That is a question from Annie Lowrey, who recognizes its (supposed) “extreme folly.”
I’ve thought about this for years, and always Knoxville, Tennessee comes to mind. Knoxville is big enough to be something, but not a truly large metropolis, being only the third largest city in Tennessee. It is educated enough to avoid some of the more stereotypical features of the South and indeed it was recently named the #2 “reading city” in America. It has elements of the South and of Appalachia, two major regions of the country. Eleven percent of Knox County adults are “binge drinkers.” It is not one of “12 American boomtowns.”
What else in America might be typical?
Ethnically speaking, Wichita Falls is close to the national norm.
According to this article, high poverty and unemployment are wrecking the averageness of Peoria, Illinois.
Louisville is not a bad pick.
Obviously we must rule out NY, CA, TX, and probably any coastal state as well. I can see the virtues of selecting a Kansas City suburb, which picks up elements of both the South and the Midwest, but I fear that is in a way too typical. The most average place in the United States is in fact just a bit off and has some flavor of its own and choosing Knoxville picks up that too.