Since its birth as a color – a difficult home birth performed without the aid of a midwife – red has seemed destined for the realm of politics. Angry, ill-tempered, and impulsive, red is the Liam Gallagher of colors, the only color that would attempt to corkscrew-punch you in the back of the head, unprompted, because of something it overheard you say in a dream.
Researchers believe that people first began dyeing cloth sometime between the sixth and fourth millennia B.C. The most widely used color, by far, was red. Archaeologists have uncovered myriad examples of red’s use in clothing, from robes and tunics to bright red MAGA (Make Athens Great Again) hats.
As Goethe said, “A bull becomes furious only if he is presented with a red cloth; a philosopher, on the other hand, goes into a rage as soon as the color is mentioned.” This quote underlines my argument that red’s reputation is of an anger-inducing, rage- filled color, and also, and perhaps more importantly, advances a second theory of mine: philosophers can be real dicks.
And so we expect certain things from red. We expect red to do stupid, stupid things. We expect red to text in movie theaters. We expect red to try impressing women at the local pub with drunken attempts at a billiard-table handstand. We suspect red of being the one who emptied the office water cooler without refilling it.
This is why it makes sense to us that hell and Satan are usually rendered in red. This is why we know that, if we’re going to make it through a night of alcohol-fueled debauchery, we’d better lace our vodka with Red Bull, as opposed to green or blue. This is why we understand what it means that, historically, Cain, Judas, and Ed Sheeran have all been depicted as having red hair.
Red represents lust, aggression, and dishonesty. These are the same qualities we expect in our politicians and it’s indicative of red’s schizophrenic nature that it is has been embraced by both left- and right-wing political ideologies.
Red really came into its own, politically, in eighteenth-century France. Prior to the French Revolution, red flags were flown to disperse crowds and indicate that any gatherings taking place were considered criminal acts. It’s also during this time that women began carrying their own red flags to signal for help when a suitor began talking too much about how close they were to their mother or that they were “in between” apprenticeships.
During the revolution, the red flag and red Phrygian caps became symbols of revolt. This remains the only time in history when wearing a bright-red conical hat was not considered moronic anywhere outside of Portland, Oregon.
After the French Revolution, in a sort of reverse-Brexit, the red of revolution would share space on the flag with the white of equality and the blue of freedom. Like Paul McCartney (red) to John (blue), George (white), and the metaphor-busting Ringo, red would soon break off on its own to form the flag of Communism and, later, the band Wings.
In the mid-1840s, two young, down-on-their-luck Germans named Karl Marx and Friedrich “Freddy” Engels were searching for ways to offload a warehouse full of drab, red coats (purchased with the intention of opening their own chain of stores called Karl and Freddy’s Big Red Coat Factory). Down to their last Reichsthalers, it was Marx who had the idea to – in his words – “be disruptive and think outside the box.” The two wily entrepreneurs began packaging the coats with a newly written pamphlet entitled “The Four-Hour Don’t Show Up to Work Week” (later retitled “The Communist Manifesto”) and red soon became the official color of communist fashion.
In China, red become so popular that Chairman Mao named his first book Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book of Quotations. It’s said that only the Bible has sold more copies (the sequels – Little Red Book 2: How Ya Like Me Mao? and Little Red Book 3: Mao You See Me, Mao You Don’t – proved far less successful).
In the United States, red stayed largely out of the political fray until 1984 when CBS television decided that Democrats were blue and docile and Republicans were red and irate. This choice proved prophetic when, in 2016, newly elected president – and pure rage in human form – Donald Trump aligned himself with Russian president Vladimir Putin and began a monthly tradition of calling each other late at night to profess their mutual love of Taylor Swift’s seminal 2012 album, Red.
So, after tens and tens of minutes researching and writing this essay, I’m left to wonder what the future holds for the color red. Will the Republican party lean fully into its anger palette and don full red suits as they cut funding for the National Museum of Trees (famous for its lifelike sculpture of the last tree on Earth)? Will Britain’s Labour party finally stop kidding everyone and switch its official hue from red to something more suitable like colorless? Will red tire of always being told it needs to calm down and finally enter itself into an anger-management program? Sadly, I have no good answers for you. Only time will tell.
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