The Banality Bandwagon

AND SO IT begins.

Nary a media mongrel in town can feel delight today. The State Fair cometh, and once again stories must be filed, scenes described, clever turns of phrases offered, animals and children videotaped.

Sadly, it's all been done before, far too often. All that can be said has been said. The fair as fodder has been drained to the dregs. But that won't stop the charge of the dutiful.

 Welcome to the cliché capital of news content: The Great Minnesota Clump Together. You have greasy food anecdotes? Swell. The same quips were doled out in 1967. You want to talk tradition? Get in line and bring the NoDoz. You have a neat behind-the-scenes piece on carnie life? Tear it up—Dave Moore did the story in '77 for 'CCO, and Jim Klobuchar handled it in '82 for the Star Tribune.

 Admit it, journalists are spent. This is what haunts every media outlet in town this week. You'll hold a microphone and smile that wry smile of curiosity and condescension, of phony surprise and smarmy earnestness, but deep down the specter of embarrassment and failure looms large. You'll pray for a distant road-rage crime spree or suburban garbage-house discovery, but it's dog days for local news, and the fair is where you'll be sent.

 It'll be a nightmare. Not the event itself, but the slim pickings for news features. Ultimately, it's a replica of every fair that's come before. Have fun with the portly rural folk and you'll say nothing unique. Lament how the whole event makes us look like a northern version of Iowa and you'll just repeat the thoughts of multitudes.

 But go on, camp out, deliver the panoramas and the cute kid photos, write about attendance records, or offer time capsules of yesteryear. No matter how you present it, in what way it's packaged or slanted, how carefully you aim for blessed originality, you'll inevitably join a parade of clucking clones. You'd be better off covering the new construction of a Super America

 Maybe you'll be the contrarian, say you hate it all. Well, that's now a cliché as well. You can't win. No matter which way you spin it, you'll parrot the thoughts of talking heads who've come before.

 But don't take my word for it. Dig. Find that one vendor who has something clever to offer. My money says your news piece won't match Nebraska sidewalk sale stories.

 Such is the conundrum of another late summer on St. Paul's northern border. What's left to dissect? Not enough to shake the anxiety at local assignment desks.

 The event is harmless, it's the coverage that's horrid. But do your best. Use "Pronto Pup" in another sentence and try not to wince. Who knows, maybe this year you'll get lucky and find a 92-year-old who lives for the Tilt-A-Whirl. Some wild-eyed chunk of wreckage who longs to croak on an amusement ride; not because he's suicidal but because the ride has been his lifelong love and it's a fitting way to go.

 Hear his tale: how he first fell in love with cheap thrills at the Chicago World's Fair in '33. How his lust for the escapism of controlled risk gave his existence purpose and meaning, and how that idolized exhilaration never waned, even as the decades took him far from the innocence of his youth.

 Find the angle no one's covered: the wrinkled coot yearning for a heart-stopping end on one final amusement ride. The stooped codger who, against doctor's wishes, tries to say farewell on an 80-degree vertical drop, his false teeth flying in one direction, his soul spiraling off in another.

 Now you're onto something. Now you're working with the meat of an honest-to-God story—not fair flotsam and jetsam, a bonafide page turner. Imagine the quotes:

 "I got lost on those rides from an early age, lost from my sedentary ways and my humdrum world of mindless details. I felt like a comet, a meteor, a living piece of the cosmos. Like I was born to fly, and to flail, and to scream, and to sail, and ultimately to die on that rail, having ridden all that was ever built."

Any reporters out there ready to mine a story like that? Shoot it to us, Shelby. We're hungry for something edgy, something different, something brand-new and alive, something the State Fair press hasn't offered in decades. 

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