Ticket to the Fair: The Conversation about Orientation

On the surface, David Foster Wallace’s “Ticket to the Fair” seems nothing more than a meaningless minute-by-minute coverage on the Illinois State Fair in Springfield, but there is more going on underneath the surface. Indirectly, Wallace brings up the concept of orientation when journaling about the appearance of the locals at the fair. Wallace even brings up his own orientation by not being able to fully connect with the locals and understand the reason behind the fair. The short-sleeve knit shirts, the mustaches, the suits, the blue eyes, all are branches of identity and identity is just one of the branches that connects to the larger concept of orientation. Orientation is what helps shapes peoples perspectives on the world, but Wallace’s past brings up a different stance on how orientation works.

Wallace’s past offers a different view on orientation because he was originally from the Illinois area. At first, Wallace seems to judge the locals as well as the fair itself because of his “east coast cynicism” while trying to figure out why the importance of this fair. As the days continue, he starts to remember what it was like to live here and finally understands that the people coming together is the true meaning for this event. This raises the idea that someone’s orientation does not change, it grows. For Wallace, him moving to the east coast only grew his orientation by adding a different culture into it. Unfortunately, he forgot about the founding roots of his orientation, but going back to the fair helped him find it. So the concept of orientation is wrong. Orientation is not based on surroundings and the bubble people grow up in; it is based upon what they experience in life. With each knew experience, your orientation grows.

Making the connection between identity and orientation again, Wallace reveals that he had a bad experience with chicken as a child causing him to having a “long-standing phobic thing about poultry.” This experience is a badge of his identity, an experience that is attached to his orientation. Another branch of orientation that Wallace brings up is regional identity. The concept of regional identity is revealed when Wallace begins to feel bad about the pig, but then realizes that he has a belly full of bacon. It is a daily occurrence to work with animals in the Midwest. Living in the east coast, Wallace is almost never exposed to that reality. This irony illustrates how the orientation of the country works. The coasts are faster in their pace of living and are not exposed to the everyday realities like having to prepare poultry for the entire country to eat. The Midwest is one of those places where those realities are experienced every day so it is not as big of a deal to them.

Another conversation that Wallace adds to the table is trying to escape the grasps of orientation and “getting away from it all.” Again, this concept of orientation is wrong. People are not trying to escape their orientation –they are simply returning to their natural habitat. The “ecstatic escapes to glassy lakes, mountains, cabins, hikes in silent woods,” is how society once was. The “neon skylines” of the big cities are all artificial. Humanity was not meant to live in such a fast paced world which is why people cannot handle so much of it and “escape their orientation” by returning home.

What Wallace thought was a meaningless minute-by-minute coverage of the Illinois State Fair actually helped him to better understand certain things are important and why people do what they do. By understanding this, Wallace was able to open up the conversation of orientation because essentially orientation is the key component to why certain decisions are made. Everything in life has a meaning and that because of the omnipotence of orientation.


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