The development of cross country air and Interstate highway travel over the course of the 20th century steadily eroded formerly conceived regional divisions and led to the growing imagining of the great center of the United States as “flyover country,” a place that needs to be quickly traversed to get to somewhere that actually matters. Long in the making visually through airline advertisements and other sources, it was perhaps best solidified by Saul Steinberg’s “View of the World from 9th Avenue” of 1976 that perfectly captured both New York self-absorption and the “flyover country” vision of the nation, and indeed the world, in the jet age. In the following decades, this fantastical image became more and more an actual model for everything from airline passenger maps to television programming such as The Middle. Indeed, television programmers and programming played a central role in the emergence of the term and idea of “flyover country” as it steadily erased, with a few notable exceptions, the rural and even non-coastal United States from the airwaves.
Although “flyover country” is supposedly the way those on the two coasts routinely dismiss the interior, what is most striking is how few examples there are of coastal commentators using the term. Instead, it is Midwesterners who have embraced the label in the names of independent films, fiction series, and album or song titles, and who have used it to denounce cultural “elites” and to extol the virtues of the supposed better quality of life and values of the “heartland.” In the past decade plus, the term has also been explicitly politicized as a marker of conservatism, patriotism, and advocacy of the Republican party.
Jason Aldean’s 2012 video for his song “Flyover States” explicitly defends the nation’s vast interior from the sneers of coastal elites flying far above, but in so doing, reinforces many of the visions of the region held by its supposed critics – that it is entirely rural or wilderness, that it is devoid of major cities or cultural diversity, that it is exclusively white, working class and Christian. On the other hand, the decision to use an airplane graveyard as the backdrop for the band cleverly positions the “forgotten” residents of “flyover country” as the ultimate survivors in contrast to the superfluousness of the modern technological society of Manhattan, Hollywood or Silicon Valley.