I tend to think Franzen's conception of the Midwest is framed rather extremely by his experiences as a regional expatriate (and being one myself, I think I can tell), and I would argue—or this is at least how I argue with myself—that his emphasis on the distance between the Midwest and the centers of power is not as definitive or as determinative as what specific forms of communication and transportation existed to bridge those distances. Indianapolis ain't Brigadoon, Mr. Franzen. It's the ways that ideas and trends get filtered out by the narrowness of the channels of communication and transportation that is determinative, and not so much the time lag that he talks about. But it's much more romantic to think of the Midwest as a land time forgot, I suppose.Also, as someone who grew up right on I-70, I think his cartography's kind of bullshit.
This isn't an academic debate. Economic development is at stake, as Richard Longworth would remind us. If you think it doesn't matter, review the shitstorm over Anthony Bourdain's conception of Rust Belt Chic. Who gets to represent Buffalo to the world?
I'm amused with the pulling rank, the flashing of credibility. Conveying the authenticity of place is a difficult task. Sometimes (more often than not), outsiders do it better. There is a grand narrative to be found. We're still looking for one.