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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Seeing Red

  Has the recent political climate left you seeing red?  Don't be discouraged.  This might be a good thing.  But then again, it might be a really, really bad thing.  Like dangerous, or even deadly.  But don't get too worked up, since it also might mean life is getting sexy.

  Confused?  Let's take a closer look at seeing red.  Red, after all, is known to represent...well...anything.

A Romanian sign (from the Daily Telegraph) which warns
people how dangerous it is to chase bottles while on
you knees.  Your death is a real possibility, according
to this, otherwise, the color yellow would be used.

  To start with, we all know that red is the international sign for don't touch that, it will kill you.  This is a slightly more upsetting color than yellow, which is the international sign for don't touch that, it will really hurt.  It's a big difference.  The reasons for these color choices, long used in public safety, are quite easy to decipher.  Red is one of the easiest colors to see, it jumps out at you, it grabs your attention, it is hard to ignore.  We use red to aid in saving lives, since accidental deaths are a very sad, and final sort of end to life.  Yellow, on the other hand, only kind of sticks out.  Depending on the background, it can blend in and be hard to see.  It fades easily, and when it does, all that is left is a stain something close to the color of dirty, gross white.  We use this to deter accidents that only hurt, with the minimum of permanent damage, because let's be honest, when we get to see people hurt themselves, it is funny.  It just is.  All of you reading this who are self-righteously judging me right now had better examine your hearts.  You know that just watching two minutes of America's Funniest Home Videos will brighten your day because in those two minutes, you'll see at least fifteen people injure themselves in some bone-headed way and you, along with the entire over-excited AFH crowd (an odd, scary group of people, you have to admit) will jerk forward in your seat, a guffaw (an honest-to-goodness guffaw) will escape your lips as your head bobs wildly.  But we would not do this if the videos showed people dying.  And so we reserve red for these somber, sober, truly dangerous warnings.

Here, in Paris, I saw this sign, which
clearly tells they do not allow prophets
to travel down this road, the only
exceptions being those prophets
riding bicycles, which I understand.

  Red is also the universal symbol which means no.  We draw a red circle around anything we prohibit, along with a slash across the middle (another symbol, which if you do this across your throat during a football game you will be suspended for scaring the opposing players into thinking you might actually draw out a knife from your skin-tight football pants and slash your opponent's throat, which is socially and culturally wrong, at least in the United States.)  We prohibit nearly everything with red.  A red stop sign prohibits you from driving without first stopping completely.  Red traffic lights do the same thing.  Red lights (red flashing lights, which is another signal that makes it that much more important) prohibit us from racing forward in an attempt to beat a train to the crossing.

  No trucks.  No cars.  No deliveries.  No dogs.  No cellphones. No hats.  No cameras.  The list goes on.  I would like to see a sign prohibiting the posting of signs prohibiting things, or at least prohibiting the posting of signs.  They are everywhere.  In Paris, we saw a sign with that big no-no circle and slash over an icon of a large stick figure holding the hand of a smaller stick figure.  That one had us confused, since it could have meant that you could not hold your child's hand, or it could have meant you were not allowed to take someone else's child.  Who knows?  Even the local waitress had no idea what it meant.

  But at least we understand that red means no.  So if the campaign is causing you to see red, it just means you are saying no to more election news.  Right?


  Red can mean that something is immoral.  Take for instance, the Red Light Districts in many cities around the globe.  This is a term that became popular a little over a hundred years ago, and denotes parts of a city where a good deal of misbehaving goes on, and I don't mean political conventions.  In some of these districts, a red light, seen through the curtain of a street-side window, indicates that the woman within wants more than just a dinner and nice glass of wine for her intimate attentions.  (Though this is certainly immoral, it just seems less so than the women who only ask for the dinner and the glass of wine.)

  Along with this theme, red also denotes evil, often actually labeling someone a devil.  Or a spawn thereof.  Red eyes on a movie character signals bad, bad, things for those nearby.  We know that the good girl needs to flee when we see the guy's eyes glow red.  Curiously, we also know she is not going to do so.  Whether this reflects on the character and the predilections of women in movies or directors' and writers' views of women I will leave up to the reader.  Suffice to say, a man or woman with red eyes is not a good thing.  Even worse is a dog with red eyes.  Not. Good.

  But who says red is immoral?  Our society thinks that red is actually sexy.  A woman in a red dress looks fine.  She's hot, attractive, smokin'...she's on fire.  (That last one, though it sounds bad, actually means something good, which is yet another reason why English must be irritating to those who are trying to learn it.)  If you see a woman in a red dress, it sends a message- my wife says this message is Hello Sailor!, which sounds sweet, but I think that actually might be more along the lines of the theme of red that I spoke of several paragraphs back.  But sexy is not automatically immoral, and we have elevated the color red to be the peak of sexy fashion.  (With the exception of fathers everywhere, who thought that dress their daughter wanted to wear to the prom was definitely immoral and did not hesitate to make their view on this clear and the final word.)  There is only one exception to this rule of fashion.  It is not considered the top choice in sexy fashion for a wedding dress.  Red wedding dresses just don't fly here in the United States.  I understand it is actually traditional in some countries.  Well, if you have moved from one of those countries to the United States, I would strongly urge you to look into this conflict of cultures.  You might want to rethink your tradition, or just invite guests who are comfortable with your mother-country's traditions.

The ever fiery Screen Queen, Maureen O'Hara,
one of Hollywood's famous Redheads.

  Red hair carries a slightly different meaning for women.  No, we don't automatically think that women with red hair are immoral.  That would be stereotyping.  We are more cultured than that, I can assure you.  When we see a woman with red hair, we know, without bothering to get to know her, that she is a wildcat, stubborn and ready to start a fight quicker than the fair Kate, from the Taming of the Shrew.  She is high-spirited, full of excitement and broken plates.  She's someone you want to win over, but you'd better be ready to run if you value your life.  Red-haired women are simply a stick of dynamite waiting for the slightest spark to make her explode.

  For those of you who are still reading, and haven't left this page because you are angry at my caricature of you and your red-hair, let me assure you I was only demonstrating the impression the color red has on many people in society.  This is largely due to the influence of Hollywood and their technicolor extravaganzas in the older days of film.  Who was the one woman who could take on John Wayne?  That gorgeous, feisty Maureen O'Hara, of course.  Who was always ready to explode into tears or anger at her husband?  Yep, that was Lucille Ball.  Rita Hayworth and Susan Hayward, (what's with the Hay names?) never played shrinking violets.  They were always tough girls who were surely going to hold their ground, no matter the star-power of the actor sharing the screen with them.

  But how unfair is it to the color red to lump it in with evil, slutty, and trouble-making?  Red is the sportiest color we have.  If you buy a sports car, it had better be red if you want real respect.  After all, the most iconic image of Mr. Cool in a sports car is Thomas Magnum, in that perfect Ferrari, which of course, was red.  Red cars just look fast.  It's why the cops are gonna pull you over in a red Lotus Elan whether you were speeding or not.  Red is such a sporty color, we have two Major League Baseball teams named for the color, the Reds (originally called the Red Stockings, then the Reds, then the Redlegs, then back to the Reds), and the Red Sox (first called the Americans).  The Red Sox have always been a big draw for fans, including millions of them from outside Boston, most of whom just want to see the Red Sox beat the Yankees.  The Reds hold a special place in my heart, since I played for them back in the Seventies.  I think it was the '78 season that I played short-stop for the Reed City Reds, a t-ball team that finished with a stunning record of 2 and 8.  I did, in fact, stand on the pitcher's mound for one game, but that did not last long, since I tripped over a shoe-lace walking backwards towards the mound.  (True story.  I never pitched again!)

  Don't think I was going to forget the associations that red has to religion.  Any member of the faithful knows that red is the color symbolizing the redeeming power of the blood of Jesus.  This predominate image of Christ's blood saturates early Church artwork.  Many songs celebrate this powerful image.  The color red cancels out everything it covers.  And the blood of Jesus covers our sins, washing us as white as snow.  A juxtaposition that is central to the belief in Redemption.

  And Red is definitely a dominate color.  Many people have experienced the irritation that comes from attempting to cover up red paint with any other color.  The red keeps coming back.  It hates to be covered over.  You had better use two coats of primer if you hope to keep it underneath where it belongs.

  And red underneath is my last example of red.  No matter the color of our skin, underneath each and every person's skin you will find the color red, running through our veins, keeping us alive.  There is no other fluid more precious to us than our own, richly red blood.  In fact, if its color is not a rich red, we know something is terribly wrong.  Too dark, and we know the blood is not getting enough oxygen.  And if it is streaming out of us, that alarming sight of red tells us something is really wrong.  The blood is supposed to stay inside.  If it doesn't, and enough of it is spilled, we have come to our end.  Run out of red, and we run out of life.

  So if you are seeing red, don't panic.  It could just mean you are seeing the affirmation of your beliefs, or it might mean you're sporty, sexy, excitable, in danger, or bleeding to death.  (Okay, those last ones might provide reason enough to panic.)

  So go out today and consider how red is being used in your world.  You might be surprised at the number of different ways.

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