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The Canadian National Exhibition – The CNE – The Grand Old Lady on Lakeshore Boulevard – The X. Going to the X today. Off to the CNE looking for traces of something that may not exist anymore: a piece of architecture, a fading scent, the trace of a skyline or a sense or sound reminiscent of another time. It all means something else today, but it hints at things that were. There are ghosts on the old fairground. Every time I go I’m looking for ghosts. Maybe that’s just another trick of perspective. Look at a thing where you stood, now look again from where you stand and it’s become something else, a new illusion posing as reality. The shifting point of reference can be distance, angle, or time. But then, all three are one and the same. It’s the parallax lesson. The CNE was an anachronism when I first met her. The modern sheen of post-war optimism was a thin veil over her agricultural fair heritage. You could still smell the manure in most buildings.
Who really goes to the CNE? More importantly, who should be going? The X is trying to target that narrow band of late teens with money to spend. It’s geared to the short attention span and the digital ethos of instant boredom. That’s an audience that can’t be lured, can’t be bought. Nothing short of a power failure could pry them from their keyboards and plasma screens. Each new wave of fixers hoping to breathe new life into the Grand Old lady want to remake her in today’s image, revitalize her, make her relevant when ultimately, her most alluring attraction has always been that she’s irrelevant. Relevancy means you’ve seen it all before, seen it faster, better and likely in 3-D. Turn the X instead into a curiosity. These days, no one can keep up with the business of looking ahead. By the time you can present something new, it’s already old. Instead, give us something that everyone’s forgotten or maybe remembers dimly from a childhood long past.