Wednesday, December 8, 2004

Colors and Politics Are Like Apples and Oranges

photo borrowed from

THE YOUNG MAN I hired to cut the bamboo in my yard is now painting my ceiling. The ceiling is going to be painted orange, the color presently making the rounds of restaurants and fastfood shops in the country, not to mention the streets of Ukraine in an ongoing so-called Orange Revolution. Orange seems also to have only recently become a popular color among makers of button-down-collared short-sleeved shirts (polo shirts) and their buyers. And although gays seemed to have wanted to claim the color in the mid-‘90s as yet another of their flag and sofa/couch colors beside the traditional lavender or the recurrent pink, heterosexuals in their turn seemed to have acted in defiance of the virtual appropriation, thus denying gays the privilege.
    Pink itself has recently been liberated from the gay fences by corporate taste, thanks perhaps to Japanese TQM gurus and their pinku waishatsus and to the members of golf clubs in the US of A sporting pink shirts, to pink films and the Pink Grand Prix, to Pinky ofPinky and the Brain , and to John Edwards' use of John Mellencamp's "Pink Houses" in his presidential campaigning. Pink used to be the official color assigned to socialists in the USA and South Africa---the pinkos , remember?---and was the flag color of Hitler's panzer divisions.
    Deep purple, meanwhile, used to be a hippie band waxing psychedelic rock, but it---the color---was later re-assigned for gay usage, if only for being near lavender. Latinos, however, would every now and then proudly parade the color as a symbol of their race qua masters of color boldness and handling, but more likely because it is a decidedly liturgical color as well as part of the anti-Catholic Second Spanish Republic's flag. It later became the color of feminists, but heterosexual males' interior design plans for their offices are also slowly reclaiming it, as if to reassert the color’s early associations with male royalty. Hippies used the color, too, to allude both to Jesus' royalty or simply for psychedelic completeness. . . . So, having said all the above, what’s obvious is this: the quirky use of colors is almost at the level of people wanting to copyright them, if only they could, and all for certain political statuses.
    Anyway, some of the bamboo I and the young man I hired had earlier cut . . . well, we used them for scaffolding. But I'm still a little embarrassed with the cutting, being in this year and month when the Philippines once again figured in CNN's top three headlines with the news about the flash floods in Quezon province, the Bicol Region, and the Central Luzon area, which killed as many as 400+ Filipinos as of last accounting. A total logging ban was enforced, and I suppose bamboo shouldn’t be exempt if located on hills overlooking towns or otherwise inside flood-prone districts of a city or municipality.
    But in my neighborhood there might be that no-need-to-ask demand for the bamboo to be cut to help, please, the corrugated galvanized iron sheet roofing lengthen its life and likewise save on energy drink required for the daily sweeping of fallen bamboo leaves on my and my neighbor’s lawns. So, the bamboo had to go and found new function.
    The new function was as scaffolding, as we mentioned, initially for some decorative or psychological purpose, the painting of an orange ceiling.

ALL DECORATIVE things are psychological items, the reason why I've always put a premium on decorators in my lifetime, no lower a valuation than my regard for the great men of science and the philosopher-kings. But there are good decorators and bad decorators, or there are good decorations that are not good for you and so therefore do not serve their psychological purpose, unless their purpose is for psychological warfare, decidedly with the intent of hurting someone's eyes and make him want to go to sleep.
    So, back to my orange ceiling. Yellow-orange, to be precise. What are the politics around it, accompanying the politics of the bamboo used for scaffolding? Well, there is the quasi-science around it, the psychology of the d├ęcor. Orange makes you feel warm, a function handy in a city-subdivision that receives constant winds from the Pacific in the east bouncing off the recurrently damp hills in the west with their bamboo and coconut vegetation. One cannot anymore be suspected of being gay with an orange ceiling, unlike five years back when a Boy Abunda would visit the ad agency I worked for and exclaim "this orange sofa of yours is just so . . . gay. Only somebody like that can think of a color like this." Maybe because it was a more pinkish kind of orange, and at least one of our influential bosses was openly gay. No, especially with the proliferation of restaurants and doughnut or burger shops boasting of its supposedly appetite-enhancing function, orange is now for everybody and anybody. Recently also, as we mentioned above, the Ukrainian opposition carried the orange color as its symbol, and CNN averred this was probably intended to avert possible violence in the restless country, for reasons unknown to me. Anyway, orange has chiefly been associated with social democrat, Christian democrat and populist parties, whether liberal conservative- or conservative liberal-leaning. But we can't limit it to that, since in Northern Ireland it's been associated with unionism, while in the Netherlands it's the color of the monarchist right wing. Anyway, there is orange and there’s orange. The saffron kind is usually associated with pain and Hinduism. But put that same color in a Dunkin' Donuts shop and you’d get an entirely different context, more gustatory than yogi-tory. Put the same Dunkin’ Donuts scheme in an Indian shop and it’s another thing again.
    What does all this say? If color can be an indication of a person’s or building’s personality or mood, the opposite is also true---it cannot categorically say anything. The statements of certain persons and establishments can actually re-contextualize a color. If, for example, a neo-Nazi group were to be born somewhere, their displaying an orange flag with a black and white swastika circle in the middle would certainly displace the warmth of orange, as it would the Hinduist sacrifice context the color offers. It will become the new color of disguised or explicit hatred.
    Therefore, I could list down all the values the color orange will reflect into my living room and dining room and bedroom from the ceiling. But what I do in this, my parents' deserted Tacloban house, in the coming days when glossy yellow-orange remains my ceiling's color, will carry all the political and cultural shades of that color to several possibilities. Should I, one night, start throwing plates, hurry out of my orange house challenging my neighbors to some bolo knife-play, the color orange will certainly be stamped in my neighbors’ memories as that color once seen running amok in the city-subdivision. I could be tagged with a new nickname, Datu Oring the Bolo King, or something like that, even if my inspiration for the color was merely the sunset color from the hill in the west that would hit my white kitchen wall from 4pm onwards. I had that wall painted orange and green, too, to sort of meet the sunset orange and mimic the orange and green of the papayas on my kitchen dining table.

I MOST noticed and felt this flexibility in colors, swinging from banal amiability to social assertiveness, in corporate Manila. Manila offices have increasingly become more experimental with coloration. Undoubtedly, office designers of chicness have transformed some of today's offices into friendlier spaces.
    But, again, it all depends. Unsmiling faces manning the receptionist's or customer service desks could turn the whole atmospheric amiability of colors into a sort of fearsome plastic Trojan horse that, from your offended point of view, could suddenly look contrived, merely in it to get your approval. You'd then step back and withdraw your application or customership.
    A beautiful office with probably the best feng shui design may suddenly expose labor restlessness, quickly converting the friendly-colored establishment into a political arena containing mental gladiators and lions and possible blood vampires. Conversely, the worst-dressed lady executive despised by all for wearing that cheap perfume of hers on her horrifying violet and flowers-patterned office dress may actually suddenly turn out to be the champion of a corporation's workforce and become the union's heroine, her abominable coloration there instantly turning adorable.
    There are colors, on objects, that carry "intrinsic" psychological or cultural values. Such as those universal carriers of color-moods as fruits---for instance, the papayas we mentioned. However, there are also mental colors in gestures and body and facial language and in speech that will synaesthetically blend with the visual colors of the physical surround of any establishment during these human-derived movements' moments of special assertions. And that combination will be noticed, consciously or subconsciously, for a logical conclusion---much like how premises function for logic. Thus, perfect black worn by yuppies in coffeeshops makes for a different mood and signification against the fading black worn by those rock music fans who can’t afford P30 beers. Beyond black's classiness as well as silent dissent, that difference transcends the color's umbrella meaning, or rather divides it. The black of corporate people are usually new black, while punk and grunge rockers and underpaid artists may favor---for obvious reasons---the fading kind of lamp black that’s almost just soot. But yet, notice that when the yuppie wears the faded black color and the rogue rocker wears the perfect black one, neither the yuppie's yuppieness nor the rocker's rogueness changes, in the same way that a rich kid studying at Ateneo de Manila University won't exactly get his image changed by a pair of jeans ripped at a knee.
    Let us place ourselves in a fine arts college. A student who is often seen in light gray shirts could be regarded as a drab young person. After a certain college recognition of his prolificacy and creativity, however, the gray becomes a symbol of a modesty and moderation blanketing a flamboyance in his inner person. Most successful painters, after all, avoid colorful clothing in the same way that models pick up their blue jeans and white t-shirts after a glamorous ramp show.
    Ultimately, therefore, in the same sense that the BAD feng shui of an owner's soul may overshadow the GOOD feng shui of his building and office, a nicely-painted house may anytime be overwhelmed by a horrifying behavior from its inhabitants.
    Colors and you. The you will be the achievement, the colors the mere psychological facade. The colors you choose, with their politics and psychological effect, could speak of a truth about you, but also possibly a lie.
    I suggest we save money for the re-coloring of our houses and lives as our lives move forward, all in the service of truth---it is this truth, after all, that can in a blink of an eye re-contextualize the politics around a color.
    But I grant that a welcoming color is apt for guest-welcoming in a house. But, then, many offices (and some restaurants) also operate on lies! So, be careful with the contextual predetermination of your domestic use of oranges and apple greens. For, remember, that warning has proved true for the past's use of political colors. ###

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