Mixed Multitude (Great New York State Fair)

The Great New York State Fair takes place every year in Syracuse. When I first came to Syracuse University, everyone always asked if I was going to the Fair and, of course, I said no, like a snob. Now that I have kids, I know better. We go almost all day and everyday. Not for supercilious or the faint of heart. I like the vulgarity, the empty intentionality focused around beery amusement and fried food. And I like talking to the vendors, who work way too hard, from 9:00 AM to 12 AM, and who move with the Fair all over the country. I love the quiet of animals and the care given to them by the exhibitors. But most of all, what gets me is the mix of people, a real “mixed multitude,” mostly across class and regional lines, and also racial. It’s a mix with which I am not at all accustomed. A concrete form of a universal. You can see the economic stress, families for whom this is their only major vacation or diversion, and workers who are worked too hard at minimum wage and no benefits, and the military people and their families, tatooes and cigarettes, bad teeth and stressed out bodies. And then the hot young kids, all out showing their stuff. As for the exhibitors who work the Fair with their animals, the Fair culture of farm families camping out with the animals for the entire week, they remind me of my mother and the Antiquarian Book Fairs, how all the exhibtor-dealers all know each other, mingle, and haggle in a very familiar way. Year after year they all come back, and so do I. The sun bakes your brain, and it’s cool in the evening, with a bright clear moon. And on Labor Day, it’s Demolition Derby, which this year I have to miss. It’s what my father would have called “a slice of life.” The Great New York State Fair is one of my favorite places.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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