In my previous post, Free the Oxford English 47,156, I spoke of the beauty of language and the power inherent in a vibrant and wide-ranging vocabularly. Characterizing language as a palette used by writers to represent reality as surely as Cezanne, Klee or O’Keefe transformed their canvases with color, I suggested a direct relationship between visual arts and the envisioning which every reader enjoys as the pages and paragraphs pass. Jeanie of The Marmalade Gypsy responded by saying, ”I find (language as a palette) a beautiful and fascinating concept. There are so many variations of color, and when they blend together, even more. Why say “blue” when azure or teal or slate might tell the story better?
In her own spell-bound rendering of a late winter sunset, View from the Third-Storey Window says, “The magic, of course, is color and at least from this window it is brief, intense, and unusual. It is sky-blue-pink. Take those tints right out of the old Crayola box–the one with 64 upright crayons and the sharpener on the outside– “sky blue” and “pink.” Let them swirl and blend, dodging the occasional cloud, yet remain distinct. Try not to let them morph into purple. No hint of gold or yellow remains; the sun is already gone. Sky-blue-pink. Say it as a single word; see it as a single hue.”
All this talk about color reminds me of a discovery I made last year during the 50th anniversary of Crayola’s famous 64-count box. Introduced in 1958, the limited edition “50th Birthday Box” contained eight new colors, with names that were created after input from nearly 20,000 youngsters. In a news release announcing the 2008 “Kids Choice Colors” Crayola provided an interpretation of their meaning through their company representatives. Here’s that interpretation, as reported in businesswire.com:
“Just like professional color experts who predict the year’s hot hues, kids across the country had the chance to voice their own opinion and pick the colors they felt were “in” for 2008. They were invited to participate in an online survey at Bonus.com where they were asked about the things they value and are most interested in. Next,they said what those things would look like as a color and then zoomed in on the shade within each color family (red, blue, green, yellow, brown, pink, orange and purple) that they felt was the coolest. The result? A collection of eight colors was created that draw on everything from kids wanting to play their part in protecting the planet to believing that they can become famous just like the everyday people who achieve stardom on reality shows.”
The 2008 “Kids Choice Colors” include:
“super happy” — Kids don’t want to worry, they just want to be happy — “super happy” — as their color says and they wish the same for others, too.
“fun in the sun” — Riding bikes, playing soccer, skateboarding, and gymnastics – kids said this color means exercise and keeping fit are important … and fun!
“giving tree” — It’s a colorful truth that kids are thinking green, too, and want to play a part in protecting the Earth.
“bear hug” — A hue of harmony as kids want their homes to feel warm and loving just like a great big bear hug.
“awesome” — Means kids think school is cool and getting good grades feels awesome.
“happy ever after” — Kids want to make a difference and create Cinderella moments for others, so everyone’s story has a happy ending.
“famous” — American Idol and shows like it inspired this hue, as kids believe they can become celebrities just like everyday people who become stars.
“best friends” — This shade of purple reveals who kids’ real BFFs are – their parents – and spending time with them is what they enjoy most.
Or so say the marketing gurus at the Crayola Corporation.
All of this is extraordinarily interesting. I have a question or two about Crayola’s sampling process, and some curiosity about precisely who wrote those descriptions of what’s important to the children, but I’m mostly bemused by the names themselves. Can you find the yellow crayon in the list? (Clue: it’s not “Fun in the Sun”). Which is pink? What about “Famous”? (It sounds as if it ought to be green – as in dollars – but it isn’t.) Unless you’re looking directly at the crayola with the label still on it, or read the press release, you wouldn’t have a clue that “Best Friends” is a shade of purple. Think about it. You’re coloring with a grandchild or nephew or niece and someone says, “Hand me that Super Happy”. What would you do?
When common sense still was abroad in the land, this wasn’t a problem. Look at this list of special colors from the 1949-1957 “big box” of 48 Crayolas: Apricot. Bittersweet. Burnt Sienna. Cornflower. Maize. Thistle. Salmon. Lemon Yellow. Mahogany. Sea Green. Melon…
Now look again at this year’s list of “Kids’-Choice Colors”: Super Happy. Fun in the Sun. Giving Tree. Bear Hug. Awesome. Happy Ever After. Famous. Best Friends…
I don’t know whether to be appalled, agitated or amused. A combination of all three probably is appropriate. Looking at the two color lists side-by-side, a few thoughts come to mind.
* We’re losing our connection to the natural world more rapidly than I realized. When I was given my first big box of crayolas, I knew what a cornflower was, and where maize grew. Bittersweet filled vases in the autumn, and thistles were embroidered on the tea towels. It seemed natural that colors would be named after the realities that surrounded us.
* If we’ve already taught our children that fame comes by achieving stardom on so-called reality shows, it’s probably past time to start re-reading Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall.
* The people at Crayola have forgotten they’re in the business of color. Super Happy, Awesome and Famous aren’t colors. They’re descriptive phrases, and not very good ones at that. When the people at Verizon are marketing phones named “Chocolate” and the Crayola execs are opting for “Happy Ever After”, something’s seriously awry.
* Names matter. Blue can be topaz, turquoise, azure or cerulean, but blue isn’t “Happy Ever After”. When Crayola asked 20,000 kids to tell them what things “looked like as a color”, that’s not a naming process. It’s an advertising and marketing gimmick geared toward giving children and parents a false sense of participating in a process. It’s a disheartening approach for a company that has prided itself on worthwhile educational ventures.
We begin teaching children colors at a young age in order to help them interpret the world around them and communicate their vision to others. We begin simply enough with red, yellow, blue, green. Soon enough we add brown, black and purple. As time goes on, distinctions begin to be made as shades and hues become part of our visual vocabulary. Green is more than green; it”s lime, emerald or sage. Purple blooms into violet, lilac or fuschia. Beige appears on the horizon, hand in hand with its friends ivory, tan, parchment and cream. As the vocabulary of color increases, our vision of the world becomes sharper and more discerning. We develop an “eye” for color, and see the beautiful complexities of our world in a new way.
At least, that’s how it should happen. If Crayola has their way, we may develop a generation of reality-show addicts who shop for “awesome” pillows to accessorize their “best friends” sofa in their “super happy” houses hung with “happy ever after” drapes. If that ever becomes the case, you can color me distraught.