It’s not fair!


Is life fair?  Are teenagers right?  Well, it might be helpful if we knew what it means to be fair.  So here is an exploration of fairness.

For me the first thing that comes to mind is “fair of face”.  Fair hair is pale hair and a fair face is supposed to be a pretty one.  Is paleness pretty?

This is probably a hangover from the days when a tan was something to look down upon, especially in women. Peasants who worked in the fields all day had dark skin.  Only high-born ladies could afford to stay out of the sun.  In Eastern kingdoms such as Arabia and India the women were even locked away.  A harem or seraglio was a display of wealth by a lord, and he could afford to keep fair skinned beauties who never pulled a plough or harrowed a furrow.

Fair hair is an oddity.  In a world of brown and black hair the blond tresses of northern Europe are an anomaly.  It is the rarity of fair hair that makes it interesting (outside of Sweden).  In this sense the teenagers have it right, the world is not fair.  The world is black, brown and mouse.

So, is it good if the world is fair?  Well, I guess it is when fair is a positive thing.  We all like to pay a fair price and if we do a fair days work we want a fair days pay.

A fair fight is one where each side has the same chance.  The promise of the US Army to its soldiers is “we will never put you in a fair fight” which for a soldier is fair enough.

If someone is a fair judge we think him to be balanced, dispassionate and even-handed.  We would like a fair judge unless, of course, we are guilty.

But fair can mean more than proportionate.  Someone earning a fair income is probably earning more than me.  She probably has a fair chunk of change.  A fair feed will leave you full and a fair few drinks will leave you three sheets to the wind.  In this sense “fair” seems to be shorthand for “fairly large”.

In sailing parlance fair certainly means good.  Fair weather denotes a dry day absent of gales, storms, squalls or other nasty things.  But it does not mean “flat calm” because that has negative connotations for sailors and yachties.  We love a fair wind because that will allow us to make a fair speed.  A fair wind is a combination of a brisk wind and one in the right direction.  A brisk wind against us is a headwind.  Nothing fair about headwinds.

A fair is also a good day out.  Fair days in rural communities were traditionally the planned days for selling and buying of stock.  Cattle fairs, horse fairs etc.  To serve the needs of the farmers and herders a fair day was served by all manner of eateries where you could get a meal.  And because a man who makes a big sale deserves a drink or two there was always a party atmosphere at a fair.  Kids could bank on getting a few pennies to spend on sweets, and often, for rural families, it was an opportunity to stock up on clothes, goods, shop bought foodstuffs and the little luxuries of life.

Most real stock sales have moved from fairs to marts.  The stock fair has turned into the County Fair.  Modern fairs have all manner of competitions, judging stock, baking, home crafts, food preserves etc.  Larger ones have carnival rides and stalls.

The fair has evolved into the fairground, a big attraction for the teenager.  So if you say that life is not fair, does that mean you don’t want to go, or you don’t get to go to enough fairs?

Fair can carry negative connotations too.  A fair weather friend is not worth much in the great scheme of things.  Parents are seldom impressed by teenagers who receive a “Fair” on their report.  We would much rather see words like Good, Very Good, Excellent, Outstanding, Distinction etc.  “Fair” is only camping on the doorstep of “Poor”.

So what is fair?  We haven’t even spoken of the added confusion of Fare which could be food, a fee or indeed anything served up to us.  I hope you have found this particular fare to be fair, whatever that may mean for you.

Fair enough?

She Moved Through the Fair; lyric (part) by Padraic Colum

My young love said to me,
My mother won’t mind
And my father won’t slight you
For your lack of kind.
And she stepped away from me
And this she did say:
It will not be long, Love,
Till our wedding day.

She stepped away from me
And she moved through the fair
And fondly I watched her
Move here and move there.
And then she made her way homeward,
With one star awake,
As the swan in the evening
Moved over the lake.

The people were saying,
No two e’er were wed
But one had a sorrow
That never was said.
And I smiled as she passed
With her goods and her gear,
And that was the last
That I saw of my dear

Last night she came to me,
My dead love came in.
So softly she came
That her feet made no din.
As she laid her hand on me,
And this she did say:
It will not be long, love,
‘Til our wedding day.


Cowboy Advertising


There is a great story told in the Leo Burnett Advertising agency about how the boss created the Marlboro Cowboy campaign.  As with all ad agency stories, it has a smidgen of truth masking a lot of fuzzy reality.  The story is that Philip Morris invented a new cigarette, with a filter tip and a crush proof box.  Leo Burnett pointed out that the innovations would be copied within 6 months.  Instead he came back with an image of a rugged cowboy, and the legend of the Marlboro Cowboy was born.

The truth is that the tobacco companies were well aware of the health implications of cigarettes.  Filters were an approach to cleaning up their act.  But filters were seen as unmanly, they were for women.  Marlboro was originally marketed as being “Mild as May”.

Burnett realised that any concession to “health benefits” would simply raise the looming specter of the long term damaging effects of the product.  So he wanted to avoid talking about the filter.  To make the filter acceptable to men he designed a campaign that would show “manly men” smoking Marlboro.  The Cowboys were supposed to be followed by Sea Captains, Weightlifters, Construction workers.  Sort of like an early version of YMCA, a homoerotic muscle man revue (in retrospect anyway).

What happened is that the Cowboy succeeded beyond expectations, and you don’t fix what ain’t broke.  So the Cowboy became Marlboro.  Ad agencies never admit that their successes are accidental, but the truth is, you need a hefty dose of luck on top of all your good planning and design work to make an iconic campaign.

The cowboy is a symbol.  That is the secret of the success.  In the same way as we talk about the heart, but really mean love, when we talk about the cowboy we really mean freedom, adventure, excitement.  It is a male fantasy of escape from the drudgery of the job and the responsibilities of mortgage, bills and the hassles of family life.  This escape fantasy is personified by the cowboy, or the drover.  You will find it in the Banjo Patterson poem “Clancy of the Overflow”, Eric Bogle’s song “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” and in the Irish poem below.

The Drover; by Padraic Colum

To Meath of the pastures,
From wet hills by the sea,
Through Leitrim and Longford
Go my cattle and me.
I hear in the darkness
Their slipping and breathing.
I name them the bye-ways
They’re to pass without heeding.
Then the wet, winding roads,
Brown bogs with black water;
And my thoughts on white ships
And the King o’ Spain’s daughter.
O! farmer, strong farmer!
You can spend at the fair
But your face you must turn
To your crops and your care.
And soldiers—red soldiers!
You’ve seen many lands;
But you walk two by two,
And by captain’s commands.
O! the smell of the beasts,
The wet wind in the morn;
And the proud and hard earth
Never broken for corn;
And the crowds at the fair,
The herds loosened and blind,
Loud words and dark faces
And the wild blood behind.
(O! strong men with your best
I would strive breast to breast
I could quiet your herds
With my words, with my words.)
I will bring you, my kine,
Where there’s grass to the knee;
But you’ll think of scant croppings
Harsh with salt of the sea.