Saturday, August 22, 2009


Despite my hyper-ironic hipster tendencies, I try not to be the type of douchebag who denigrates the tastes of others. If people want to enjoy the likes of Transformers 2, hey, fine, whatever. My life-long love for the art of film kicked into place during a pre-teen viewing of Where Eagles Dare on The ABC Sunday Night Movie, about as meat-and-potatoes a movie as you can get, and not dissimilar to a typical Hollywood blockbuster of today. (Guns! Explosions! A third-billed actress with nothing to do!) My tastes expanded and deepened, but I don't believe that I myself am a better, smarter person than somebody who has never even heard of Cutter And Bone.

It's an attitude I sometimes see in others much like me, an attitude perhaps latent in myself, to view those with different tastes or beliefs as somehow inferior, less enlightened. And I hate that attitude; all points of view are valid, and if someone sincerely laughs at a Sandra Bullock romantic comedy or finds some comfort in Sarah Palin's public persona, why question the sincerity of their response? I may disagree, but I can certainly appreciate the legitimcay of their reaction.

Having said that, I'm from Iowa, and this is August, so the question most frequently asked around here is, "Are you going to the fair?"

By which they mean the storied Iowa State Fair, a source of inexplicable pride for the Hawkeye State since 1854. Pretty much everything in Des Moines comes to a screeching halt while this thing goes on, and everyone attends, people from all over the state and all levels of the socioeconomic spectrum. Hell, many folks plan their entire years around the damned thing.

And as open-minded and accepting as I try to be, I've got to say, I don't get it.

I mean, it's a fair. There are rides on the midway, there's livestock on display, there are games of chance and tons of overpriced food. And really, that's about it. Sure, there are more rides on the midway than your average parking mall carnival, but it's the same basic thing. And the livestock competitions showcase the finest overstuffed pigs from the entire state instead of just, you know, one or two counties. But why should I care?

Again, different strokes and all, and I realize that people who receive blue ribbons for growing enormous eggplants are sincerely thrilled by the prize, but isn't that a relatively small subset of humanity? It's like my Mystery Science Theater 3000 obsession; if Joel Hodgson and Trace Beaulieu were in town for some reason, I'd be bouncing off the walls with excitement, but I'd still recognize that my reaction would not likely be shared by everyone I meet. I wouldn't ask casual acquaintances if they were attending, or reroute traffic on the freeway for it, or showcase endless tedious coverage in the local media.

And so, since I can't imagine the vast majority of attendees at the State Fair genuinely care about the winners of the Tall Corn Contest, or even know a guernsey from a holstein, the only conclusion that can be reached is that most people go to this thing ironically.

Not that they are consciously doing this, necessarily. But the thing most fairgoers tend to claim they enjoy most is "people-watching," and considering the mulletted, badly sunburned and regrettably-garbed masses of humanity passing through the gates, "people-watching" is essentially a euphimism for "watching the freaks," an excuse to feel superior to those of lesser tastes and, most likely, fewer brain cells. It's like half of the state has somehow transformed into overly sarcastic poseurs, the essence of hipster douchebaggery.

Sometimes it seems like the whole damned thing is a Magic Christian-like scheme dreamed up by some cornfed Guy Grand, designed to showcase just how gullible the rubes really are. Big ticket shows at the grandstand this year include performances by not only the likes of Brooks And Dunn and Kelly Clarkson--not my taste, but whatever--but Peter Frampton and, God help us, Journey. That would be the current incarnation of Journey, of course, showcasing That Guy Who Isn't Steve Perry alongside a bunch of other guys who may or may not have played on all those hit songs no one ever really liked. If they were performing on a free stage--alongside graduates of local dance schools, fifties cover bands and State Fair perenials Head East (apparently The Lamont Cranston Band was booked elsewhere this year)--I could maybe understand the appeal (again, in an ironic way), but asking people to pay money for this shit? And the kicker is: This show sold out! In these fragile economic times, people shelled out good money to see a hastily-cobbled-together assemblage of musicians churning out the songs of a band that was faceless and bland in the first place.

No matter how much I try to accept and respect the tastes of others, I can't help it: Anyone who would pay to see Journey is an idiot. And when I think about so many other things associated with the fair, such as deep-fried Twinkies on a stick, or that one of the livestock prizes is awarded to something called "Beef Of Merit", I can't help but chuckle derisively. As somebody who tries to appreciate the human race at its best, I avoid the Iowa State Fair like a plague, for it seems like nothing so much as a showcase for humanity at its worst.