Fancy Farm reflects decline of American politics, media

Phyllis Sparks of Walton participated in the political rallying during this month’s Fancy Farm Picnic.
Phyllis Sparks of Walton participated in the political rallying during this month’s Fancy Farm Picnic.

It’s one of Kentucky’s most enduring and previously attractive political events — the annual Fancy Farm picnic and political rally in Graves County on the first Saturday in August. I covered that event for several years as a reporter and went last year as an observer.

But, sad to report, it has outlived its usefulness because it has outlived its root values.

It all began more than a century ago as an old-fashioned “gander pull.” If you don’t know what that is, suffice it to say you probably don’t want to know. Today it would be considered animal cruelty of the highest sort. In other words, like the political speaking, it has become obsolete.

The real purpose of the picnic from the beginning was and is to raise funds for the local St. Jerome’s parish. That part of the annual event is working splendidly. The parish raises about $200,000 from the various activities surrounding the political festivities, enough to fund the church’s various activities for an entire year. That’s because most of the people who attend pay no attention whatever to the political sideshow in deference to playing bingo and other games.

In the early afternoon, crowds gather to listen to a parade of party candidates and spokespeople expound on their positions and to make promises. Sadly, the crowd hears very little of this because the main purpose now is to drown out the opposing speakers with catcalls and offensive remarks.

The parties bus in the leather-lunged much as the Kremlin used to bus in fans to applaud the unelected Communist speakers in Red Square on May Day. It’s impossible to conduct a debate when the object is to drown out the debaters. The event has become a reality TV show with the press relegated to a panel of critics judging the relative merits of the one-liners and zingers hurled at the opposition.

That point was made crystal clear last year when the chosen emcee was a noted comedian. It should have been held at Comedy Off Broadway, not at Fancy Farm.

The press have become willing and, I think, conscious participants in this useless farce. For many, Fancy Farm is a weekend away from the wife on the company’s dime. Journalism now has become little more than a constant pursuit of the extreme, the emotional and the useless.

Proof? Have you watched any so-called local “news” lately? It’s nothing more than the police blotter with words and pictures. TV news has become like a video game. Print journalism seems intent on competing with this by copying it.

All of this reflects the reality and the demise of our political system generally. Our political process is one long show with scripted, choreographed events designed to accommodate TV’s emotional appeal at the expense of rational reflection.

Candidates don’t so much press the flesh and interact with the voters as they are actors strutting and fretting their expensive hours on the stage propounding sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Is it any wonder, then, that that system has produced two of the most unpopular and despised candidates for president in our history? We do, indeed, reap what we sow.

Barry Peel, a retired TV reporter, is a commentator on Hometown Radio Network in Danville.