The real estate website Estately.com just came out with an unconventional listicle that, like some cowboy-hatted, flag-shirt-wearing country singer, initially used the word “America” as a verb, i.e., “Which U.S. State ‘Americas’ the Hardest?” Now, before you flee for some David Foster Wallace-dotted hills in search of depth and substance, let me qualify this listicle by saying it was written by Ryan Nickum, who—despite turning out such blog posts regularly—is smart and funny and wise. (He also has a keen understanding of Philadelphia even though he lives in Seattle, hence his short-lived Tumblr Philly’s Basement Bars.) Readers weren’t totally understanding the use of America as a verb, so Nickum changed the title to the more palatable “Which U.S. States Are The Most ‘American’?” But that doesn’t convey the same flushed-faced patriotic fervor, if you ask me.
Nickum seems to know that writing listicles is a pretty ridiculous thing to do for a living, so he endeavors to mix it up in creative ways. “Obviously, there’s no real way to measure how ‘American’ a state is because there are so many different sides to America,” he says. Of his inventive criteria here, he says, “I tried to use things that all Americans could admire (bald eagles, gold medals, astronauts, America’s pastime); things that, for better or worse, are uniquely American (fast food, guns, Google searches for a dead Bin Laden); and general patriotic expression (Facebook “likes” for USA).” He also avoided anything that would be too specific to one gender, race or region, or characteristics that would skew particularly urban or rural.
Here are the eight criteria Nickum and co. settled on:
1. Bald eagles per square mile
2. Olympic gold medals won, per capita
3. Astronauts born in each state, per capita
4. Fast food restaurants, per capita
5. Total Major League Baseball players born in each state
6. Percentage of homes with firearms
7. Percentage of Facebook users in each state expressing interest in the “United States of America”
8. Google searches for “Bin Laden dead”
Let’s break down how Pennsylvania did in this jingoistic rodeo. The state’s lowest ranking, at No. 41 (out of 50, obvs) was our number of fast food restaurants per capita. We also ranked lowish (No. 38) for Facebook users expressing interest in the “United States of America.” We ranked a middling No. 34 for homes with firearms, but climbed to a strong No. 14 ranking for Google searches for “Bin Laden dead” and even higher (No. 11) for the per-capita number of astronauts born here.
But here’s the real outlier: Pennsylvania has the highest number of Major League Baseball players who were born here. That’s right: If you live in Philadelphia, it is absolutely accurate to say the following sentence: “When it comes to baseball, we are No. 1.” It’s what Ruben Amaro says to himself every night in his denial-inflected fever dreams — only it turns out to be true.
The No. 1 baseball ranking pushed Pennsylvania to an overall ranking of No. 19, which was actually lower than Nickum expected. “I did think Pennsylvania would rate higher,” he says, “particularly since it played such an important role in the formation of this country.” (I too thought it would rate higher, but more because its nickname is Pennsyltucky.) Any other surprises? “I was also very surprised so many states that still fly the Confederate flag cracked the top 20.”
The ranking of Nickum’s home state of Washington is a practically French No. 42, so he’s going to do his part to make the state more American: “I will ‘like’ my country on Facebook. I will pull my children out of soccer and dance and sign them up for Little League. The whole family is going to space camp this summer. I will look into opening an Arby’s franchise in my hometown, and my gift basket for new neighbors will be filled with firearms.”
Good luck to you, sir. We in Pennsylvania pledge to keep birthing out MLB players. Now if we can just get them to play in Philadelphia for a winning team…
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