My Old Kentucky Homesite

I Blame Kevin Costner

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 08/04/2010

Most of my readers take a dim view of blind faith. However, you may not have thought about this: It doesn’t always manifest itself as religious expression. There’s that whole Field of Pipedreams business about “if you build it, they will come.”

Yesterday, I was thinking about how stupid that phrase is when I was reading this article in the local rag. Let me give you the background.

In a little bit more than a month, Lexington will play host to the World Equestrian Games. The city is going nuts with excitement. For more than a year, hoteliers and restauranteurs and souvenir vendors have been counting their soon-to-be-made money.

If you have no idea what the WEG is (are?), you’re probably not alone. I’d never heard of it (them?) until I moved here last October. To put it simply: they’re a kind of Olympics for horses, a series of effete competitions that only equino-manes can enjoy: jumping and vaulting (fuck knows what the difference is), reining (horses, not cats and dogs), eventing (huh?), and endurance (although mostly of P.R. pros). And of course, there’s everyone’s favorite, dressage (playing with paper-doll ponies) and para dressage (playing with paper-doll parasites). If you’re really interested — but why would you be unless your name is Flicka? —you can find all the relevant information on Google; I’m not paid to advertise here.

Lexington is one of the horse capitals of the world, and hosting the WEG seemed like a good fit. The expectation around these parts was that the area would be overrun with furriners just dying to toss their funny-looking cash around. Downtown streets have been torn up, and are being rebuilt in preparation for the expected influx of alien tender, legal or illegal. Concerts have been arranged, because as everyone knows, Europeans and Asians need to experience our native culture: country music and Christian rock. High school bands will march and play (but not necessarily both at the same time), Kentucky’s Junior Leaguers will hold meet-‘n’-greets, and local eateries will offer special horsemeat buffets. Just kidding. (They’ll be serving the same plain ol’ horsemeat and grits that they always do.)

Unfortunately, the horses have been preceded by the horseshitters. Greedy hotel owners were fed plenty of fodder by the hucksters who swore that Lexington would be teeming with international currency just dying to be spent — literally jumping out of the sissy wallets carried by those crazy-talking strangers. But the story in yesterday’s Herald-Leader reveals that nearly one-third of all the hotel rooms in town, some of which have been marked up to nearly four times their regular price, are still unspoken for. As the saying goes: Foals rush in, but wise men save their bread. The town’s hotel-owners were clearly eager to make hay while the sun shines, but the globe’s horsey set hasn’t saddled up for the ride. So there’s plenty of hay, but not enough hayseeds.

As it turns out, The WEG buzz is just a variant on “if you build it, they will come.” Like all offshoots of that “plucky” but dumb saying, it’s as American as applesauce. It springs from the same mindless sensibility in which a 13-year-old appearing as a contestant on a televised talent competition can say, with perfect seriousness, “It’s always been my dream to play Vegas.” It’s a product of the same empty-headedness that gives celebrities the idea that they’re political pundits. “If you build it …” goes hand in hand with those bumper stickers in which parents express their irrational pride in their backward children.

Here in Lexington, the myth has taken a familiar form: “If you hype it, they will come.” But maybe not, particularly if you try to gouge visitors by charging inexcusably high prices during a worldwide financial slump.

I must admit that as a skeptic, I’m amused by the if-you-build-it mentality. Because, really: it makes no more sense than putting one’s faith in the existence of Mr. Ed. Only horses’ asses believe that kind of stuff.


29 Responses to “I Blame Kevin Costner”

  1. the chaplain said

    It would be more appropriate to blame W.P. Kinsella; he wrote the book, Shoeless Joe, on which Costner’s movie is based. By the way, I’ve seen the actual Field of Dreams movie site in Dyersville, Iowa. It’s a tourist attraction now. That seems oddly apt, since the story is about what used to called the American past-time.

  2. BrentH said

    Let the discounting games begin!

  3. Al Cibiades said

    In this case the degree of “faith” is variable. One has reason to suppose that carrying out these games in Lexington will draw at least some attendance (based perhaps on past experience and knowledge of this interest community.

    But isn’t this notion… “if you build it they will come” the pipe dream of supply side economics? Its true that in a thriving economic environment the introduction of a compelling product, which involves a, hopefully calculated, confidence it the result. But in an economic climate, in which the consumer is under economic pressure, thinking that pure investment is likely to improve things really is a leap of faith. Who is going to open up a business, or expand one when there’s no demand? And there’s no demand because people are out of work and not confident they’ll have it in the future.

    It would seem that some have created a new deity… the ever elusive “market”.

  4. Chappy:
    I suppose you’re under the mistaken impression that “I Blame W. P. Kinsella” would generate traffic.

    Yes, and it’ll be a very exciting race.

    Your key phrases are “experience and knowledge of this interest community” and “compelling product.” I’m not convinced that Lexington has any knowledge about the kinds of events scheduled for the WEG; the horsey set here care mainly about thoroughbred racing. And who says the “product” is compelling?

    “If you billed it as compelling, they will come.” Uh-uh. I don’t think that an advertiser’s say-so is sufficient.

  5. Oaktown Girl said

    This post is giving me very uncomfortable flashbacks. I must be still suffering residual trauma from that damn Lexingon Horse Video link you posted a couple of months back.

  6. Oaky:

    Yes, that video should be shown to non-English speakers to help them understand the concept of “horseshit.”

    A long time ago, Kentucky had a dream.
    It’s impossible for me to think of a gaggier, more insincere opening line. Did the state itself have the dream, and if so, has it woken up yet? It’s the most pathetic pathetic fallacy I’ve ever heard.

    If “Kentucky” does not mean the state, but merely represents the people in it, I’d like to take the opportunity to announce that I, myself, have had no such dream. It’s true that some of my most pleasant “night visions” do involve racing, but the entrants are usually Entenmann’s Chocolate Donuts hurrying from the box to my mouth. And, frankly, I’m often wide awake when that happens.

    I’m soooo goddamned sick of the word “dream” being used by people to describe their delusions of grandeur.

  7. I am surprised that this hasn’t sold actually. Horsey people tend to be like dog people. They go everywhere the promise of horsey kind is.

  8. the chaplain said

    I suppose you’re under the mistaken impression that “I Blame W. P. Kinsella” would generate traffic.

    Believing that Costner’s name has greater marquee appeal than Kinsella’s is a greater act of faith than believing that Jesus turned water into wine. ;)

  9. Sarge said

    Here in central Pencil-Tuckey (Altoona)we have the “Tour de ‘Toona”, and if it sounds kind of fishy, well, it is.

    We didn’t have it last year because the select few that benefit weren’t getting their hands on enough of the marbles, so, in August people were actually able to get from here to there in the area, even in and out of their own driveways, without encountering surly police officers who punished them for doing it or voicing resentment at their lives being thus disrupted.

    We are told that it “brings money to local businesses”.
    Not really. Most of the participants are on shoe string budgets and the bikers, themselves eat specialised diets. They often stay with “hosts” rather than in motels, and any money which comes into the area bounces from the cash register to some corperate HQ, or sticks to the fingers of a favored few.
    The rest of us? Suck it up for a week, we will have it, too bad about you.

    Oddly (or, probably not), one of the biggest boosters is a local state representative, an avid biker, himself (gee! Quelle surprise!).
    He regards people who use alternative fuels as “tax cheats” because they are using the roads and not paying their fair share to do so. But bicycling is “different”.

    But, people love to live by slogan, don’t they?
    You can have fun, though:
    When I was in the army there was a segment of personel who had been assigned to 1st Cavalry Division, and they used to say with whithering codescention, “If you ain’t cav, you ain’t shit”!
    Thinking persons would then reply, “Well then conversely if that statement is true, if you ARE cav, you ARE shit…?” Slogans can bite.

    I actually used to ride dressage, peasure, and I showed horses. Love a three day event. Still work with horses, I help out with the group that takes disabled kids on them for therapy.
    I can tell you one slogan that has a lot of truth to it, there isn’t much better for the inside of a person than the outside of a horse.

  10. Hmmm… I think that I have to give a deposition in Syracuse one of those weeks. Perhaps, an extended holiday to the Adirondacks???

    Re the concerts: there is/was some good talent in the area. JD Crowe’s band produced some top notch pickers.

    Sam Bush, Tony Rice and Ricky Skaggs. Of course, Rick sold out…???

    And, while I love Loretta, is she from the central part of the state? Hell, most blue bloods from the central region consider Appalachian’s as worth little more than contempt.

    jack white and loretta

  11. hmmm… no apostrophe.

  12. Over here in the other part of the state, nobody is saying nuttin’ about the WEG. I did hear of one horsey person excited about the WEG and actually paid full price for tix. She’s going alone because no other horsey people are interested. (But she was a rodeo barrel rider – and that’s not dirty Mr. Manhattan.)

    Taking a bigger picture approach: any state that spends tourism money is stupid. It’s a zero-sum game. KY spends a million dollars to get IN to visit KY, while KY people go to OH, who is spending their money to get PA to visit and PA is off to ME, and they are all staying home.

    Just for shits and giggles, I checked a rate at the Quality Inn – $249 per night – only one room left. QUALITY INN!!!

    @BrettH. The discounting on tix began a month ago -30%.

    Personally, I’m doing my p

  13. Isn’t this what business is based on? You build something and hope people buy it. If there’s no appeal currently for what you’re peddling, create appeal. It doesn’t sound like they’re doing anything about creating appeal. If that video was their attempt, then I can understand the problems. The other issue is pricing. If these idiots are raising their rates to exploit this thing, then of course they’re going to fail.

  14. oops, hit enter by mistake… but I always leave them wanting more.

  15. Spiritual:
    I don’t think the horsey people have been cheering themselves hoarse over the WEG. Keeneland racetrack opens for its three-week fall season while the Games are in progress; it seems to me that many more Lexingtonians are excited about our tradition of thoroughbred racing than about some fancy-ass horse Olympics.

    You may be right about horsey people and doggy people being similar in their enshrinement of their favorite species. (Don’t even get me started on cat lovers.) But for those of us who aren’t obsessed with either, I think that individual dogs do seem to have unique personalities that we can relate to, while horses are pretty much all alike. Aside from racing champions, there’s Trigger and Flicka and My Little Pony and then there are all the others.

    Are you implying that a writer has as much name recognition as an aging movie star? What club do you belong to? Where do I sign up?

    But as W.C. Fields said: Horse sense is a thing a horse has that keeps it from betting on people.

    Also, if you get too attached to a horse, you might have to ride it for eternity.

    I don’t think Loretta Lynn will be performing for the crowds here in Lexington. On the other hand, you can come see Lexington native Laura Bell Bundy, who gets a mention at least once a week in the Herald-Leader. Her first big country hit was “Giddy On Up”, and it should be immediately obvious that her music compares favorably with that pansy-ish European slop composed by, say, Beethoven and Debussy and Verdi.

    Why is it that any business with “Quality” in its name usually has none?

    By the way: I hate to say it, but your comment was “art”-less.

    Many Kentuckians are under the mistaken impression that merely mentioning the name of the state will create a furor of excitement. Some of our most vociferous boosters actually seem to believe their own horseshit.

  16. the chaplain said

    Are you implying that a writer has as much name recognition as an aging movie star?

    I’d say that depends on who the writer and actor are. Given the right combo, such as John Grisham and Harry Morgan, it’s quite possible.

  17. Chappy:
    John Grisham or Harry Morgan?! Talk about a false dichotomy.

  18. As with giving tax incentives to a business, staging a big-time event rarely produces a net profit for whatever locale was conned into it.

    When I concatenate what you wrote:

    Personally, I’m doing my poops, hit enter by mistake… but I always leave them wanting more.

    , it doesn’t really make much sense. I hope.

  19. Des:
    …staging a big-time event rarely produces a net profit for whatever locale was conned into it.
    “Conned” is right. But “big-time” may not be.

  20. Sarge said

    “As with giving tax incentives to a business, staging a big-time event rarely produces a net profit for whatever locale was conned into it.”

    And yet the public at large continually falls for this shit.

    We have in our area a hotel/resort. It is, in fact, quite beautiful, quite historical, but the “periolki” can keep movin’, even though their taxes are the only reason a select few are loading their pockets with it.
    About twenty years ago there was a flood which damaged a lot of property, including some parts of this resort. A few million bucks was available to repair damages, the owners of the resort got most of it, and they simply put it their pockets and walked away. Place sat vacant for years, deteriorated, and a “business group” came in to fix it up. All back taxes excused, federal/state/local grants recieved, tax exempt status ensured, and job done. All they pay in minimum wage to a few of the locals.

    We had a fairly nice park, developer coveted it, and since it would “bring money” to the area, all kinds of efforts were expended to give it to him, and he made out like a fat rat. It cost more to get in than King’s Dominion with about a tenth of the amenities. But he was using it as a tax dodge for another business, so what did he care?

    We do, in fact, have a minor league team, and a stadium. People do attend the games. But very little revenue, if any, comes back to the public sector.
    The “group” that went after this took their time, greased a few wheels. First they took over a field that was a public field, little league played there. Place was falling apart, and since I lived here, the city never had the money to do anything about it. But, suddenly, when the “Rail Kings” came, they got the field and everything, and there was all kinds of money to fix the place up. All public.
    They left after a year, and since then, not a dime is available for the place again.
    But the same gang tried (and succeeded) again, but this time they really went big. Got the stadium, very little expense, and the local gov’ts to strong arm the locals out of their property. And they are getting more of the same. Illegal? No one important really cares.

  21. Sarge:
    Every word of that boils my blood. We rarely encounter strong dichotomies, but I think we can make a case here that the politicos involved in this sort of train wreck either 1) are completely innocent (and not in the good way) to the extent that they are a danger to themselves and others, or 2) they are as corrupt as any cartoon villain. The case you describe happens in hundreds of municipalities every year. It even happens in high profile large venues. The strange thing is that nobody complains about, say, the state government of Indiana dumping truckloads of cash into the pockets of the Pacers franchise without any possibility of a return on their investment. I am not all-knowing, but I don’t recall anyone ever having been charged with any crime in reference to one of these transactions.

  22. That was supposed to be bold, but I suppose I blockquoted it instead. Damn.

  23. Des:

    I fixed your comment. Now the html in this whole string is perfect.

  24. Al Cibiades said

    Larry, I think you misread or misunderstood what I wrote.

    The first paragraph supposes that, whether the event garners the attention and revenue expected, it’ll probably have at least some attendence.

    The second is unrelated, discussing the issue of supply side theory being expressed by “if you build it they will come”. The two weren’t meant to be tied.

  25. Al:
    Every event has at least some attendance. This is America after all. I could watch a cockroach walk across a street and probably six or seven politicians would join me to argue about whether we should give it a tax break.

    I thought supply-side theory said, “If the government doesn’t come, then you will build it.”

  26. cl said

    If you have no idea what the WEG is (are?), you’re probably not alone. I’d never heard of it (them?) until I moved here last October.

    Yeah, that’s kind of a tough one, eh? I probably would have treated it (them?) as an event and then used the singular pronoun: “if you have no idea what the event is… I’d never heard of it until…” I like that you think of these things. Gideon was an excellent writer, too. I miss him [sniffle].

    So I used to live in this town that will remain unnamed, and the same sort of stuff would happen frequently. I hate to say it, but the reality is that empty promises seem to rear their ugly heads out from underneath every facet of our “instant gratification” culture. I really don’t see an end to it, either. From politics to religion to free market economy, so long as some huckster is out there, somebody’s getting hucked.

    On a grander scale, what about the empty promise of justice? Just the other day I heard something revolting: Federal Judge Martin Feldman [appointed by Reagan in 1983(?)] was apparently behind the suspension of President Obama’s moratorium on deep-water drilling. Come to find out, the guy had major assets in companies such as Transocean, BP, et al. and reportedly sold off stocks the day after the decision. Now, we can go one way or the other on the “work vs. the environment” battle that’s raging around this thing, but for me, the salient question is – how in the world is that NOT a conflict of interest?

    Don’t you look around sometimes and think, “We’re doomed?”

  27. Cl:
    Don’t you look around sometimes and think, “We’re doomed?”

    Sure. But corruption, lying, and cheating are nothing new. So there’s nothing unique about America in the 21st century — even our vileness is recycled from the past.

  28. Paul said

    I guess this (NOT filling up all the overinflated price hotel rooms)just goes to show horse fans may be smarter than NASCAR fans.

  29. Paul:
    That comment earned a big laugh from me. It’s odd that the car fans are the ones with blinders on.

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