The Color of Conspiracy

I wasn’t going to write any more this morning. But I did.

What color is a black object? That’s an interesting question whose answer is beyond my capacity to fully comprehend, much less explain. An object that absorbs all visible light appears black. Experts on color call black an achromatic color, a color without hue (so, it is a color, huh?). But if black objects absorb all visible light, when we see a black object, are we “seeing” the absence of reflected light? That is, are we seeing a gaping hole in the spectrum of visible light? Another question that rests just beyond my mental capacity to fully fathom is this: if a black object absorbs all visible light, is that object a vessel of visible light? Where does all that visible light go when it gets absorbed by the object? And how does one know an object is actually “there” if it does not reflect any light? And, if it’s true that a black object absorbs all visible light, when we view a black object, are we in fact viewing darkness, beyond which is a hidden collection of visible light?

It’s interesting to me that, when I enter a completely darkened room after having been in a room full of light, I can see absolutely nothing; I see blackness or darkness or emptiness. As my eyes adjust to the absence of light, though, I might be able to see something; the edge of a piece of furniture, for example. That means, of course, the dark room isn’t really dark; it’s just extremely dim. But what about that room in which there is absolutely no light of any kind? A tiny pinpoint of light at the end of a microscopically thin fiber-optic cable would be instantly visible in that darkness. Light instantly overcomes darkness. Try the opposite though: enter a room ablaze with light and look for the end of a fiber-optic cable that isn’t transmitting light. You won’t find it, at least not easily. Darkness does not overcome light. Obviously, the symbolism is not lost on me.

Consider this: as you read black text on a white page (or black text on a white screen), you are translating the absence of reflected light into words. The white page (or screen) means nothing until tiny strips of reflected light are peeled away, revealing a code you’ve been taught to translate into thoughts. It’s like magic, but with more power. You might imagine the white page or screen covers a field of black; scrape away fragments of white and you reveal knowledge hidden beneath. But if all the white fragments are removed, nothing but meaningless blackness remains. Understanding the code requires witnessing a complex dance between black and white. Thinking about this for long could make my head explode, so perhaps I should step away from the white screen for a moment.

I often refer to grey as dark white or light black. Not that my characterization of color (or, perhaps, off-color?) matters, of course. And, by the way, what is the proper spelling of grey? I much prefer to use the letter ‘e’ in my grey. Others seem to think the letter ‘a’ is the one and only proper way to spell the word. According to, “…gray is the more popular spelling in the US, while grey reigns supreme in the UK as well as Ireland, Australia, and other places that use British English.” That distinction notwithstanding, I’ll stick with grey.

Speaking of colors (or, since I use the preferred British spelling of grey, maybe I should say colours), the shifting popularity of colors intrigues me. I vaguely remember a time when the pairing of pink and black was wildly popular. Or maybe I remember reading about it (it may have been before my time). Regardless of when, there was such a time. And avocado green and harvest gold appliances were all the rage in the 1960s and 1970s. Why? I’m of the opinion that manufacturers and marketers have more control over our lives than we’d like to think. My theory is that manufacturers pay top dollar to people who have the wherewithal to influence the masses (the rest of us). When refrigerators and stoves and washers and dryers lasted longer than they do today (before engineered obsolescence and product demise were perfected), manufacturers hired these influencers to sell the idea that happiness required harvest gold and avocado appliances. Perfectly good white washers and dryers and ranges and ovens and refrigerators were discarded in favor of appliances sold under the guise of happiness-inducing devices. The cycle continues to be repeated, for some reason, even now when appliances tend to last only months instead of decades. Stainless steel (I call it burnished grey) became a symbol of the American dream, and remains so, even though fingerprints tend to ruin appliances’ appearance within days of purchase. Liquids sold as stainless steel polishes take care of fingerprints for several minutes before streaks begin to appear, never to be overcome regardless of how much liquid is used and how much polishing takes place. I noticed it, too; I’ve gone wildly off track. Stainless steel (burnished grey) may not be a legitimate color, though its appearance and its popularity suggests it has some relationship to color popularity. Okay, that’s where I was going.

For a time, and perhaps still, black appliances were quite popular. I suspect that was an artifact of the planet’s transition through its dark night of the soul, though that stage may yet occur in earnest. Seriously, I suspect black was popular because the “color influencers” decided to sell black appliances as “edgy.” It’s no surprise to me that many of the black appliances were found in architecturally modern homes, pure symbols of edginess. By the way, I am a huge fan of modern home design, which I define as reminiscent of the styles of Mies van der Rohe, Philip Johnson, and some of the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. There are no doubt others; I’m not particularly knowledgeable about architects and architecture. My housing style preference notwithstanding, I’m not a fan of black appliances. I actually like stainless steel, though, except I’d probably prefer a stainless steel “look” to the actual stainless steel, thanks to the fingerprint and polish issues discussed above.

Aside from conspiratorial marketing and manufacturing, why do we tend to gravitate, collectively, toward certain color palates? Paint manufacturers, of course, hire the same color influencers, by the way, that the appliance makers use. But, again, aside from conspiracy, why does the obvious color synchronicity take place? Wall colors seem to go through the same sorts of phases. Sage green. Grey. Beige. Remember the washed pastels that defined “Southwestern” design in the 1980s? Even wood furniture was treated with pink color washes; we own such a piece to this day.  No, I don’t think there’s anything else. The conspirators are manipulating us. They have been since day one. We simply follow their subliminal instructions and lap up their directions. We like what they want us to like. We abandon old color palates in favor of new ones because we’re told to do it. Fail to act as instructed? Prepare to be shunned, at best, by the fashion police. Or to be raided by fashion interventionists who take on the personas of family and friends, urging us to adapt to the “new ways” or be forever cast as sticks in the mud; change-averse dinosaurs destined to extinction.

It’s not just appliances and wall colors. It’s clothes, too. Both style and color. Our options are limited. Buy what “they” sell or do without. Or buy used appliances, old or unpainted houses, and used clothing. Or go without. I’m not prepared to go without a refrigerator or a stove or a roof over my head, but I’m a proponent of going without clothes. I’ve written  about the appeal of nudity, so I won’t go into detail now. But nudity, shed of its titillating ‘naughtiness,’ has enormous appeal. The idea is so freeing! Now, when considering color in the context of the human form, one has to acknowledge that many natural colors do not appear on color wheels. We simply have no way of describing the incalculable number of colors one finds on a single human body, much less on the bodies of billions. Different pigments, different environments, and different foods all contribute to variations in skin color that exceed (in my opinion) the number of colors cataloged by all the color-wheel manufacturers in all the land. Yet some cosmetics manufacturers have the temerity to label their products’ color as “nude.” The gall!

I say we all gather in the streets, nude, and demand an end to corporate color oppression.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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