Tuesday, April 21, 2020

CHROMOPHOBIA – The Fading of America

Did you know that some animals can see only in black and white? I suppose that speaks to the economical manner in which Nature divvies out her gifts. Why, for example, waste color perception on bats, whose sonar can pinpoint a mosquito in total darkness?

I’m happy that we human beings are not among that achromatopsic number. Creation must have figured we’d need color vision to distinguish between fair and forbidding skies, and between poisonous and benign critters.

And, now that we’ve evolved a bit, color perception may not save our lives, but it does set us apart from other species, allowing us to experience beauty and awe. To express ourselves. To make art.

    Once those vibrant hues strike my cornea,
    it seems my optic nerve transmits them right
    to my soul.

I love color. I’ve often written about it as another form of nourishment for me. But, sadly, being a Minnesotan, much of Nature’s show of color is stolen for about six months a year. With the exception of the occasional cardinal or chartreuse parka, winter’s pretty much a gray-scale affair up here.

Sally’s and my annual late-winter escape to Mexico feels like a feast to me—a smorgasbord of color. The animals and birds, people’s clothing, the sea…even the buildings. Once those vibrant hues, in all their values and shades, strike my cornea, it seems my optic nerve bypasses my brain and transmits them right to my soul.

I don’t like the the narrow spectrum of color we entertain in much of U.S. culture, especially up here in the stoic, Germanic- and Norse-influenced northland. Nine out of ten Minnesotans not only paint their houses white, gray or tan, but apply the same esthetic to their clothing. Alas, for many of us even our skin dares no color.

Over the past few decades, my appetite for color has also been increasingly denied by the car industry. Look for yourself; pick any parking lot, any random stretch of freeway traffic. Before you come to a car with any color worth looking at, you’ll count off at least ten with none. White, gray, dark gray and black.

Reminds me of my all-time favorite broadside by a film critic: She managed to portray the scope of raw human emotion ranging from A to....B.

Hello! Life is not a black-and-white movie.

I wonder if there’s not a parallel between our tastes in color and other facets of our culture. For example, might the steady surge in the number of post-apocalyptic novels and films stem from the same dreary pessimism that our color choices do? Or vice versa?

In music, might the trajectory of heavy metal, goth and rap be mirroring the dystopian darkness seen in other aspects of art and design?

It’s gotten to the point where, when I’m out walking, I’ll sometimes stop next to a car with real color and just marvel at it, in all its rich, super-saturated, mica-flecked glory.

I hate to tell you, my chromophobe friends, but a little color can go a long ways toward brightening these otherwise dark, dreadful days. Besides, black and white is not who you are. You know you're more colorful than that.

So if you have a truly vivid jacket, or sweater, or skirt (maybe leftovers from some long-gone fashion craze), put it on for your next walk—or even if no one's going to see you but your cat. Maybe just a bright scarf. And wear some lipstick—if that’s something you’ve perhaps let slide during the quarantine.

Fly your flag, be it the Stars and Stripes, a rainbow banner or that of your favorite football team. String up your Christmas lights. Nothing fancy; maybe just a colorful smile shape. Break out that gaudy flamingo and stick in your nascent garden.

And while you’re at it, trade in that ghastly, ho-hum family sedan for a hot-pink Bimmer. What do you think?

Spring flowers, verdant trees and lush lawns will be emerging soon to cheer us. Come late June, those of us with white skin might gain a little color there too. Then maybe we can put away the show of color we donned to brighten our sheltering-in-place…o-o-or…we could paint the house orange.


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