconstruction of the idea of peaceful, pastoral farm life, as Mr. Tustine is a cruel tyrant who abuses his daughter-in-law Kate, and the farmhands leer at her crudely.
- The Bridges Of Madison County
- James Jones was born and raised in Robinson, Illinois (population 6,000) and wrote famously about World War II (see From Here To Eternity and The Thin Red Line), but he also wrote Some Came Running, in which his hometown is not portrayed very positively.
- In The Princess Diaries, Mia's maternal grandparents and cousin Hank from Indiana stay with her. They're from a farm, talk like hicks, and for Domini's Pizza in a city famous for diverse restaurants (though Hank is very handsome and ends up becoming a model). Interestingly, while the book stereotypes Hoosiers as if the author had never met any, the author herself is from a bustling Indiana city.
- Little House on the Prairie, of course, which took place in a landscape that looked suspiciously like the perpetually sunny fields of California.
- The portrayal of Lt. Col. Mitchell's family's Kansas home in Stargate SG-1.
- An episode of John Doe involved this, but subverted this when it was revealed that it was a trick to convince the title character of a false history.
- The Canadian equivalent is parodied relentlessly in Corner Gas whenever an out-of-towner visits, and with one recurring character from Toronto.
- "Green Acres, we are there....!" Dun nuh, d-dun nuh, dun dun!
- Deployed clumsily in Season 4 of 24 when six terrorists casually hijack a nuclear missile convoy in "the mountainous terrain" of eastern Iowa. Dialog indicates that the 24verse's Midwest lacks any and all of the communication technology, surveillance measures, and rapid response capabilities that Los Angeles-based CTU takes for granted.
- Especially ironic as Cedar Rapids, Iowa is home to the company that basically created military radio, invented GPS, and provides a large portion of comm gear for commercial airlines the world over.
- Certain interpretations of Smallville look like this.
- Averted in later seasons when we learn that Metropolis is only a long commute away from the Talon apartment and the Kent's Farm, close enough that Lois, Jimmy, Chloe, and Clark can work in the city while still living in the titular town, meaning Metropolis in this version is probably more closely compared to Kansas City than New York. Smallville itself is largely depicted as this trope though.
- Averted on The Drew Carey Show, where Cleveland is a city like any other.
- Appears to be somewhat averted in the Amy Poehler comedy Parks and Recreation which takes place in a fictional Indiana town, though the characters all seem to act as quirky as the guys on The Office, the creators of which had a hand in this show as well, so don't know if that's a good or bad portrayal.
- Dave of NewsRadio is often mocked on for coming from Wisconsin:
Dave: I think radio is a fascinating medium.Bill: You're from Wisconsin. Artificial light is fascinating to you.Bill: You're not in Wisconsin, Dave. The big story isn't about a cow wandering into the town square.Dave: Bill, I worked in Milwaukee, you know. It's a city with a population of a million people.Bill: So that must have been quite a hub-bub when that cow got loose.
- And then there's the episode where Dave and Bill get stuck in Lambert International Airport in St. Louis Missouri, and everyone is extremely nice and helpful. Dave, of course, is nice to them, but Bill treats them like jerks because he thinks they don't know how to be mean. Eventually, the St. Louisans give him a "Show-Me Hello", which is just a punch in the face. Bill learns that Midwesterns can be just as jerky as people from the coasts when pushed far enough. He takes comfort in this, noting that "deep down, we're all the same". Dave rolls his eyes.
- James of Spin City is a naive Wisconsin farmboy who often refers to cheese, cows, and milk when speaking. One time, after getting conned once again he asks rhetorically if he has a sign on his chest that says that he's a simpleton and to take advantage of him before opening his jacket to reveal an "I Love Wisconsin" T-Shirt.
- The ABC comedy The Middle seems to take this concept and avert and subvert in one fell swoop, showcasing a family living in a suburban Indiana city where everyone, including themselves, is a tad off the mark.
- Roz from Frasier comes from Wisconsin and in one episode describes going back for family reunions on her uncle's dairy farm where they put pants on the cows and speak in a special cheese language.
- Another episode had a random Wisconsin woman call into the show, and it turns out that she and Roz know each other through distant relatives.
- The idea of Roz's mother being the Attorney General of Wisconsin was initially played for laughs.
- Woodrow Tiberius "Woody" Boyd from Cheers, native of Hanover, Indiana. He seems to take to the big city well enough. Though most references to his family paint them as stereotypical rubes, this is subverted in one episode when Woody reveals that they found the pretentious film Diane created about his life in Boston "derivative of Godard." (Fun fact: the character was named "Woody" before Woody Harrelson was cast.)
- Sonny from Sonny with a Chance. She's from Wisconsin. Cue many jokes about Wisconsin farmland, including Sonny's ringtone being a cow mooing.
- Linda Zwordling from Better Off Ted. Naturally, she jokes about staying in Wisconsin and majoring in Cheese sciences.
- Bailey from The Suite Life on Deck is from the town Kettlecorn, Kansas.
- Subverted all to heck (but charmingly!) in Lois & Clark. The hand-crocheted cover for the fax machine in the Kents' parlor says it all. "I was just thinking if you're expecting something then I'd better check the paper!" Of course, that was the nice Smallville, before the rural Gothic makeover.
- On The Big Bang Theory, Penny's Nebraskan origins are a frequent source of jokes at her expense in which all the stereotypes about mid-Western people are mercilessly aired. When Sheldon is meticulously researching a new part of the USA to move to, he looks at Penny, confirms she is from Nebraska, then draws a great big cross through the entire state.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Lampshaded by Riley Finn when he describes to Buffy the farm he grew up on and admits he's making it sound like a Grant Wood painting. Later when Buffy finds out Riley is a secret agent, she naturally assumes this is all a front. Riley says that no, he really did grow up on a small farm in Iowa.
- Lake Wobegon, Minnesota, the setting for Garrison Keillor's "News From Lake Wobegon" on A Prairie Home Companion.
- The musical Oklahoma! is another iconic example.
- Subverted in Buried Child.
- Beyond the Horizon offers a particularly grim example, as life on the farm is presented as a trap. Robert hates it and is terrible at it, and hates Ruth for making him do it—he elected to give up a life at sea and stay home on the family farm after he and Ruth fell in love. The farm eventually decays into ruin as Robert and Ruth's life descends into hatred and bitterness.
- The Musical of Musicals: The Musical! parodies this in its first musical, "Corn!", whose setting is "Kansas in August." Big Willy sings of being so fond of farming that he's now "in love with a wonderful hoe."
- Lampooned repeatedly by The Onion, a satiric newspaper founded in Madison, WI. Examples of its self-referential mockery of the Midwest: "Rural Nebraskan Can't Handle Frantic Pace of Omaha." "Rural Illinois' Sexiest Moms." [with a picture of an overweight Soccer mom].
- US Acres, again, in Garfield and Friends. For that matter, the life of Jon's hayseed folks in Garfield (the two farms are canonically neighbors). Jim Davis is a native son of Muncie, Indiana.
- Which is a city of 70,000 or so people, (100,000+ when you include suburbs). A big city it ain't, but it isn't a small town Down on the Farm, either.
- If it's not in the Northeast or on the West Coast (or sometimes even if it is), Family Guy will pretty much lambaste it without mercy. One example (a Cutaway Gag, typically for the show):
Stewie: (sitting in a diner next to three men) Soooo...anyone seen any good movies lately?
Nebraskans: No. Nah. Nope. Nuh-uh.
Stewie: Read any good books?
Nebraskans: No. Nah. Nope. Nuh-uh.
Stewie: Anything new with corn?
Nebraskans (excited): Corn?! Are you kidding me?! Oh yeah! Corn, corn, corn! Corn is great. Corn is always interesting!
- Another example is when Peter claimed the Sticks Downey character from Happy Days was "the only Negro in the state of Wisconsin." This, despite Milwaukee (where Happy Days took place) being over 40 percent African-American. Then again, this is probably more a shot at the lack of diversity on Happy Days than a shot at Wisconsin itself.
- The I Am Weasel episode "I.R. Mommy" opens on I.R. Baboon prancing through a cornfield while singing "There's no place like Nebraska/Except for Oklahoma!"
- In Animaniacs, Rita and Runt hop a train for Chicago, and end up in Nebraska. Rita was hoping for the big city, but 'They ain't got/ What we got/ Corn.'
- The Simpsons: Apparently, Homer Simpson grew up here. His family's old farmhouse becomes important in the episodes "E-I-E-I-(Annoyed Grunt)" and "Grampa vs. Sexual Inadequacy"
- Pinky and the Brain: "Brain Acres"
- Back at the Barnyard is a spin-off to the movie, Barnyard, but is much Denser and Wackier, focusing more on comedy than the more dark and nightmarish pilot movie.