There are symbols and signs – some open some coded – that push us toward one thing or away from another. One of the most overlooked of these is color. We may not realize it, but the political and natural world is full of secret messages based on color and hue that are not only guiding us, but purposefully so. And those who understand the special properties of colors can and do use them for their own politically charged games and intrigue.
A Blue Wave?
From our advertisements to our social media usage, by way of carefully presented thematic episodes, we are under a barrage of information … and that information is crafted to persuade. Have you ever wondered why the likes of Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Periscope, LinkedIn, and so many others all have blue as their dominant color? It’s no coincidence.
Blue represents something, in this case: communication and calm. Blue is what’s known as a background color; it doesn’t get in your face and, therefore, promotes calmness and gives users a sense of peace … that they are somewhere they should be. It also helps that blue is the color that both men and women prefer.
Blue – and occasionally black – is also the color that, during the ancient Chinese Shu Dynasty, was required to be worn by all those regular folks of the civilian classes. Brighter colors were allowed only for high-ranking officials, and of course, the Emperor, who was the only one permitted to wear yellow. So blue became almost a badge of working-class roots. Mandarins would often wear just a hint of blue in the form of a feather or a gem to show that despite their lofty appointment, they were still one of the people … very handy in a country that is prone to revolution and uprising.
Red V. Blue
And what of the present political system? We associate blue with the Democratic Party. It’s an emotive color in some ways because of the imagery we associate with it. When politicos talk of a “blue wave,” they mean a powerful force of nature, but also one that will resettle into an ocean of calm. “Blue-sky thinking” provides an unconscious connection that attempts to persuade us that Democrats are the party of the “grand idea,” which has never before been tried – except, of course, that it has.
To uncover the roots of American colors, it’s important to look back in history at the British political parties and their color schemes.
In the United Kingdom, blue is the color of the Conservative Party, and in fact, is the color used by many right-leaning political outfits around the world. But the Conservatives, or Tories, were more or less forced into this color by one event. Originally, the party, formed in 1834, would use the full-color range of the Union Flag (often called the Union Jack, although this is only technically to be termed so when at sea): red, white, and blue.
Then along came the Labour Party, the British equivalent of the Democratic Party. When this party of socialists and trade-unionists began campaigning under the red flag, the Tories were forced to drop the color from their banners to avoid confusion. Being left with just white and blue, they opted to make the latter their official color.
A Media Choice?
But back to America. Why do parties that have ideological brothers and sisters across the pond not have the same colors? Well, essentially, it’s because the Republicans and Democrats did not choose their own colors.
In fact, the standardization didn’t really take place until the 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Prior to this, news networks and papers, would all vary which color to represent parties with on an outlet-by-outlet basis. And then came The New York Times and USA Today electoral maps, which gave red to the Republicans, apparently because it started with an “r.”
Whether this is an honest designation or not is lost to history, but if one were more skeptical, a case could be made that it was an intentional switch from the British traditions. Since Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956, The Times has not supported a Republican presidential candidate. From 1960 onwards, they have always batted for the Democrat. When deciding what color to use in the widely-viewed electoral maps, would it be beyond the publishers to try and make a little political capital?
Forcing an Idea
Portraying the Democrats as blue gives them an air of calm and contemplation, and as mentioned, appeals to both men and women, but it also means that they are not identified with the color red … which may be of even more significance.
Traditionally, red represented the monarchy or Christianity, quite literally, the blood of Christ. During the French Revolution of 1789, the red flag was adopted to represent not the blood of Christ, but “the blood of the angry workers.” And this use of the Red Flag continued through the Russian revolution, Marxism, Socialism, and generally every left-leaning political organization.
We see it in Communist China and the Hammer and Sickle. It’s no secret that much of America had anti-Communist tendencies, and the connection between Communism, Socialism, and the Democratic Party was pretty clear to all. This is even more true today with the likes of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) espousing a rehashed version of this doctrine under the banner “Democratic Socialism.”
The Red Flag, these Marxist roots, and the Dems: It’s an interlinked history that gives many Americans an uncomfortable feeling.
Colors That Bind
Journalist and political satirist P.J. O’Rourke perhaps described this deep-seated animosity best during a radio interview in 2010. He said:
“I go off to college. And actually, I became a Communist to meet girls. So I came home at Christmas with my hair down to my shoulders, and a jean jacket with a big, red fist on the back – you know, saying, you know, arise ye proletariat or whatever.
And my grandmother … looks at me and she says: ‘Pat, I’m worried about you. Are you becoming a Democrat?’
I said, ‘Democrat? Grandma, of course I’m not a Democrat. I’m a Communist.’ And my grandmother paused, and she said, ‘well, just as long as you’re not a Democrat.’”
So we have the Communist red, the steady and stable blue, and each is displayed to make associations; it’s almost a freebie in terms of political messaging that subtly coerces people to live only in their echo-chambers without hearing a different point of view.
Colors are beautiful things. They can inspire emotions, calm an angered heart, soothe a savage soul, and even provide that boost of passion we so often need to help us overcome the challenges of life.
As Marcus Aurelius wrote, “The soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts.” Was this perhaps a warning? Are we too easily swayed by the secret language of color, and thereby opening ourselves up to danger for our very being? Forewarned is forearmed; never assume that a picture is just a picture, a color is just a color, or even that a kiss is just a kiss. These are the fundamental things that apply.
Read more from Mark Angelides.