Fair's long traditions make room for digital invasion

PHILADELPHIA – In some ways, the Neshoba County Fair seems like a step back in time, with folks leaning up against trees and talking politics while candidates speak from the stump.
But these days, the video cameras and smartphones throughout the grounds make it obvious that the fair is also fully immersed in the here and now.
Called Mississippi’s Giant House Party, the Magnolia State staple for politics and good times has roots dating back to the late 1890s.
While today’s fair has preserved a part of rural culture – from mule races to political speeches under a tin-roof pavilion – it seems to have easily embraced another world: the digital age.
During political speaking at the fair on Wednesday and Thursday, plenty of fairgoers tweeted their political analysis as well as gossip and some play-by-play.
Whether reporting on Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller telling a dog joke or filming candidate footage for YouTube, fairgoers brought the old world of red dirt and tin roof together with live tweets and future Internet footage.
Marty Wiseman, director of the Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University, said various electronic media used by a number of fair attendees will preserve moments captured for a long time, for better or worse.
Politicians speaking at the fair want to capture moments that show them delivering a strong line during a speech, but they are also aware of the liabilities.
“If you get up there and get the heck booed out of you, it hurts,” Wiseman said.
However, few speeches this year drew many notable jeers.
On the other hand, it’s also easy to record video of cheering supporters and upload it to the Internet.
“If you can get it,” Wiseman said, “it can go viral.”
More than ever, this year’s Neshoba County Fair found politicians embracing the world of Twitter, Facebook and viral videos. As candidates spoke and walked throughout the fair-grounds, someone holding a video camera often followed.
Morgan Baldwin, general consultant for 1st District congressional hopeful Alan Nunnelee, said the campaign recorded the candidate’s speech Wednesday to post online.
“A lot of people aren’t able to be there and see what’s going on,” Baldwin said. “The ability to go online and see Senator Nunnelee talk about what’s important to the people of North Mississippi is key.”
Along with online video footage, Nunnelee updated his Facebook status and tweeted throughout his time at the fair.
When asked about the possibility of getting caught on video at the fair, state insurance commissioner Mike Chaney didn’t sound too worried, especially since his office already uses YouTube to help inform the public.
“It’s a part of it all now,” Chaney said.
For Brandon Presley, Northern District Public Service Commissioner who made a brief appearance at the fair, allowing more people to participate in politics only strengthens the process.
“People can post their own stuff,” said Presley. “I think it’s wonderful for democracy.”

Robbie Ward is a graduate student in public policy and administration at Mississippi State University and a former Daily Journal reporter. He can be reached at (662) 418-4290 or starkvillecityjail@gmail.com

Robbie S. Ward/Special to the Daily Journal