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Flyover Country

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"A couple of guys in first class on a flight
From New York to Los Angeles
...30, 000 feet above, could be Oklahoma
Just a bunch of square cornfields and wheat farms
Man, it all looks the same
Miles and miles of back roads and highways
Connecting little towns with funny names
Who'd want to live down there in the middle of nowhere?"
Jason Aldean, "Fly Over States"

Where do you live? New York? Awesome. L.A.? Awesome. Kansas City? Uh... where is that, like, in Idaho or something?note 

That's Flyover Country, also known as "the Heartland" or "Middle America" note —American slang for the states which trendy liberal Bourgeois Bohemian coast-dwellers see only from the window of an airplane as they jet to their vacation or a work trip on the opposite side. Containing roughly half the country's population (if you're using a narrower definition) but much more of its landmass, this region includes everything between Las Vegas note  and Chicago at a minimum—and is often extended to everything east of the Sierra Nevada and west of the Alleghenies (if not the Hudson River). This famous (and oft-parodied) Saul Steinberg cover for The New Yorker's March 29th, 1976 issue, known as "View of the World from 9th Avenue", parodies the stereotypical attitude of parochial New Yorkers to the rest of the country.

Sparsely populated, largely rural, and perceived to be lacking in photogenic glamor and urban coolness, it rarely shows up in works which attempt to appear trendy or up-to-date. It gets much more play in political circles, however, as the quirks of the American electoral system make appeals to smaller states essential. When one talks about the "red state/blue state" divide in American politics, this is what is meant by "red state" — conservative-leaning rural/suburban areas where Walmart, chain restaurants, church, high school football, and the Republican Party are pillars of local communities. The phrase "flyover country" was, in fact, coined by right-wing talk radio hosts, to ridicule their imagined concept of what latté-sipping coastal liberal elites thought of the American interior.

With that said, that "ridiculous, imagined concept" is in many ways far closer to the truth than many "coastal elites" would care to admit, with New York- and Los Angeles-based media having a nasty habit of writing off everywhere between the Appalachians and the Rockies as hopelessly backward redneck country, whose lot in life would be vastly improved if they just accepted the obviously superior liberal values and policies of the coasts, with no real understanding of life or the issues in that part of the country - and indeed with no particular desire to understand it, as they're all just a bunch of racist hicks with no redeeming values. As noted elsewhere in this article, there is a great deal more ethnic and political diversity in Flyover Country than fiction would have you believe, and many of its denizens — particularly its Democrats — deeply resent being written off this way.

Setting a show or a novel here can be shorthand for '50s-style social conservatism (and the common portrayal of this region by Hollywood in the actual Fifties did nothing to help), small-town insularity, or a crushingly unhip, even dorky ambiance — think Pleasantville or Napoleon Dynamite. However, it gets used at least as often to inspire nostalgia for Eagleland Flavor #1, a friendly, down-home environment full of old-time family values where all the women are strong, all the men are good-lookin' and all the children are above average.note  (Think Smallville, Friday Night Lights, or an '80s Spielberg/Amblin movie.)

The truth is a little more complicated. While the states of the central U.S. do skew more rural than urban, the major cities therein are as cosmopolitan as any coastal town. In truth, only five US states—Delaware, Maine, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming—don't have at least one major city of 100,000 people or more. Likewise, New York State and California both have conservative rural areas of their own that the media doesn't like to talk about.

Politically, Midwestern cities tend to be much more liberal—socially and economically—than the surrounding region. Many of them are (or were) industrial towns with a strong presence of labor unions and minorities, plus college students who stuck around after graduating. In fact, people in the surrounding, rural areas who don't fit in with the arch-conservative lifestyle will tend to relocate to the nearest decent-sized city. These factors frequently produce Democratic islands within states that are otherwise Republican strongholds. Many don't realize that Milwaukee was one of the hotbeds of the Socialist Party up until the second Red Scare, and while North Dakota does lean to the right, it has a publicly-owned banking system unique in the nation.

Culturally, the flyover region is a lot more diverse in religion and ethnicity than popular folklore tends to credit it. African-Americans and Latinos have long settled in the cities for the economic opportunities, along with immigrants from all over the world. The Detroit suburb of Dearborn has had a healthy Arab population for over a century, and it's home to the largest mosque in North America; and the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area contains the largest Hmong and Somali communities in the US. Also, several Native American reservations are located in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Montana, and the Dakotas, which leads to the major cities in those states having significant Native populations.

These nuances and many more tend to be lost on Hollywood. Shows set in New York City will lovingly show details of the landmarks and locales, right down to the street corner and the Jamaican food truck that's been there for the past 20 years. Meanwhile, the entire state of Ohio will just be "Ohio" with no distinction between inner-city Cleveland, suburban Bedford, or rural Sugarcreek. And if you think this doesn't have real-world consequences, people in Milwaukee have speculated that the stodgy and extremely-white portrayal on Happy Days and its Spin-Off Laverne & Shirley may have hurt its actual economic and cultural growth, as it didn't make the city particularly attractive to people outside Wisconsin who didn't know better. Producer Garry Marshall had never even stepped foot in the state until long after both shows ended.

That all said, the depiction of the geographic landscape outside the cities can be quite accurate. The Midwest produces substantial portions of the global supply of corn, wheat, and soybeans, so fields in every direction as far as the eye can see is an absolute truth for much of the area. Furthermore, large parts of it are very flat with no more than some low hills (there's a reason the center of the country is called the Great Plains), but flatness is not universal.

As mentioned above, if a show is actually based in one of the cities here, whether or not it's a subversion of this trope depends on how much research the writer has done. However, the following tropes and locales of Middle America feature highly in the media:


  • Down on the Farm: Covers the majority of the region.
  • Everytown, America: When you need a generic suburb, you need only slap it in the middle of Indiana and call it a day.


  • Arkansas
    • Hope: A small town in the southwest part of the state most famous as the birthplace of Bill Clinton. Two later Arkansas governors who became national political figures were also born here: Mike Huckabee, who unsuccessfully ran for the Republican presidential nomination twice, and his daughter Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the current governor.note 
    • Hot Springs: Most famous for its national park, established to preserve the bathhouses where people would travel to soak in the naturally heated water coming from underground springs. Also where Bill Clinton grew up.
    • Little Rock: Home of the Clintons, Evanescence, Sheryl Underwood and Bobby Portis. And in recent times, it's where Rodger Bumpass, the voice of Squidward, was born.
    • Fayetteville: The Arkansas Razorbacks, barbecue, a growing theater scene and biker culture. Bill and Hillary Clinton lived here while teaching at the University of Arkansas School of Law.
    • Bentonville: A small city outside Fayetteville that, not unlike Peoria, would be another obscure out-of-the-way mini-city if not for the fact that Walmart, one of the world's biggest and most recognizable retail corporations, is based there (having been founded in the nearby city of Rogers).
  • Colorado: While the state is usually associated with a New Old West image of winter resorts and former mining towns nestled amidst towering mountain peaks, that image only applies to its western half. The eastern half is a different story entirely, being an extension of the High Plains of western Kansas and Nebraska. Denver, the state's capital and largest city, has sometimes been said to mark the border between the Midwest and the West both geographically (it is literally nestled on the edge of the Colorado Front Range, with the High Plains to the east and mountains to the west) and culturally.
  • Illinois
    • Chicago, though this depends on who you're asking. It's big enough that many people consider it a separate entity, and nationally, it's spoken of by conservatives (especially those from southern Illinois) in the same derisive terms as the East and West Coasts, with The Mafia and bomb throwing anarchists thrown in for good measure. However, it's still looked down upon by more provincial New Yorkers as a wannabe Big Applesauce but with worse weather. Plus, the city is relatively isolated compared to New York and LA; outside the Chicagoland metro area are cornfields and Milwaukee. In other words, Chicago is stuck in a twilight zone on the edge of Flyover Country — too urban for Middle America, too Midwestern for the coasts. A sharp contrast to...
    • Peoria: Seen, for some reason, as the quintessential dull, banal Middle American city. The phrase "will it play in Peoria?" emerged in the vaudeville era to describe an act that would have mass appeal nationwide, especially in the heartland (Peoria was a major stop for many vaudeville performers), and later became popular among marketers, politicians, and pollsters. Starting in The '60s, it became a major test market, and to this day most American focus groups are based in the city (which is a rather outdated notion, as it's now Missouri, not Illinois, that marks the official U.S. population center).
  • Indiana
    • Indianapolis: Home of the Indy 500. And in recent times, home of Peyton Manning’s team (though he would finish his NFL career in Denver).
    • Muncie: A small Midwestern city that, not unlike Peoria, would be another obscure burg if not for its very "averageness" turning it into a hotbed of sociological research. The husband-and-wife team of Robert and Helen Lynd selected it for their "Middletown studies" in the 1920s and '30s, and since then it's become a popular subject for pollsters and follow-up studies.
  • Iowa: A sea of corn that people only ever care about every four years, when it plays a pivotal role as the first state in the Presidential primary cycle, leading journalists and pollsters to swarm the state and politicians to embarrass themselves trying to pander to its 3.1 million people. (If you're wondering why corn ethanol was ever taken seriously as an alternative energy source: this is why.) After that, it vanishes back into obscurity even before the actual election; despite being a swing state these days, its small population means that it's rarely a decisive factor in the election like Ohio is. Their biggest exports seem to be agriculture, Ashton Kutcher, Elijah Wood, Caitlin Clark (who actually became famous before even leaving Iowa), and the music of Slipknot and Stone Sour.
    • Des Moines: Home to one of the first caucuses of the presidential primary cycle, and where many presidential campaigns' HQs are located. Also a center for the US insurance industry.
    • Cedar Rapids: Nicknamed the "City of Five Seasons", for the so-called "fifth season", which is time to enjoy the other four.
  • Kansas: The geographic center of the lower 48 states, Kansas' image, even more than the rest of the Midwest, is that of conservative small-town normality. The creators of Superman had him raised in a Kansas town literally called Smallville to emphasize that he grew up as The All-American Boy, this very wiki's trope for describing a character pulled into an abnormal world is titled Not in Kansas Anymore after an iconic line from the Wizard of Oz mythos (which had Kansas representing the "real world"), and when Thomas Frank (a native son of the state) wrote a sociological non-fiction book exploring the rise of reactionary populism in rural America, he titled it What's the Matter with Kansas?.
  • Michigan
    • Detroit: Long famous for being the beating heart of America's automobile industry, and more recently infamous for suffering from decades of economic and demographic drought after said industry began to decline in the face of stiff competition from foreign imports.
  • Minnesota: Often viewed as being a Flanderization of every Midwestern stereotype, home of people with thick, Scandinavian-descended accents who embody the American version of Japanese Politeness, known (of course) as Minnesota Nice.
    • Minneapolis and St. Paul: A strange blend of West Coast weirdness and Midwestern friendliness. The main business center between Chicago and Seattle, home to a massive theater scene and thriving Somali and Vietnamese Hmong communities, as well as a major airline hub, the Mall of America, and the only 24-hour rapid transit system outside of New York, Chicago, or Philly. Do not get stuck there in the winter unless you like slowly freezing to death.
  • Missouri
    • St. Louis: Once one of America's premier cities, it's since become a poster child for urban decay. Home to the Cardinals, the Gateway Arch, Lambert International Airport, and its own unique forms of pizza and barbecue. Hosted the 1904 Summer Olympics for some reason. Residents hate those from Kansas City and/or Chicago.
    • Kansas City: Chicago's less-attractive little sister. Baseball, barbecue, jazz music, and organized crime galore. Known for its high incomes, large meatpacking industry, and endless mess of suburban sprawl.
    • St. Joseph: Rarely seen or mentioned in fiction, despite being involved in quite a bit of history — for example, it was the starting point for the Pony Express route which connected the East and West coasts of the United States, and famous outlaw Jesse James died here. Eminem was born here, though he's more associated with Detroit, where he was raised.
    • Branson: The Moral Substitute for Las Vegas. Home to tons of live entertainment theaters and tourist traps. A number of country music performers have residencies in Branson's theaters.
    • Knob Noster: A small town near Kansas City that would practically be another non-notable random small town in the Midwest if it weren't for the fact that Whiteman Air Force Base, the current home base of the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber fleet, is located in the town.
  • Montana: Has a New Old West image of mountains, prairies and farmland galore. Has long had a libertarian bent in regards to popular opinion and policy.
    • Bozeman: Home to Montana State University and a gateway community to Yellowstone National Park. Long known for its plentiful recreational activities, including everything from fly fishing to kayaking to mountain climbing.
    • Helena: Known for its gold rush history, it still retains much of the Victorian architecture of that period. Dirk Benedict and Gary Cooper were born here.
  • Nebraska: Farmland extraordinaire, cornfield-surrounded, populated with friendly, fat old white guys in denim overalls and straw hats, chewing on a stalk of wheat and talking slowly about whether it's rained enough this year. Completely ignorant of the outside world (probably because all offers are void there), and, if the writer's sympathetic, struggling with drought, debt, bad markets, or all three.note  Their biggest exports seem to be agriculture, Andrew Rannells, and Larry the Cable Guy. Well, and also Johnny Carson back in the day.
    • Omaha: A somewhat isolated city used as shorthand for "city in the middle of nowhere", i.e. that podunk town far, faaaaar away from everything you know and love that you're forced to move to because it was the only job you could find. (See also: Des Moines, Iowa.) Which isn't uncalled for. Firstly, Omaha has a strong job market, anchored by four Fortune 500 companies and a large high-tech sector, and secondly, it is a long way from anywhere: a three-hour drive to Kansas City, seven and a half to Denver, eight to Chicago, two whole days to New York City, and three days to Los Angeles. Omaha has featured in a few movies, mostly thanks to native son Alexander Payne. It's been the host for the NCAA Men's College World Series since 1950 (and the current hosting contract runs through 2035), so ESPN shows up with its broadcast trucks once a year. Also home to the Strategic Air Command.
    • Lincoln: Nebraska's largely unremarkable capital. Pretty much a college town (it’s home to the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, or UNL for short... though locals call it NU).
  • Upstate New York: Technically outside the region, but often given the same treatment, especially by people from New York City. It is in fact quite different from most media depictions of New York; descriptions of it as a virgin wilderness in the works of James Fenimore Cooper are, in many cases, only slightly exaggerated.
  • Ohio
    • Cleveland: The butt of many jokes due to being considered the original urban decay example in the country. That and the river caught fire once.
    • Toledo: It's where Jeeps get made. Other than that, it's just another sleepy Midwestern manufacturing town that's well past its prime.
    • Columbus: Rarely seen or mentioned in fiction, despite being both the state's capital and largest city and home of The Ohio State Universitynote , but it's another hotbed of sociological study and commercial test runs due to its racial and age demographics closely mirroring the United States as a whole. Basically, it's Peoria or Muncie as a major metropolis. In the Alternate History If The South Had Won The Civil War, the Union moves its capital to Columbus.
    • Cincinnati: Named after Cincinnatus and by extension George Washington, this quaint city doesn’t conform to what a typical Ohio city is. Owing to its proximity to Kentucky and the ensuring cultural impact, Cincy is often called “the northernmost southern city”. It was America's first major inland city, and in bygone years, it was known as the hub city for the trade of pigs and pork, and was a major stopping point on the Underground Railroad that smuggled slaves out of the South. Consequently it has a very prominent museum dedicated to the Underground Railroad. In modern times, Cincinnati is known for its own special type of chili, the headquarters of GE Aerospace (the aircraft engine arm of the former General Electric), the supermarket chain Kroger, and Procter & Gamble, and for one of NCAA basketball's few intra-city rivalries, between Xavier University and the University of Cincinnati. Oh, and a TV show about a radio station.
    • Dayton: Like Columbus, it's rarely seen or mentioned in fiction, despite a history of being a hotbed for inventors, most famously being the Wright brothers, who helped pioneer air travel. Wright–Patterson Air Force Base is nearby, and the Dayton Agreement, which ended the Bosnian War, was signed at the Base and named after the city.
    • The Hall of Justice from Super Friends was based off of Cincinnati's old Art Deco train station, Union Terminal. This was because Hanna-Barbera was owned at the time by Cincy-based Taft Broadcasting (yes, as in that Taft), and one of the H-B artists presumably used it as inspiration. (It came full-circle when the Arrowverse used footage of Union Terminal as a building that would later be confirmed as their counterpart to the Hall of Justice.)
    • One joke (falsely) holds that more astronauts come from Ohio than any other state, the punchline being that Earth's orbit is as far away from Ohio as you can get.
  • Pennsylvania: While the eastern part of the state, especially around Philadelphia, is culturally considered part of the East Coast (despite not having any direct access to the ocean), the western half has much more in common with the Midwest, and cultural influences from the Midwest (like referring to carbonated soft drinks as "pop") often spill into it.
    • Pittsburgh: Its industrial legacy paints it as a blue-collar paradise, which held true until the '80s or so when the steel mills started shutting down and its economy started focusing more on service, healthcare, and technology.
    • Pennsylvania itself has a mini flyover country. The state is often described as "Philly in the east, Pittsburgh in the west, and Kentucky/Alabama/Deliverance in between", referring to the large rural zone in the middle of the state where coal mining, farming, and manufacturing make up the economic backbone. The nickname "Pennsyltucky" (or, more politely, "The T"note ) describes this region with either derision or Self-Deprecation. However, many people from here wear the "Pennsyltucky" label with pride.
  • Texas, though its size and resulting diversity mean that there's usually lots of overlap with tropes that apply more specifically to the Deep South and American Southwest. Also, thanks to Westerns, Texas has its own stereotypes. In addition, untrue to the Flyover Country trope, Texas is well known for its striking desert landscapes. Although, much as with California, most people don't understand that there is a vast distance between the well-known large cities and the well-known nice landscapes.
    • On occasion you'll find reference to Dallas, Houston, or Austin, among the several major cities in the state and generally spots of blue in a sea of red. Basically, they are to Texas what Chicago is to Illinois.
  • Utah: Despite being located quite far from the Midwest, most stereotypes of the state, and of Mormons in general, are essentially Midwestern stereotypes cranked up. Mormonism did indeed spend many of its formative years in the Midwest,note  before heading to what's now Utah in search of a land without a pre-existing population to disapprove of their religion (at that point Utah was part of Mexico and home to a few scattered indigenous tribes). Like the Upper Midwest, many of the early Mormon converts who settled in Utah came from Scandinavia.
    • Salt Lake City: The Mormon church's base of operations. Home to the NBA team the Utah Jazz, the MLS team Real Salt Lake, the Utes (as in the University of Utah), and Salt Lake Temple. Hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics.
  • Wisconsin:
    • Milwaukee: Beer, motorcycles, and Happy Days. Well, and the Brewers and Bucks. The mayor got beaten with a pipe once. Non-residents of the state seem to think this is the only city in the state.
    • Madison: More beer, the Badgers, a metric ton of restaurants and bars, hippies, and car thieves. The Boy Who Drank Too Much was largely filmed here. Some exterior shots in Back to School were as well. Former home of both Clyde Stubblefield and a Civil War POW camp. The Badgers' football stadium occupies most of the former grounds of the POW camp.
    • Green Bay: Even more beer, snow, and the Packers. Oldest continuously inhabited French settlement in the US, founded 1634.
  • Wyoming: The least populated U.S. state, has a New Old West image of cowboys, valleys and farmland galore, hence its nickname of "The Cowboy State". Yellowstone National Park is located in this state.
    • Cheyenne: The state capital, home to Cheyenne Frontier Days. It's well-known to railfans as the base of operations for the Union Pacific steam program.
    • Casper: A center for the local energy industry, nicknamed "The Oil City". The city received a significant number of visitors during the solar eclipse of August 21, 2017 due to its position along the path of totality.

The rough Australian equivalent to Flyover Country is the Outback or, more broadly, the areas outside the "capital cities".

The American South (the former Confederate States of America), settled by Englishmen and Scots rather than Germans, Scandinavians, and Irishmen, is similar to Flyover Country but not exactly identical, and is sometimes treated as Flyover Country in media, sometimes not. For information on the Southern lowlands, settled by the West Country English (and by Africans they imported as slaves), see Deep South; for the Southern highlands, settled by the Scotch-Irish, see Appalachia.