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Why The State Fair of Texas Doesn’t Seem That Fair To Me

by Gip Plaster on October 18th, 2011

State fairs, carnivals, home and garden shows and similar vendor-oriented events don’t seem very fair to me. They don’t seem very simple, deliberate or intelligent either.

In fact, they’re really just massive collections of people trying to take advantage of each other, aren’t they?

There’s some fun involved, of course, but there is also lots of commercialism, plenty of shady business practices and an unhealthy dose of overindulgence, overspending and overtaxing our out-of-shape bodies.

That said, I went to the State Fair of Texas last Wednesday.

It Was Fun, But…

Since it was discount day, we paid nearly nothing to get in. We didn’t buy anything other than a 24-pack of AA alkaline batteries (a $3.49 loss-leader at a tool tent), a $5 mound of fried potatoes and two $2 bottles of tea.

We didn’t fall victim to the commercialism, and the three of us enjoyed the day. We saw two shows from one of my favorite bands, a celtic rock group called the Killdares, and an hour from Shoot Low Sheriff, an old-fashioned Western Swing band. The shows were great, and they were the reason we went.

The other events of the day were a bit sad, as they always are when you visit a place with lots of vendors.

Sensodyne toothpaste took us into a booth and asked us if we had sensitive teeth. (No, as it turns out, we don’t.) We stuck pretzels in lots of little bowls of cream cheese dip and determined that none of them had much taste. We heard passing sales pitches for many different fancy pans, and we saw some guy pushing the same dirt back and forth along a floor tile with an ineffective rubber broom.

We didn’t fall for anyone’s sales pitch, and we didn’t see many other people falling victim either. Maybe those of us with lives uncomplicated enough to visit a fair on a weekday are the ones smart enough to avoid life’s sales pitches.

It’s All A Bit Sad

Still, isn’t the whole purpose of the fair for people to take advantage of each other?

Every vendor wants your money, and most of them know their products either don’t work, work poorly or only work in the hands of an experienced professional demonstrator.

And then there’s the midway, a place we missed completely this trip. For a few dollars per toss, throw or shot, you can try to knock down or nudge over something that months of research has proven rarely falls. For your efforts, you get something that’s worth much less than the price of a single turn and sometimes too large to carry through a fairground.

A fairground is one of the few places where it isn’t considered rude for people to actually call out to you, begging you to play, buy or try something.

Fairgoers, on the other hand, hope to beat carnies at their own games.

They also hope they can find great products that no one knows about to make their difficult chores and overstressed lives easier. But if there were such miraculous devices, wouldn’t Walmart have swiped them up for their stores?

It’s all very crass, commercial, complicated and… pathetic, actually, isn’t it?

A Better Way Of Life

By way of full disclosure, I come from a long line of sellers of useless items. My parents owned a gift shop and so did some other relatives, so I know a thing or two about uselessness. No one was forcing anyone to buy anything at my family’s business, however.

I even think the life of a traveling vendor might be fun. The idea of setting up a little booth with my wares and selling them directly to the end consumer — eliminating the nonsense of middle men and distribution chains — sound a bit romantic to me. I could live that life. Never mind that most fair vendors are just distributors for big corporations.

I have integrity, however, so I could never really live the traveling-vendor life.

For many people, fairs, concerts and plays are escapes from an everyday life that’s boring, stressful or at least predictable.

As my life improves in quality and meaningfulness, I find fewer reasons to let others entertain me. I could be writing instead of watching this, I think. I could be doing something instead of just watching something.

I still love British television comedies and dramas, and I have a passion for live, local music. But I don’t have to watch every episode or see every set anymore.

I don’t always need someone else to entertain me — or to try to take advantage of me.

For me, a better way of life is to limit interactions with systems and situations that conflict with my values and increase the time I spend creating things.

Do you enjoy a good fair? If so, there are a few more days of the State Fair of Texas left, and it’s supposed to be one of the biggest and best fairs in the world.

Or would you rather actually do something?

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18 Comments
  1. I always like the stage shows at fairs. If you want entertainment, turn the midway into a game. I like to play one called “what’s the come-on, what’s the con, and why can’t you win”.

    “What’s the come-on” is how you get sucked in. Identify the lines they’re using that are designed to push your buttons.

    “What’s the con” and “why can’t you win” involve identifying the reasons you’ll have a hard time winning, and (if applicable) identifying how the vendor makes it look super-easy when they demonstrate it.

    On balance, I just ignore the product pitches – or I play the same game as above. It’s a good education in how people manipulate others.

    I recall rapidly running my finger back and forth over the blade of a knife that was supposedly “razor sharp” once, and showing it to a few interested onlookers. No blood, no cut, no nothing.

    Go for the music, get some of the fair food that you really don’t get the rest of the year (funnel cakes and cotton candy come to mind), and if you enjoy the rides (I always did as a kid) then spend the few bucks on the ones you like.

    But then get out of there – “nothing to see here people, move along.” :)
    Robert Wall recently posted Making Waves With Pebbles Of Gratitude (Shift415)

    • Fun idea.

      I forgot about the funnel cakes! They’re great when they’re fresh. Jack in the Box now has passable ones. They’re tiny and greasy, but they’re the same idea.

      Here, Fletcher’s “Corny Dogs’ — corn dogs for the more sophisticated among us — are the big deal, but they’re terrible. If you must eat corn dogs — and I don’t anymore — there’s a State Fair brand at the grocery store that’s much better.

      Gip

  2. Robin permalink

    I like the animal competitions–the sheep and pigs, cows, horses. It’s fun for me to compare the different entries and try to determine why that cow won over the other (kinda like Robert’s deciphering of the con or come-on–it involves thinking or observing).

    I also like the junk food that I don’t eat otherwise.

    • We rarely see any animals when we go. I guess there are a few there. I don’t actually like most of the junk food, so that’s easy for me to avoid.
      Gip

  3. I go to the fair to see new acts I would not otherwise find. And I visit the crafts displays to admire other people’s talents and maybe pick up some ideas of things I could make. But I limit myself to one junk food per visit which is easy at the Minnesota State Fair because they have booths that sell fresh fruit, steaks, and turkey. I do buy food because I go mid morning and stay until closing. There’s also an all-you-can-drink milk booth but I’m allergic to milk so I don’t do that one. I don’t go to the Midway at all. Other than food, the only thing I buy is an occasional CD from a music group new to me that I enjoyed hearing so want to support. I don’t go to the fair every year but I enjoy my time there when I do go.
    Linda Sand recently posted Finished, Part 1

    • Bands are my favorite reason to go too. I don’t really like looking at crafts, but there are plenty to see if the mood strikes me.

      I understand that the Minnesota State Fair is as big a deal as the Texas one, and that you have a gopher that greats you instead of an old man who talks really slowly.

      Gip

  4. I’ve only been to the county fair a couple of times in the 10 years since I left my job that required set up/manning an educational booth. When I do go, I enjoy the quilts, animals and other entries, but I avoid the commercial building like the plague.
    Crystal recently posted DIY Hair Donation – Who Knew?

    • The State Fair here has recipe competitions and things like that, but they’re never happening when I’m there. Those seem like genuinely good fun. I admit that I find the commercial buildings slightly interesting at times, but they’re mostly just as sad as a casino when the buses from the retirement homes arrive.
      Gip

  5. There’s no doubt purchasing items has become a recreational sport. It’s scary. I have no comprehension what a US Fair is like in reality so cannot comment on that. I do relate to Linda’s comment about picking up ideas – that’s what I do when window shopping – think ‘Oh I could make one of those’.
    Why I’m chiming in is because I have considered a post around advertising and why it’s turning me into a grumpy old woman – but now I can get it off my chest here instead. There’s a commercial over here in the UK that states ‘don’t you just despair when your plug in air freshener stops working’ (highly paraphrased – can’t find exact quote). Hang on I’ve found it on a forum elsewhere it’s ‘Are you disappointed when you stop noticing your plug-in?’. How funny the commenter on the forum then continues to comment it’s the most stupid statement they’ve ever heard. It seems I’m not alone in my opinion!
    Watching a good ‘foodie’ documentary today it was rudely interrupted by someone on an advert explaining ‘how to pay for Christmas’ – and there was me thinking Christmas was a national holiday? Didn’t realise I had to buy ‘Christmas’. Anyway enough rambling :)

    • I would guess our fairs are very similar to the ones there. I do often think “I could do that” or “my mother used to sell those” or “I tried one of those one time”.

      The worst commercial I’ve seen here at the moment ask if your pelvic mesh has caused an infection of if your bladder sling has eaten into the walls of your bladder. Those are times when despair might actually be appropriate.
      Gip

      • The toothpaste commercials are driving me nuts also at the moment over here. They’ve moved on from cleaning the actual tooth (and preventing gum disease) to discussing (and scaring everyone to death) the 70% of the tooth below the gum. I have no idea how you access it to clean as I cannot watch the advert through disbelief. How do they manage to sell us “S**t we don’t need”?(to quote Tyler Durden!)
        Jo@simplybeingmum recently posted We’re Having A ‘Use It Up Week’!

  6. Ah, grasshopper, you have reached that stage of consciousness where you analyse experiences and wonder how so many people have fun doing the most illogical things.

    You may never simply enjoy any mainstream activity again! :-)

    Enjoy my own path down fun-spoiler lane with http://minimalistmum.blogspot.com/2011/10/professional-sports-are-rigged.html
    Jess@miniMum recently posted Welcome Summer! Easy frugal fatfree vegan banana ice cream

    • I’m afraid I’ve always over-analyzed things, so I’ve been headed down the never-satisfied path for many years! Thanks for commenting, Jess.
      Gip

  7. I recently attended the semi-annual “Cotton Pickin’ Fair” in Gay, GA. I go because my sister likes it and we don’t spend much time together. I don’t hate it but you are correct in that we are constantly being asked to buy something. My sister loves the food. Our routine: Head first to the fried green tomatoes, then to the hotdogs. I usually get a dog but don’t finish it. I can’t enjoy myself walking around with a full stomach…LOL.
    My favorite part is the “antiques”. It’s been years since I bought anything but about 10 years ago I picked up a very old typewriter. The big black ones from about the 30′s. I splurged $50.00 it. That was when I was “working for the man” and made a good salary. Now I’m a fulltime writer and it sits on my desk. I’m glad I bought it back when I could afford it.
    My sister mainly goes for the food. I have a friend that runs a puppet theatre each time and that’s enjoyable and I visit with him when I go. I don’t really like it because, like you said….sell….sell….sell. It reminds me of the “old me” that used to have to buy things to feel fulfilled and by the time I got the stuff home it was just more clutter.
    Good post; food for thought.
    Joni
    Joni Brown recently posted Women in the Continental Army

    • Thanks, Joni. Fortunately, fair food has always seemed just that to me… fair. I enjoy seeing and doing things, not eating weird stuff.

      I never bought to feel fulfilled, I just felt unfulfilled. When I have had more money, however, I’ve managed to find ways to spend it.
      Gip

  8. I can proudly declare that in over thirty years in the Phoenix area, and some of that time even living within walking distance of the Fairgrounds, I have never been to the State Fair. Midway games and overpriced fried food items of questionable edibility (this year they are advertising fried maggots!) never interested me. None of the musical acts have never sufficiently interested me to brave the crowds.

    That said, I don’t mind swap meets, including ones with smaller and/or local commercial vendors, and I can usually tell which ones are selling snake oil.
    Mike | Homeless On Wheels recently posted Simplifying Email Saves Time

    • One of the other advantages of going to the state fair on a weekday is that it isn’t as crowded. And fortunately or unfortunately, I’ve been enough times to know how to get directly to the best parking areas. I’m not sure if I’m proud of that or not.
      Gip

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