Missing

Strange Maps

215 – Montana, the Gorgeous Mosaic

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In its issue of 22 April 1996, the New Yorker Magazine published a parody map of Montana, by cartoonist Roz Chast. The state ranks 4th in surface (after Alaska, California and Texas), but 44th in population, giving it the 3rd lowest population density (before Wyoming and Alaska). This desolation, coupled with its great natural beauty, endowed Montana with several nicknames, such as the ‘Treasure State’, the ‘Land of Shining Mountains’ and ‘Big Sky Country’. Most interesting, because of its ambivalence, is the ‘Last Best Place’.

This reflects on Montana’s spectacular Rocky Mountain landscapes, but also could be interpreted as meaning that the 1 million or so Montanans see the outside world as the Big Bad Wolf. Which is one of the insinuations of this not over-friendly big-city view of rural Montana – the title is decidedly sarcastic. Montana is portrayed as a quilt of mini-states run by disgruntled marginals: 

  • Obsessed environmentalists
  • Obsessed anti-environmentalists
  • UFO buffs
  • Militia groups
  • Organised tax-dodgers
  • Mad bombers
  • Right-wing religious fanatics
  • Macho writers, their hippie wives and their hippie children
  • Hollywood pseudo-cowboys in need of privacy, open air, and a full-time personal staff of forty

I don’t really know enough about Montana to say whether there is any truth in this, but I guess the asinine tone of the labels reflects the prejudices of the ‘liberal, intellectual cosmopolitan coastal elite’ at least as much as it indicates those of the alleged fringe groups portrayed here – if not more.

This map was suggested to me by Wil Grewe-Mullins and is found here on Pruned, a blog on landscape architecture and related fields. A few people there commented on the veracity of the stereotyping in this map, which makes me wonder whether the New Yorker cartoon didn’t get it just about right:

  • “The pseudo-cowboys should be down by Bozeman and the environmentalists should be by Missoula.”

  • “I think I-5 goes right thru ‘anti-environmentalists’ and ‘organized tax dodgers’ – and I can attest to the truth of it! Stopping for gas in anything other than an old truck starts to get scary after a while.”

  • “I would say the label ‘Hollywood pseudo-cowboys’ is true for the area around Kalispell (say the eastern half of that section) and I’d label the west part asbestos country: When I grew up, it was in the anti-environmental group. Bumper stickers of ‘Save a logger, eat a spotted owl’ were common. Right-wing religious fanatics can be found anywhere.”

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