The More the OC Fair Has Changed, the More Its Rites and Rituals Have Stayed the Same
Jennie Warren

The More the OC Fair Has Changed, the More Its Rites and Rituals Have Stayed the Same

The Birds and the Beasts Were There
The more the OC Fair has changed, the more its rites and rituals have stayed the same: It’s not about Weird Al. It’s about weird us

At first glance, the Orange County Fair ain’t nothing like yo’ grandpappy’s county fair. Rather than a place where farmers gather to exhibit their livestock and produce, the OC Fair appears dominated by garish carnival rides; equally garish booths hawking everything from “as-seen-on-TV” gadgets to sports memorabilia; and, of course, the scores of booths serving deep-fried, calorie-laden, oh-so-tasty food.

But even in its 2009 incarnation, which is being billed as the OC Super Fair with a subtitle of “Think Big,” our fair shares links with the most rural and traditional of offerings.

The Livestock Area, though dwarfed in size by the adult and kid carnivals (as well as the Parade of Products’ massive tents), remains a key, if fragrant, component. Centennial Farm, though tucked in a corner that many patrons probably miss during their strolls around the 150-acre site, still offers city dwellers confined to freeways and office parks a first-hand look at the Earth’s bounty. Hell, people can still enter their homemade jams, pies and quilts into juried competitions.

A fair, even in the center of Orange County, remains a legitimate example of a community gathering. That is a ritual in and of itself, and there is no end to visual examples of the shared ritual of community at this year’s fair.

As the late, great David Foster Wallace wrote in the last line of his brilliant 1994 essay, Ticket to the Fair, ultimately, the “real spectacle that draws us here is us.”

And, just like the private us, the public us can be innocent and innocuous, ridiculous and extravagant, sadly depressing, just plain fucking disgusting or sublimely beautiful.

Sometimes, all in the same moment. . . .

This story was published as a photo essay. Click here for the slideshow content.


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