The definitive exploration of Minnesota’s cultural identity, by behavioral cartoonist and graphic anthropologist Kirk Anderson.
Margaret Mead once observed that the only difference between a social anthropologist and a cartoonist is years of education and a dedication to scientific accuracy. Anderson wields that lack of education like a scalpel, as he cuts through the lesser organs to reveal what is at the heart of all Minnesotans.
Nothing says “I love you” like pushing a neighbor’s car out of a snowdrift while avoiding eye contact.
The St. Paul Winter Carnival was invented in 1886 as a way to get Easterners to think of our Siberia, unfit for human habitation* in more positive terms, as a place Easterners might actually consider moving to, a place where not even hypothermia keeps sunny, chipper settlers from partying in a fantasy castle.
*Another Siberia, unfit for human habitation was how a New York reporter famously described St. Paul the year before. In perhaps the first recorded example of the historic chip on Minnesota’s shoulder, the people took great offense and went about correcting this savage attack by elitist east-coast outsiders.
Growing up in Wisconsin, our rival state was always Illinois (really just Chicago), not Minnesota. With Minnesota, we shared natural beauty, outdoor recreation, culture (Garrison Keillor’s monologues described our church congregation, to a person). We even shared equal access to each other’s parks and universities. But Chicago? Big-city Chicago types flocked to our rustic state parks to camp in RVs and eat filet mignon by the campfire with the TV on; they bought deer licenses and wound up shooting our cows. They didn’t “get” Wisconsin. The badger state and Chicago mixed about as well as Wisconsin ELCA Lutherans and Wisconsin Synod Lutherans; we honestly had that little in common.
So I was surprised, upon moving to Minnesota, that Minnesota’s rival state was… WISCONSIN?! Your own SISTER?! Wh-wh-what about our inter-state reciprocity? Oh, that’s right, by that time, Wisconsin had turned its back on sharing anything, started pretending it had more lakes, was the exclusive homeland of Paul Bunyan, and that Dylan and Prince were born in Sheboygan.
Sure, both states have spectacular natural beauty. But Minnesota’s reaction to that natural splendor is to create protected national parks and wilderness areas. Wisconsin’s reaction is to surround the natural beauty with water parks, mini-golf and rubber tomahawk dispensaries. You can barely make out a few scenic bluffs between the billboards for Tommy Bartlett’s Thrill Show.
I’m not itchin’ to start any fights, but look, Minnesota has Dorothy Molter, Wisconsin has Tommy Bartlett. I guess I’ve just come to prefer Humphrey, Prince and Surly over Joe McCarthy, Liberace and Blatz.
Part of our (in)famous “Minnesota Nice.” White Minnesotans see ourselves as welcoming, friendly and helpful (on the outside), while transplants & people of color see us as cliquish, cold, and condescending (on the inside). Long-time white Minnesotan residents may be well-meaning, but we suck at follow-through (and anything resembling conflict). And yet, I’m encouraged by the dialogs about racism in the wake of George Floyd’s death, the most open and constructive introspection I’ve heard in 25 years living in Minnesota.
This is obviously inspired by trips to the Boundary Waters. Some members in our party took it as a Law of Nature that all portages must be made in a single trip, which meant I carried a Duluth Pack on my back, and a Duluth Pack on my front, and paddles in my arms, and life preservers slid over the paddles. What could go wrong on a narrow, rocky, precarious path? On long portages, under a hot sun, sandwiched between two Duluth Packs, delirium can set in and the siren call of wild blueberries can steer one dangerously off the path. Blueberries grow low to the ground, and the two 60 lb. packs balance each other out less and less as one bends over, with predictable results. Because delirium was involved, I could never learn this simple lesson for the next portage.