State Fairs Should Rotate Every Year

A plan to heal this divided nation

Falcon Heights, MN, USA. 09/02/2018: The Annual Minnesota State Fair, also known as Great Minnesota ...
JoeChristensen/iStock Unreleased/Getty Images
Drew Millard

In much of America, we’re really in the sweet spot right now when it comes to the weather. The scorching heat of the summer has mostly burned off, and the air is starting to become nice and crisp. At night you can wear jackets for fashion rather than utility. Many of us have spent the summer cultivating new experiences, albeit admittedly disappointing and awkward ones, while others of us have cultivated literal crops, and either way, we have grown, we have gathered, and it is time to show off our harvest. In other words: It’s freakin’ state fair time.

If you’re one of those cosmopolitan coastal elites whose only interaction with the state fair came in the form of that one David Foster Wallace essay, then you know nothing of this glorious institution. The state fair, to put it simply, is sick as hell. You go to a big field where you drink beer and eat fried stuff, then you walk through a bunch of booths where you get to hold a baby goat in exchange for learning more about local agriculture, take in a set from an ’80s rock group and/or a radio-country act from the ’90s, and cap it all off by watching a monster truck rally. All of these things are fun and that’s about all there is to that.

The only problem is that every year, the state fair has basically the same attractions. I probably attend the state fair in North Carolina, where I live, about once every three years, which is just enough time to appreciate the novelty. But I have a bold solution: state fairs should rotate.

Wouldn’t you be way more likely to go to the state fair if the state being showcased was new to you? Oklahoma’s state fair has an arm-wrestling competition. Haven’t you ever wondered whether the best arm-wrestler in your state could beat last year’s champion arm-wrestler from Oklahoma? Probably not, but now you’re thinking about it. This year at the Minnesota state fair, there were 56 beverages available for purchase that, until this year’s Minnesota state fair, did not exist. One of them was a frozen Mike’s Hard Lemonade with rhubarb in it. Why should the people of Minnesota hoard that bounty? You want and deserve that new shit. The shit that, before my grand scheme came along, you could only get in Minnesota. Minnesotans would of course benefit from a great outpouring of drunken goodwill and gratefulness.

The fact of the matter is that after all we’ve been through — COVID, Trump, GameStop, penguin-killing bees, etc. — we are a nation divided, and we must now begin the healing process. In order to do that, the states must be reintroduced to each other. Floridians probably don’t spend much time considering Alaska, but once Alaska sends its fair — most notable for its a series of contests where farmers submit the largest fruits and vegetables they’ve grown this year — they will think, “damn, Alaska is home to some large vegetables indeed.” People in Kansas need to know about the random pop-punk band in Raleigh, North Carolina whose main function beyond playing the 2 p.m. slot at the state fair is serving as the local opener whenever Saves the Day rolls through town. Yes, every mid-sized city in Kansas probably has at least one of that exact same band, but that’s the point: none of us are better than the rest of us.

And as such, state fairs themselves are all kind of the same. The main things differentiating them are the degree of regional quirk on display, as well as the level of effort put into the whole affair. Having said that, though, some state fairs are objectively better than others. South Dakota’s, for example, has a grocery-bagging competition, an auction-calling contest, a “diaper derby” where babies race, and something called “horse soccer.” Everyone will want the South Dakota state fair, perhaps to the point that Americans will begin to see the use in having two different Dakotas at all. (North Dakota’s state fair, by the way, has writing contests for children, teens, and adults. A pox upon the house of whoever might say the Peace Garden State is not literary!)

Other state fairs are generic, and many of them feature musical performances by all the living members of The Beach Boys (minus Brian Wilson and plus John Stamos). If you get the North Carolina state fair, they might raze 19 acres of trees to build a parking lot, which would be bad, and if you get the Kentucky state fair, it will come with a tobacco-growing competition for high school students, which is just weird. Then again, maybe it’s not weird? This is why the Kentucky state fair should go somewhere besides Kentucky, so we can judge the youth tobacco-growing competition for ourselves. Another benefit of rotating state fairs is fairness: far less corruption and favoritism involved when the chili cook-off judge is not the neighbor of five-time champion Dave.

It would be a bummer if one of the lesser state fairs were randomly assigned to your state, but all I said was that states should meet each other; I didn’t say they had to like each other. Besides, I bet the states would get really into it and try to put on their best face for their hosts. Maybe they’ll all step up and try to rival the Texas state fair, which has a celebrity chef kitchen, college football games, a rodeo, pig races, and the “Big Tex Youth Livestock Auction.”

But how to determine which state gets which other state’s state fair? I’m picturing a televised ceremony where a very enthusiastic, not-at-all camera-ready dude in a tweed sports coat works one of those spinny ball contraptions they use to spit out lottery numbers; the whole thing would be so unintentionally boring that they could only air it on PBS at like 2 a.m. and it would inevitably develop a huge following. Really, though, we could go with whatever works.

On a certain level, this is the exact sort of wonky yet folksy, a-million-moving-parts-ass civic-minded plan that David Brooks would come up with. But I got to it before he did, so it’s actually a cool idea and totally not lame. Besides, I’m not making a plea for America to get in touch with its better, higher-minded, more authentic self. Dumb, self-indulgent bullshit is our authentic self, and that’s as true as the fact that the largest pumpkin at the Alaska state fair’s 16th annual Midnight Sun Pumpkin Weigh-Off came in at 1,603.5 pounds. How can a state where it’s dark half the year produce such a big-ass gourd? Maybe it has to do with the fact that it’s light half the year. Maybe pumpkin steroids are legal there. The only way to know for sure will be to ask an Alaskan pumpkin farmer when they come to your state.