June 28, 2011

"Is there something especially morbid and sick about Wisconsin?"

I asked back in March, 2004:
As a person living in Wisconsin, I had to wonder if the book ["Wisconsin Death Trip"] was picking on us, or, no I didn't really, because there is always the out for us here in Madison to say Madison is an island of difference within the state. But I knew this film was well regarded, and when I saw yesterday that it had arrived in the mail, I immediately sat down and watched it through. It was quite beautiful and original visually and quite moving and full of fascinating characters (like Mary Sweeney, a cocaine-sniffing woman with a mania for breaking glass).

One could see the film as expressing the idea that in bad economic times, in desolate places, people go mad with despair. Or one could see it as saying that in some very specific times in very specific places, people just go off-the-scale weird.

Here's my interpretation. We tend to think of Wisconsin as a notably healthy, wholesome place. (Notice the characters in movies who say they are from Wisconsin: Annie Hall, Jack Dawson in Titanic, etc., etc.) So I am thinking: to show the dark side to Wisconsin is to say something about the dark side of humanity. This story of Black River Falls in the last decade of the nineteenth century is (as presented through the film, if not the book) a universal story of passion and violence and death and madness. 
To show the dark side to Wisconsin is to say something about the dark side of humanity.

In May 2010, someone asked me to make a list of favorite movies, and I included "Wisconsin Death Trip." In the comments:
Meade said...
I've seen 15 off your list. Of those 15, 7 were with you. I'd watch any of them with you again plus any of the ones I haven't seen yet. But don't ask me to watch "Wisconsin Death Trip" again. I found it disturbing.

Ann Althouse said...
We don't need to watch it again. We are living it, baby.

Meade said...
*gulp*
Ha. We are living it, baby.

70 comments:

Carol_Herman said...

Stupid film.

It sounds like people are expected to watch it because it has the word "Wisconsin" in it ... as if dope freaks aren't in all the other 49 states as well.

Drew said...

Last year I was nearly offered a job in Black River Falls, and my wife and I drove down to look around town. There was something about it that creeped her out, and she said she couldn't live there. I don't think it was the prominent nudist camp to the east, although that did raise some eyebrows.

Titus said...

Wisconsin is pretty horrible, sorry sweety.

And it's two largest cities are awful. Milwaukee is disgusting and Madison is worse.

And the northern part of the state is a vast wasteland.

I love it when they say Door County is like the Cape, please, bitch.

Lastly, the people are obese and really fucking ugly.

Titus said...

I'm really here for the past couple of months to get my ailing father's money.

windbag said...

I wonder if we could trade Wisconsin for Ontario?

It seems to me that the far left has been gunning for a confrontation for quite some time and it simply broke out in Wisconsin. I really don't think it's anything about Wisconsin in particular, just that the conditions were right.

Shouting Thomas said...

Yeah, but it's not the boonies in Wisconsin that are morbid and sick.

It's Madison. Haven't you noticed?

Hipsterism is dying. Madison is one of the islands of hipsterism. The religion of hipsterism is falling apart as it descends into intellectual bankruptcy.

You keep trying to present the street scene in Madison as vibrant and exciting. Looks tired to me. Also looks like a culture of horrifyingly spoiled middle aged children.

Madison is morbid and sick. The final straw seems to be the battle in the judge's chambers.

You haven't located the source of the rot yet. Don't look outside Madison. Look inside.

Hipsterism has Alzheimer's and is headed toward brain death.

windbag said...

@Drew

...although that did raise some eyebrows...

Nudist camp FAIL, if all it raises is eyebrows.

Shouting Thomas said...

In some way the hip vs. straight thing and the right vs. left thing has flipped completely in the space of 60 years.

The hip/left side is now completely intransigent and unthinking. Every aspect of the hip/left is rigidly controlled and PC. Heresy is punished by ostracism.

The left is tolerant of everything except for any disagreement with its core beliefs. Disagreement is "bigotry."

Traditional value and ideas have been pushed so far into the corner that they are now fresh and startling. So, the straight/right side of the equation has all the ideas, and all of the momentum.

The hip/left is intellectually dead. Madison is going down with the ship.

Fred4Pres said...

After reading American Gods...



the answer is...

Yes.

traditionalguy said...

And then along came Shirley Abrahamson and she fit perfectly well into the Morbid and Sick categories in the Wisconsin legal system that she has controlled since the 70s.

ET1492 said...

I'm from Pennsylvania, have never been to Wisconsin and have never thought of Wisconsinites, or Pennsylvanians, as being particularly wholesome.

Kansas is the home of wholesomest folk, followed by South Dakota, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Idaho, Montana, South Carolina, North Carolina and Indiana, in that order.

Shouting Thomas said...

I'm really here for the past couple of months to get my ailing father's money.

For Christ's Fucking sake, Tight Ass, will you stop being so ruthlessly honest?

Only a fag can get away with that.

Titus said...

One beautiful part of Wisconsin is Devils Lake State Park.

I took my parents there last weekend.

The last Saturday of every month in the summer they have a 15 piece band that plays at The Pavilion. All these old folks go there in dance. My mother used to dance there when she was 16, now she is 72.

It is very rustic and beautiful and the lake is gorgeous.

I love Devils Lake State Park.

ET1492 said...

Fred, I haven't read that book in a while.

I think I'll buy it from Audible and listen to it. I heard there's a movie in the works.

Titus said...

I know I kind of feel awful admitting that Shouting but I am up against two wicked sisters.

They have been plotting and living on my father's properties over the past 20 years, while I left when I was 17, and moved to the big city.

I have to make up for lost time.


The good news is that I am my parents favorite and they hate my sisters husbands.

PhaseMargin said...

I don't think there's anything particularly special about Wisconsin's populace. I've lived in some dead-ender states (Florida, Vermont, for example) where people who just can't cut it other places go to start over. Compared to those states Wisconsin as a whole is actually better off.

But one thing I've noticed, if Florida and Vermont are any indication, is that when the liberal ruling clique is threatened at all they react with extremism and threats of violence. When Vermont elected a Republican governor a few years back the internal politics turned extremely nasty, but without control of the legislature all he could do was impede "progress" so things didn't change much.

Shouting Thomas said...

The good news is that I am my parents favorite and they hate my sisters husbands.

You make me laugh my ass off, Tight Ass.

Good news, indeed!

Are you familiar with Ben Johnson's play, Volpone?

You should read it.

Shouting Thomas said...

... dead-ender states (Florida, Vermont, for example) where people who just can't cut it other places go to start over.

I'm planning on spending the winter in Florida. Now, you tell me it's a "dead-ender" state!

I thought it was "God's Waiting Room!"

Meade said...

"I'm really here for the past couple of months to get my ailing father's money."

Titus's Wisconsin Death Trip

Shouting Thomas said...

Titus's Wisconsin Death Trip

Good one, Meade!

Drew said...

Nudist camp FAIL, if all it raises is eyebrows.

They got a big fence, y'see.

bagoh20 said...

As a person who relates more to the physical environment than to people, Wisconsin seems beautiful to me and the Madison area especially, as a city surrounded by a nice piece of real world.

I've never been anywhere near there. I get the totality of my impression from this blog and Ann's photos, which are fantastic, and I assume the subject has something to do with that. Growing up originally in Western PA, it reminds me of my long lost home, which when I return, still amazes me with it's beauty.

Your political environment is totally nuts though. It seems more like a TV show about Wisconsin written by Larry David.

Revenant said...

I can honestly say that before I started reading this blog Wisconsin never crossed my mind at all, either in a positive or a negative way.

Chuck66 said...

Seen the film and it was okay.

Black River is an okay sort of town. A little rough on the edges (read the police report in the Banner Journal), but okay.

Doug Wright said...

Heck, you've got it dicked over there in Badger Land. We've, Minnesota that is, got the millstone of Crackhead David Carr, he of the Bill Maher idiocy fame! We'd trade in a minute, straight up. Heck, I'd even throw in idiot Jeanine Garofalo too, ah shucks she'd spoil that stew. Plus on a technically, she's probably from hungry not Minnesota but we tried.

Chuck66 said...

bago...I used to vacation in central PA (Johnstown, Altoona) and it is similiar to parts of Wisconsin (not Madison). Blue collar. Hunting culture.

Wisc has to deal with welfare seakers from Chicago just like Johnstown has the same from Pittsburgh and Altoona from Philadelphia.

MayBee said...

I have lived in 6 US states and 2 foreign countries and I believe that while people in different places act differently, under that surface we are all very much the same.

Some regions may have some people who are more polite, some more friendly, some more aloof. But the actual level of how good people are at heart is about the same.

So yeah, I think any group (or region) that believes themselves to be special because of their goodness is delusional.

The Crack Emcee said...

I'm with Shouting Thomas in noticing that, what once was cool, is cool no more. The whole hippy-dippy thing never agreed with me and is, from what I can see, falling out of favor. There's now a clear line being drawn, as it should be, between real life and entertainment.

I want enough distance, finally, the morbid and sick can be appreciated again.

Bob Ellison said...

I have driven through Wisconsin. It is astonishingly beautiful. Big state. I saw it in full summer, late July, and everything was glowing.

Canuck said...

Nothing is wrong with "Wisconsin" in general. The majority of the state is filled with perfectly nice people and similar to Minn, Iowa, Nebraska and some other midwestern states. A beautiful state with trees, water, and a bunch of polka dancing. If you're all right with casserole you'll be ok in Wisconsin.

Right now the politically active populations decided to have a big fight. Compromise and bi-partisanship wasn't on the agenda of politicians or those who are politically active.

So y'all are having a big fight and a small politically active minority is having a lot of fun. The rest of the state is sick of the arguing. Most people would probably prefer that the politicans compromise, work together, and act in a bipartisan manner.

The reason the fight is so intense is that the political active population, on each side, is very close in numbers. Each side wants to win, but neither has the numbers to gain a permanent majority. The state politicians and political institutions have, in the past, been better at compromise. Wisconsin is truly a "purple" state.

And so it goes.

kcom said...

You keep trying to present the street scene in Madison as vibrant and exciting. Looks tired to me. Also looks like a culture of horrifyingly spoiled middle aged children.

Well said. It's the same old tired antics repeated ad nauseum as if life after 1972 never happened. It's not vibrant, it's fossilized. McGovern lost. It was 40 years ago. Get over it.

Chuck66 said...

canuck.....yes on the politically active. Example? Ellsworth in the west central part of the state is a fine small town. Good people and good selection of beer.

But a teacher there is a nasty union shrill who is running against Sheila Harsdorf in the recall election. The lady is like a thinner higher voiced Michael Moore.

Ralph L said...

We are living it, baby.

It sounds like the 60ish female lawyers in Madison are going nuts.

ET1492, have you been to either of the Carolinas? The Bible Belt is thoroughly perforated.

Chuck66 said...

"McGovern lost"

And his daughter died as a drug addict in a snowbank in Madison.

PatCA said...

I read a novel once about Wisconsin in the 1800s. The author did quite a bit of research and, yes, people did regularly go mad there and kill. Winters were tough then!

MayBee said...

I should add, no I do not think there is something especially morbid and sick about Wisconsin.

Titus said...

Meade, you didn't figure I would be here like forever did you? I would go fucking crazy living in this backward place. I need stimulation 24/7. I thought I didn't but I do.

Of course this is my trip. But dead end, what's your definition?

My purse is full honey.

Now I have to get back to brown, and very muscular cock.

Cecilia said...

I was born in Wisconsin, and lived there for the first four years of my life. It can be a sweet place. But human nature involves sin. Bad stuff can happen anywhere. If we think the bad behavior only happens somewhere else, we're fooling ourselves. Don't judge Wisconsin by the behavior of the people in the book or film.

MamaM said...

Re: morbid and sick,

"I'm really here for the past couple of months to get my ailing father's money."

A couple is 2, a pair, something that joins, or an indefinite small number.

This Interminable Death Watch has been going on for more than a couple of months, while the gent in decline(whose age reportedly fluctuates from mid 70's to somewhere in the 80's depending on mood), steadfastly refuses to hop aboard the stopped carriage. Maybe he's waiting for Christmas to roll around again so he can make it more memorable.

Paul Ciotti said...

bagoh20: Growing up originally in western Pennsylvania, it reminds me of my long lost home.

I also grew up in western Pennsylvania-- on a small farm just outside Jeannette about 30 miles east of Pittsburgh along Route 30. Do you know that area?

myiq2xu said...

Happy Days and it's spin-offs were supposedly set in Wisconsin. So was The 70's Show.

viator said...

One could make the case that societies wedded to statism and central planning have inherit psychological deficits. When they are forced by reality to move forward without the support of OPM (Other Peoples Money) you can observe depression, substance abuse and many other problems. We are in for an epidemic as the Keynesian social democratic project fades into extinction.

Deborah said...

I just put it in my Netflix queue.

wv: diests. believe it or not.

edutcher said...

As I said, it's the intense cold and the unrelieved stream of dairy in the diet.

The arteries shut down years ago.

ET1492 said...

I'm from Pennsylvania, have never been to Wisconsin and have never thought of Wisconsinites, or Pennsylvanians, as being particularly wholesome.

Depends on your part of Pennsylvania.

PS Nice to see even the dutiful Meade draws the line at what he'll watch to keep the missus happy.

Don't Tread 2012 said...

Born in western PA, lived in NY state all my life, traveled many countries and states including Wisconsin.

As far as the optics of the state minus the recent goings on in Madison, my impressions of Wisconsin are good. The largest Wisconsin city I've been in is Green Bay, which reminds me a bit of my hometown Buffalo. I have spent a good deal of time in the north woods with childhood friends I grew up playing ice hockey with - Eagle River is the venue for the big pond hockey tourney. It is flipping COLD there in February, and snowmobilers rule in that town. But, I love the annual trek up there, love the drive through the Michigan UP.

I'm with those that do not choose to judge the state by the loonies that happen to be getting all of the press right now. I can match and exceed your loonies right here in NY. We have our own dysfunction on many fronts, but it is currently not the saveur du jour.

Wisconsin is a beautiful state.

Pogo said...

"to show the dark side to Wisconsin is to say something about the dark side of humanity."

It is the essence of conservatism to recognize the dark side, that we are each of us capable of both good and evil.

Progressives believe this can be changed, that one can be molded into an Ideal person. The dark side is non-Progressives.

The culture war is more visible there because it's 50:50, and the preference falsification has been shed.

Curious George said...

Grew up in Chicago but had a place up nort' since high school. Have lived in WI now for almost 20 years, shuffling back and forth from Madison and Milwaukee.

Madison has always thought of itself (wrongly) that it was cultured, refined and erudite. It's not. It's easy to get that way when you have an insulated society...especially a liberal one. It leads to a level of snobbery that's both pathetic and funny. It's like an aging actor that doesn't realize it's irrelevance.

Nope, I'll take Milwaukee. It's like Chicago Lite. Better restaurants than Madison. Smarter than Madison. More things to do than Madison. And even the liberals have some level of common sense. Hey are for the most part blue collar.

And when I tire of the city, I just go to the jewel of WI, the north woods.

Pogo said...

Echo that, Curious George.

As Minnesota seems determined to spend itself into a financial meltdown, we are looking at pulling up stakes.

Milwaukee has become a favorite for the reasons you cite, and if fiscal sanity takes hold, we might be able to afford it.

Fred4Pres said...

Did you not read American Gods?

And the House on the Rock is in the same town as where the servant killed and burned Frank Lloyd Wright's family and guests alive. Coincidence? There are no coincidences.

Fred4Pres said...

Oh, and if you want to read a book that picks on a place, try Wyoming Stories (which includes the short story Brokeback Moutain was based on). How bleak is it you ask? The Brokeback Moutain story is the cheerful one in the book.

marylynn said...

Have lived in Wi my entire life. Yes, we are white and we are fat - what the heck, what do you expect when we never get any blasted SUN!!
But it's also beautiful, especially "up North". Most people are blue collar. Union membership, mill jobs have been the norm. The wretched economy, events in Madison, have turned things upside down, and the people don't like it. There is a definite animosity between sides that i dont see going away for a very long time, if ever.

Fred4Pres said...

Grisly stuff.

What is it with Wisconsin and serial killers?

Then again, Washington had Ted Bundy. Is it a states that start with "W" thing?

And West Virgina has that whole Mothman thing.

And lefties would tell us Wyoming has Dick Cheney.

Fred4Pres said...

Titus said...
I'm really here for the past couple of months to get my ailing father's money.

6/28/11 10:55 PM



Ouch. So you stopped giving platitudes about taking care of him and spending time with him? I hope he doesn't see your post, he might decide to give his money to some home for aging Packers fans.

Lincolntf said...

From Twitter, Nathan Wurtzel:
"How did those Wisconsin union members get all the way to Greece?"

Sixty Grit said...

The answer, based on what I have read here, is yes. Morbid, sick and populated with giant puppets.

WV: schet - the populace is full of schet.

k*thy said...

It is the essence of conservatism to recognize the dark side, that we are each of us capable of both good and evil.

Progressives believe this can be changed, that one can be molded into an Ideal person. The dark side is non-Progressives.


Good and evil, light and dark, we all carry these and in this, we're all the same. People on both the left and right know this or can know this – we’re on opposites on a lot of issues and we both know it. No one side’s got a corner on that market. The personal principle that I carry, and some will recognize this, is "progress, not perfection." The reality is that you can aim at perfection (and in the political realm, the different sides have differing ideas on what to aim and how to go about it), at the Ideal, but you’ll never hit it.

ET1492 said...

"ET1492, have you been to either of the Carolinas? The Bible Belt is thoroughly perforated."

I haven't been to most of the states on that list, at least not since I was a baby. I was just blowing smoke.

Every state is a mix of wholesome and wicked, but California, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Illinois and Rhode Island are especially wicked. And don't even get me started on Delaware...

Fred4Pres said...

Here's my interpretation. We tend to think of Wisconsin as a notably healthy, wholesome place. (Notice the characters in movies who say they are from Wisconsin: Annie Hall...

Didn't she boil lobsters alive in that movie?

And having any sort of physical relationship with Woody Allen is creepy.

bagoh20 said...

Progress is relative,
and the pursuit of any version that is not toward freedom is toward slavery.

Fred4Pres said...

ET1492, my wife will not set foot in Alton, Il. It creeps her out too much.

Sixty Grit said...

What could be more wholesome than Mike Nifong pandering to a majority black populace in Durham by attempting to lynch white men? Yep, North Carolina is a swell place.

Keep in mind the state did not punish Crystal Gail Mangum for lying, so she was free to commit more crimes, right up until she was charged with murdering her boyfriend. But let's face it - if he was schtoinking that piece of disease-ridden ass he had a death wish to begin with.

bagoh20 said...

Paul Ciotti,

I was raised in Butler, PA, 30 miles north of Pittsburgh. I never really spent much time around Jeannette, but I would guess your experience was pretty much like mine was. My childhood in rural PA was perfection in my opinion. Free, and rich in experience and space. I learned to enjoy life without the need for people and their constructs, which has supported my happiness as I went through life in the city or not. I've lived in the big city now for most of my life but still get recharged outside of it. Wisconsin would work for that, I assume.

ET1492 said...

Doh! How could I have left Utah off my list of wholesome states? It belongs right at the top.

E.M. Davis said...

I was raised in Butler, PA, 30 miles north of Pittsburgh. I never really spent much time around Jeannette, but I would guess your experience was pretty much like mine was.

Originally from Sharon, PA. It's a rust-belt shit hole.
But relatively safe and the rural areas are nice.

E.M. Davis said...

I was all set to say something about Evil Dead, but then I realized it was shot in Michigan.

Jason said...

"Yeah, well I got the SHIT kicked out of me in Wisconsin, once! FORGET IT!!"

SukieTawdry said...

Every place has it's dark side. When I was young, my family vacationed on Big Moose Lake in the Adirondacks. It's an idyllic spot, a lovely lake, secluded, rustic, morning mists and the cry of loons. No television, no telephones, nothing to do but swim, boat, fish, hike and an occasional game of tennis. We kids loved it at all our various ages. The same families would come back every year at the same time, so we all had good friends we couldn't wait to see every summer. All-in-all, a little slice of heaven.

But Big Moose is also the lake where in 1906 Grace Brown, factory worker, single and pregnant, drowned. She had been last seen alive with her lover, Chester Gillette, nephew of the factory owner, who had taken her boating. Chester was charged, tried and convicted for her murder and executed by electrocution. If the story sounds familiar, it's probably because you've read Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy or seen the movie A Place in the Sun. Reported sightings of Grace's ghost continue even today (I think Unsolved Mysteries did a segment on Grace).

Wisconsin is one of the few states I've never been to. I imagine I'll make it there one day, but I'll probably steer pretty clear of Madison because Madison is Crazy Town and I get my fill of crazy here at home.

Penny said...

"Progress is relative, and the pursuit of any version that is not toward freedom is toward slavery."

Or results in ever greater numbers of laws "to protect the children", who aren't quite ready for total freedom.

Anthony said...

Well, Wisconsin did produce Ed Gein and Jeffrey Dahmer, sooooooo. . . . .

Jose_K said...

Are you familiar with Ben Johnson's play, Volpone?
Or A cat on a thin roof