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TV and Movies Don't Get Northwestern Wisconsin
Posted Nov 11, 2007 - 17:50:09

Eau ClaireThis drives me nuts. Why does the TV and Movie Industry have an obsession with Chippewa Falls? Why has that particular place become synonymous with small town Wisconsin? It's one of those puzzles which has just been bugging the crap out of me. I blame Titanic really - where young Leo's character is from Chippewa Falls. Why? No good reason. But there it is. What brought it to my mind was this week's Stargate Atlantis episode. Doctor Keller, the new character played by the very talented and beautiful Jewel Staite, revealed she was from Chippewa Falls... which was brilliant, as it is true that her Canadian accent is actually pretty darn close to the local one.

And things like that are fine. Sometimes neat even. I've even considered sending the Stargate offices a six pack of Leinenkugels. People come from Chippewa Falls - it's true. I know that script writers just must like the sound of the word, and I'm also okay with that.

But here's my real problem - It's really noticeable that these writers aren't really familiar with Northwestern Wisconsin one damn bit. For example, I just recently watched the first episode of the CW's Aliens in America. Now, I know that Aliens in America is set in the fictional town of Medora, but it was promoted as "Chippewa Falls" so I'm going with it.

Some errors are minor and forgivable. Mentioning things like Home Depot instead of our hometown industry Menards is no big deal, and that the fact that Vancouver doesn't really resemble Northwestern Wisconsin as much as Hollywood seems to think it does is okay too. Even mentioning "driving down to Milwaukee" in a line where "driving over to the Twin Cities" would make more sense isn't that big of a deal. But some errors just drive me nuts. For one, lets not get me started on its characterization of Midwestern racism and ignorance. While you'll find some, we do actually have Muslims here. Sure, there aren't that many - but c'mon, not everyone in the whole town is going to be shocked. Also, where the hell are all the Hmong students in that school? They make up a significant population percentage in Northwestern Wisconsin in that age range.

Seriously. Where the heck are the Hmong?

And when, in the first episode has the mother wanting a ticket from "Chippewa Falls to Islamabad" it makes me want to scream. The Chippewa Valley Regional Airport (to which I'm sure she must be referring) is in Eau Claire. Y'know, that town that's SIGNIFICANTLY LARGER THAN CHIPPEWA FALLS. This airport provides practically NO passenger service beyond flights to VERY local places, like the Twin Cities. Which has an international airport. Which driving to the Twin Cities tends to be more cost efficient than flying in between.

But, y'know, Wikipedia could have told them that.

(I want to point out that I don't think Aliens in America is bad - and I actually find it quite funny. I just get frustrated when people misrepresent the region I think of as my home.)

I wanted to scream, I swear. I mean, not every show has gotten Wisconsin wrong. I always appreciated The 70s Show's representation of Wisconsin life (albeit in a different decade). It felt genuine and normal. That, and it actually didn't screw up it's references to localities... well, except when they screwed up Marquette's mascot in the 70s, but whatever. It's Marquette - they need something to whine about or else they just don't feel right about their day.

I'm kidding.

And I know I'm ranting, and I know that none of this is important. And I'm always comforted by the occasional accurate Wisconsin references in my DVDs of The West Wing. In truth I think I just needed to get that out of my system. That, and I think a long and completely irrational rant is good for the soul.

Or something. I'm not really sure anymore.
- Traegorn

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I'm reminded of a chat I had years ago when some asked, in all seriousness, if people from WI rode cows to school.  It's almost depressing how dense people can really be.

Wisconsin is, of course, not the only maligned place in the media world.  A few examples:

1. Siberia - It has a climate nearly identical to Wisconsin with hot summers and cold winters and even very similar flora and fauna.  The idea of it being an insufferable permanent tundra is so cliche I hardly even have to bring it up.

2. Antarctica - If I see another polar bear or South African penguin in a commercial taking place in Antarctica I might just scream.

3. Appalachia - Yes, West Virginia through Arkansas do have their share of truly redneck folks (what state doesn't) and never in my life have I seen so many bible camp buses than in a Wal-Mart in Arkansas, the folks there are not all that different from folks in the upper midwest.  Perhaps a good bit more right-wing.

On the other hand Kansas seems to be portrayed fairly accurately.  Kansas cities are essentially 6 blocks of buildings and 10 square miles of trailer parks.  The chances of any particular tornado hitting a trailer park there are about as good as running into road construction on Wisconsin roads in the summer.

Meep out
While it is sad to think that people ride cows to school, I know that in the small towns near my cabin sometimes the high school kids ride the snomobile to school in the winter.
If you REALLY want to see a uber-bad representation of Wisconsin, look up a movie called The Giant Spider Invasion.  The movie was featured on an episode of MST3K, if that means anything to you.
I had a similar thought, albeit in a more sympathetic tone awhile back.

I went to see "30 Days of Night" and, while I thought the movie was fun, not great but very good fun, I constantly wondered what the folks in Barrow thought of the depiction of their city in that movie.

I mean, obviously their probably aren't really vampires up there (although I can see a few of the crazier goths trekking up there, especially with "Into the Wild" playing in theaters...That's right kids!  Alaska, the Place to Die!!!) but what is that town really like, 'cuz it is a real place and it does have real people.
Oh, wait, Barrow has daily 737 service to other cities in Alaska....  I guess that shoots down that vampire world domination plan I was cooking up.

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