The Coloring Wars

When convention analysis cuts too close to color theory

This New Republic entry by Amanda Fortini spends a good amount of time on how starkly (and says the author, refreshingly) the Palin family’s muted clothing choices contrast with those of the McCain clan:

If your life is colorful, your clothing need not be… the Palins looked like any American family, clad in nondescript clothing in beige and black and various shades of Banana Republic grey… Palin, understated and neutral in dress if not in mien, brought with her a palpable atmosphere of folksy authenticity.

Now on the flip:

The McCain clan, however, all of them a bit on the older side, resorted to the standard sartorial contrivances. Cindy McCain, still aggressively tanned and dyed and frosted, did look softer than usual; she had finally unleashed her hair, and someone has recently given her a fringe of bangs. The attire of all the McCains fell in the usual political spectrum: peppermint pink (mother), Kelly green (Cindy), flaming orange tie (the candidate himself).

Maybe Fortini was reading Josef Albers’s art school primer, Interaction of Color, while watching the visual interplay onstage in the Xcel Center last night. In particular, Chapter III, titled “Why color paper—instead of pigment and paint,” sounds familiar:

…color paper also protects us from the undesired and unnecessary addition of so-called texture (such as brush marks and strokes, incalculable changes from wet to dry, or heavy and loose covering, hard and soft boundaries, etc.) which too often only hides poor color conception or application, or, worse, an insensitive color handling.

Amazing. Has paint ever sounded more unappealing? It’s like Albers is watching the TV screen disapprovingly as Fortini writes, “To slap a bright hue on an aging candidate is like cutting the mold off the edges of a loaf of bread.”

So, in a political season of metaphors, the takeaway lesson, courtesy of the color theorist (and aided by Fortini): Sarah Palin, inherently titillating, is colored paper, whereas Cindy McCain is, um… pigment on cardboard?

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Jane Kim is a writer in New York.