Tuesday, August 12, 2003

State fairs the real deal for all-American culture



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Are you hungry for evidence that lunatics with bombs in their shoes and hatred in their hearts have not completely changed life in America? Are you offended by reality TV that bears no relation to reality as you know it?

Has it begun to feel as though you are experiencing life behind a Plexiglas sneeze guard? Standing in line at the salad bar when you really want to throw yourself face down in a vat of chocolate?

You may be desperately in need of agricultural therapy. A fair. A celebration of fat hogs and dairy cows and homemade pies and 4-H kids with lambs and the innocence of an adolescent girl proud to wear a banner proclaiming her as Pork Queen.

Most of the good county fairs around here - with the exception of the Brown County Fair in Georgetown on Sept. 22-27, which bills itself as "The Little State Fair" - have already folded their tents and packed up their fried dough trailers and pony rides until next year.

But if you have a hankering for the big one, there's no need to wait - the Ohio State Fair in Columbus runs through Sunday.

And if you are not impressed by the fact that the state fair began in Cincinnati's Camp Washington in 1850, I assure you that you will feel a little thrill of local pride if you visit this year's butter sculpture created by a group of Cincinnati artists.

In honor of the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers' first flight, Orville and Wilbur have been molded and carved in 6-foot-3-inch figures, each weighing 250 pounds. The brothers are remarkably detailed, complete with facial hair and mildly bemused expressions, perhaps surprised to find themselves refrigerated in the company of a cow and her calf.

The 2003 fair, in addition to such indispensable cuisine as cotton candy and corn dogs, offers chocolate covered insects and fried Twinkies. Nothing has labels with nagging reminders about sodium and potassium, which is nearly as refreshing as the sight of little kids who still are excited about riding around in a circle on a pony.

The Kentucky State Fair in Louisville starts Thursday and goes through Aug. 24. Besides Alan Jackson and Hank Williams Jr., you can see the Shondells and Herman's Hermits and Garrison Keillor. Not to mention daily pig races featuring, apparently, the other white athletic meat.

In Indianapolis, the Indiana State Fair continues through Sunday with a fiddle contest and "a new exhibit spotlighting goats," which in my experience do not need assistance in grabbing the spotlight. I suppose there are busy committees working to come up with attractions that distinguish one fair from another. Indiana promises daily Live Shark Encounters, and there was alligator wrestling at this year's Hamilton County Fair.

Still, if you stand on the midway of any fair in the country and close your eyes, they all sound and smell the same. Carousel music, laid over the lowing of cattle. The shrieks of children, who are not so jaded by tortuously complex amusement park rides that they are not thrilled by the Tilt-A-Whirl and Ferris wheel. Hot oil and scorched sugar. Country music. Laughter.

Agriculture culture.

Reassuringly American.

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E-mail lpulfer@enquirer.com or phone 768-8393.




ENQUIRER COLUMNISTS
Pulfer: State fairs the real deal for all-American culture
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