In 1993 David Foster Wallace visited the Illinois State Fair to write an article for Harper's Magazine
. It was later republished in A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again
. Anyway, one particular part of it seems quite relevant to this forum for various reasons, so...
"And people are buying this stuff. The Expo's unique products are targeted at a certain type of Midwestern person I'd all but forgotten. I'd somehow not noticed these persons' absence from the paths and exhibits. This is going to sound not just East-Coastish but elitist and snotty. But facts are facts. The special community of shoppers in the Expo Bldg. are a Midwestern subphylum commonly if unkindly known as Kmart People. Farther south they'd be a certain fringe-type of White Trash. Kmart People tend to be overweight, polyestered, grim-faced, toting glazed unhappy children. Toupees are the movingly obvious square-cut kind, and the women's make-up is garish and often asymmetrically applied, giving many of the female faces a kind of demented look. They are sharp voiced and snap at their families. They're the type you see slapping their kids in supermarket checkouts. They are people who work at like Champaign's Kraft and Decatur's A.E. Staley and think pro wrestling is real. I'm sorry, but this is all true. I went to high school with Kmart People. I know them. They own firearms and do not hunt. They aspire to own mobile homes. They read the Star without even a pretense of contempt and have toilet paper with little off-color jokes printed on it. A few of these folks might check out the Tractor Pull or the U.S.A.C. race, but most are in the Expo to stay. This is what they've come for. They couldn't give one fat damn about ethanol exhibits or carnival rides whose seats are hard to squeeze into. Agriculture shmagriculture. And Gov. Edgar's a closet pinko: they heard it on Rush. They plod up and down, looking put out and intensely puzzled, as if they're sure what they've come for's got to to be here someplace."
He then goes into a lengthy semi-digression on the subject of t-shirts with supposedly amusing (but actually entirely unfunny) messages on them (many examples given, one of which is: "Impeach President Clinton... AND HER HUSBAND TOO!!"), and then starts mock-theorising about the semiotic meaning of such t-shirts (which is absolutely hilarious if you've read much Critical Theory, but probably isn't if you haven't, so I won't include it here). But then the key section and the actual reason for me starting this thread...
"It all gets tremendously complex and depressing. The lady running the booth's register is dressed like a '68 Yippie but has a hard carny face and wants to know why I'm standing here memorizing T-shirts. All I can manage to tell her is that the "HORNEY" on these "2.5 BEERS" - shirts is misspelled; and now I really feel like an East-Coast snob, laying judgments and semiotic theories on these people who ask of life only a Republican in the White House and a black velvet Elvis on the wood-grain mantel of their mobile home. They're not hurting anybody. A good third of the people I went to high school with now probably wear these T-shirts, and proudly."
What looks at first to be a standard piece of journalistic pop-sociology turns into an ultra, ultra sly critique of journalistic pop-sociology.