Colored Lenses


Unstable theory: Color theory at six different points in history.

The battle is over now, but it’s quaint to imagine that twenty years ago there was an uproar over the idea that The New York Times might have color on the front page. (Fast forward to the new question: will there even be a print version of the newspaper on which to have color.) The debate over colorized news was fueled in large part by the arrival and subsequent growth of USA Today, followed by a slew of local papers that imitated the national daily’s bright facade.

The argument, suggested that color itself could have a corrupting influence. In fact, color has a tangled history in twentieth-century America; its elusive properties have been evoked in connection with almost every corner of the cultural landscape, from aesthetics to the politics of race.

As designers, we ask ourselves: What does color mean? For print designers it means one thing; for screen designers, something else. It can mean different things in different cultures and different contexts. It may be the most powerful and least understood of all the elements in a designer’s vocabulary. And while color has meaning, it has purely formal problems as well. A quick read through the literature is dizzying: there are tracts on everything from psychological processing, optics, and color as a detriment to public taste, to its impact on consumer choice, the sub-rational appeal of color, and color as a feminized marketing device.

What to do with color? Since the discourse surrounding the rise of color in the media is impossibly broad, I thought it would be intriguing to focus on one sliver of the issue. And – since we’re graphic designers – one specific aspect: the efficacy of color in print, and the way color wormed its way into the black-and-white world of newsprint. In this one contested issue, all the problems of color become apparent.


The Old Grey Lady

Color first infiltrated the black-and-white world of the newspaper almost exactly one hundred years ago, and much of the rhetoric that currently swirls around the topic directly related to its late 19th century origins. Spot color appeared on mastheads and special editions as early as 1891: the Milwaukee Journal, an early color pioneer, ran a red, white, and blue banner to announce the gubernatorial inauguration on January 5th of that year. The New York Recorder employed color on its editorial pages by 1893, the New York Herald in 1894, and the New York Journal and Chicago Tribune in 1897.1While the technology existed to include color on all pages – chromolithography was well established and already used to churn out reams of cheap color printed matter for every variety of consumer product and package – time was the real obstacle. The inclusion of an extra color (aside from black) was labor-intensive, and practically impossible within traditional newspaper deadlines. Color was therefore used sparingly, to announce a holiday or special event; its very presence a sign of consequence.


The real color invasion took place in the form of the Sunday supplement. After buying the foundering New York World from Jay Gould in 1883, the legendary publisher Joseph Pulitzer built it into the most successful paper in America, employing the techniques now associated with what is derisively labeled “tabloid journalism.” By the early 1890s, in a scheme to democratize high culture, Pulitzer had developed a system to create full-color, fine-art reproductions of famous Renaissance paintings for inclusion in the paper, and subsequent distribution to the masses. While the elevation of mass taste was a popular cause for many of his fellow philanthropists and captains of industry, Pulitzer’s motivation was probably as much competition with the rival New York Journal public edification. The other legendary newspaperman of the era, William Randolph Hearst, had purchased the Journal in 1894 and was challenging theWorld’s ascendancy. Technological innovation was one of the many fronts on which the battle between the two papers was waged.


Ironically, while the fine-art reproduction project failed – newsprint was simply too coarse to hold fine detail – the process Pulitzer put in place did promote a certain, albeit more common, artform: the colored comic papers. The World publisher introduced one of the first color comic supplements in a Sunday edition in 1894. Hearst quickly countered with an expanded color supplement in the Journal the following year. The ensuing circulation war is legend, and the brand of inflammatory reportage practiced by the two papers and their many imitators has been aptly labeled “yellow journalism.” The term is derived from the Yellow Kid (aka Mickey Dugan), a character in Richard Felton Outcault’s comic tableau, Hogan’s Alley, which ran in the World until Hearst lured the artist to the Journal.2 That a comic-strip character would become the eponym for a form of muckraking is telling. The Sunday “funny papers” became an emblem of the unabashed appeal this new brand of sensational journalism held for the masses. The brightly colored papers were derided by respectable journalists of the day; as one historian has suggested, “[c]omics seemed to the elite the obviously lowbrow Pied Piper which lured the innocents to their journalistic doom.”3


The period of yellow journalism lasted into the first decade of the 20th century, and continues to have a profound effect and influence on our contemporary image of responsible news coverage. The representative features – scare tactic headlines in gigantic type, lavish illustration and photography, pseudo-scientific articles, color comic strips, jingoistic crusades for popular causes – are almost identical to the qualities frequently disdained in the contemporary tabloid press, both print and video. When Adolph Ochs assumed control of the New York Times in 1896, he eschewed the muckraking of the World and the Journal, insisting the Times would run “all the news that’s fit to print”. But his first slogan, now forgotten, is more revealing: “It does not soil the breakfast cloth,” a reference to the tendency of the color supplements to smudge.5 The implied conflation of tabloid color and “dirty” practice was clear.


As colored products and materials spilled in ever-increasing amounts from the print shops and manufactories of the Industrial Revolution, so too was there a rise in academic and popular studies of the persuasive and mysterious properties of color. A number of texts attempted to quantify the exertive power of color, postulating a subconscious response to color that could be harnessed for the good of mankind, to increase sales, or to generate beauty. Thus by the 1890s books begin to appear with titles like these: The theory of color in its relation to art and art- industry,6 The Mysticism of Colour,7 On colour, and on the necessity for a general diffusion of taste among all classes, 8 The laws of harmonious colouring, 9 The Principles of Beauty in Colouring Systematized.10


One popular theme shared by a number of such texts was the classification of color in terms of “primitive” response. The Colour-Sense; its Origin and Development, by Grant Allen, published in 1892, is typical. Allen rated color on a scale of sophistication, with red and orange on the bottom, stirring a long forgotten “savage love for torchlight dances, for bonfires, and for like rude pyrotechnic displays.” Color was postulated as a primal force, appealing to the coarsest desires. “In every case we feel at once that the aesthetic pleasure involved [with bright colors] belongs to the very lowest stratum of its class, the stratum which we Europeans share in the greatest degree with the savage members of our race. Children and uncultured adults delight in the rude shocks of a fire-work exhibition, but sensitive eyes and minds shrink from the excessive demand upon optic nerve and brain.”11


The association of bright color with primitive urges led some turn-of-the-century writers to express concern for the maintenance of public taste in an environment increasingly tainted by chromolithography and color newspaper supplements. Numerous reform movements and arts and crafts guilds, loosely modeled on William Morris’s Kelmscott Press, promoted a return to handcraft and promised to restore sobriety to publishing. (The Bauhaus pedagogy with its emphasis on a mystical attachment to primary colors and simplified forms is a later development of this same reform movement.) Still, academic concern for the dangers of color printing and manufacturing had little effect on its speedy proliferation.


Unlike the introduction of color television, however, which effected a quick and total color conversion in the media, color came to printing in fits and starts, and has continued to exist comfortably with black-and-white reproduction up to the present day. “The reception of color within printing media, then, reflected a culture with established iconographic traditions,” Neil Harris has noted, “which accepted a variety of rendering techniques; was prepared to accept slow, indefinite progress as a condition; and demanded neither uniformity of technical quality nor pervasiveness of penetration.”12 Futhermore, despite the growing popularity of color in magazines, it remained a rarity in the body of the newspaper, continuing primarily as a supplement or as spot color for advertisements. The division between color (an added attraction with marketing or entertainment appeal) and black and white (reserved for journalism and hard news) stood unchallenged until the late 1970s.

With the development of synthetic materials – bakelite and linoleum, for instance – and new manufacturing processes, researchers were working to bring color to all manner of consumer goods by the early decades of this century. Louis Weinberg, author of Color in Everyday Life (1918), encouraged businessmen to study the promotional potential of color: “In the field of business…there are few lines in which a knowledge of color is not essential. The business man uses color and pays dearly for its use.”13 In 1927 Ford followed General Motors in producing their new Model A in several colors, besides the standard black of the Model T. As products diversified and the ideology of consumer choice came to the forefront, color was one of the key choices available.


Choice of color was increasingly linked with loose consumption and impulsive behavior. Roland Marchand recounts AT&T’s debate over the replacement of standard black telephones with colored models as one method to promote the telephone for “frivolous conversation.”14 (The company resisted the pressure – as some company executives apparently considered color a sign of “depravity,”15 – until the late ’50s, by which time promoters were promising “color will be the banner under which the American public may indulge itself in one of its chief fancies – the free and delightful choice of wanted things.”16)


By the ’20s a number of systems for making color film, or tinting black-and-white film, were under development. Between 1912 and 1921, two scientists from MIT, Herbert T. Kalmus and Daniel Comstock, perfected an early process they patented as “Technicolor.” In 1921, the first Technicolor movie was released, Toll of the Sea. Early Technicolor was both expensive to produce – up to three times more than black-and-white film – and of rather poor quality.17 Color was often seen as a distraction in films, interrupting the smooth flow of the narrative. The poor quality and unskilled use of color led to its reputation as an expensive gimmick, a last-ditch effort to save a fatally flawed film that could not succeed on its own merits.18


But a new Technicolor process released in the early ’30s significantly improved the quality of color filmmaking. With the release of Becky Sharp – the first film shot in the new 3-color Technicolor process – the use of color became a viable dramatic device. The debate shifted to the efficacy of color. Newsweek the author observed an emotional power from the use of color in Becky Sharp,: “[The directors] used color psychology deliberately to heighten the story. For quiet scenes they stressed soft somber hues. But to emphasize the excitement…they deepened the color mood.”19 Product and advertising design, color film was imagined as an emotional device that could be used to manipulate the reaction of an audience.


The appeal of color as a persuasive device, as demonstrated in the power of color film, was not lost on the advertising industry. It meshed perfectly with their constant search for new ways to sell consumer products, as well as their quest for new, quasi-scientific sales techniques to impress and lure clients. By the end of the 1920s, specially colored products were available for every room in the home. In an environment in which color was both the consumer’s desire and a marketing device employed to differentiate products, manufacturers had to re-imagine their wares. No longer relegated to the category of utilitarian objects, telephones and automobiles, in color, became objects of fashion and “sex appeal.”20

Advertisers increasingly demanded the option of color in their ads, and the new magazines, such as Time, Life and Newsweek were there to fill that demand. The placement of color advertisements in the news magazines opened up the possibility of mass-produced color images used in conjunction with the news itself. Both Time andLife employed color as a major identifying feature; Life sported an iconic bright-red masthead from its inception and Time’s signature was – and is – a red border, (although they experimented with orange and green for a brief period in the late ’20s).Newsweek, founded six years after Time, ran its first color news photo, a candid portrait of Franklin D. Roosevelt, on November 2, 1935. After the interruption of the war, they began running occasional color spreads as early as 1946.21

Even though the technology was available and the weekly schedule somewhat more forgiving than that of the daily newspaper, news magazines, for the most part, maintained the strict separation between black-and-white hard news and the more colorful spheres of entertainment, travel and leisure, and advertising. A quick survey of the early color spreads in Newsweek reveals an emphasis on soft news: 1953, Italian Movie Stars, Japanese Opera; 1956, National Parks, Folk Art, Oakhill Golf Course; 1957, Life and Leisure in Amsterdam.22 In an article titled “Colour Photography in Journalism” in the Penrose Annual of 1954, a printer’s journal, Michael Middleton suggests that color and black-and-white images are suitable for different kinds of stories. “It is not often that a news event will lose its impact if seen only in black and white; more frequently the [color] picture-journalist chooses a seasonal subject for use in its appropriate period, which he knows will have colour, glitter, and excitement.”23



Middleton goes on to limn the distinctions between the two techniques, and to remark upon a rising concern – competition among media:

[I]t is perhaps idle to speak of “colour photography in journalism”; there is practically none now; there seems likely to be even less in the near future, for the time-lag in production which makes it difficult for the mass-circulation weeklies to compete with television and the cinema even in black and white, becomes a well-nigh insuperable barrier in the case of colour. In any event no colour story, to my way of thinking, has yet been shot to compare with the more memorable black and white essays that come easily to mind from the past fifteen years like those of Robert Capa in Spain, Ernst Haas’ returning POWs in Germany, Eugene Smith’s essay on Chaplin, Bert Hardy in Korea.24

Middleton contended that the color image did not have the compositional strength to evoke a story, but instead worked to trigger emotion or mood, not intellectual thought.


In the same issue of Penrose, C. Maxwell Tregurtha revisits the divided issue of color in print:

There are arguments for and against color in print. Take that marvelous production The Saturday Evening Post. Look through its pages. The first few openings are in black and white, clean, trim, attractive. Then you hit on “Campbell’s Soup” page. This is a rhapsody in red. It stands out by sheer force of colour and design. “Wonderful” you say as you look at it. Then you turn over and the Campbell impression is blotted out by the superb realistic art and colorfulness of, say, “Libby’s Milk” page. The editorial page facing it looks drab by contrast. Turn over more pages and the continuous panorama of colour gradually blinds your colour-perception until you welcome a return to black on white. It looks so clean and interesting and business-like.25

Tregurtha implies that the clear division between color and black-and-white symbolized the fiercely defended cleft between the editorial and the advertising/circulation departments, now known as the “division of church and state.” Because color was used exclusively in the advertising pages and seemed to appeal to the irrational and emotional rather than to the intellectual side of the reader’s nature, the encroachment of color into the news columns smacked of a marketing ploy that journalists feared would sully the hard won objectivity of “the Fourth Estate.”26

Tregurtha ends his article with the question “Shall we one day have colour in our newspapers?” He answers in the negative and continues: “[P]robably we should be thankful for that for then there would be no escape from the tyranny of colour except by refusing to read a newspaper at all.”27 Clearly, however, the author was not well acquainted with American newspapers. By the time he asked his rhetorical question, over 580 newspapers in the United States were offering run-of-paper color28 – usually spot but occasionally four-color process – to their local and national advertising clients, who purchased close to 5O million lines of color space (1.6% of all display ad space for the year).29 In countless ads in trade magazines and advertising journals, newspaper advertising departments promised big results from a color campaign.


The infusion of color theory into the “science” of marketing, which started in the mid-’20s, was in full swing by the late ’50s. The cautionary language and reformist zeal of the first decades of the century had given way to a more optimistic approach: color sells. Perhaps the most ardent promoter of color as a sales tool was Faber Birren, a self-styled color expert who wrote over forty books on the subject (including prescient volumes on the appropriate colors of clothing and make-up for women that anticipated the Color Me Beautiful fad of the 1980s). In 1956 Birren announced, “The nation is no longer merely color-conscious; it has become almost completely color-minded.” Later he expounded, “Psychologically, the world wants color. Where it is lacking, the dimensions of beauty and appeal are sadly incomplete.”30


Birren had a tendency to wax prosaic in his utopian, full-color dreams: “Maybe this orgy of color has become something of an emotional spree on the part of the public, but mostly it has fulfilled human desire and has made of color one of the major wants and pleasures of modern times.” However, when dealing with the advantages of color for the business man, Birren did not mince his words: “The beautiful colors are the ones that sell; the ugly colors are the ones that don’t.” In his 1956 volume Selling Color to People, Birren theorized color as a motivational force that could be harnessed to first attract consumers and then encourage them to continue to purchase new products:
In business, color has economic importance. The right use is a stimulus to better sales and greater volume. It is one of the chief wants of the American public, having become part and parcel of the American standard of living and the American way of life. Properly used, color will provide untold pleasure to the masses of population – while keeping the machinery of production and distribution humming.31


If there was any question about the nature of Birren’s ideal consumer, the feminine pronoun of the following passage makes it clear. “She will, perhaps, look at the price first, examine quality second, and then grant third place to emotional feeling. However, let this emotional feeling be compelling enough, and she will fling open her purse with almost reckless abandon.”32 According to Birren, color was such an effective marketing device precisely because it was able to detonate the impulsive emotional reactions so closely tied to the putative notion of the female consumer. Writing on the advent of color television advertising, Birren is even more direct: “Color may spark the eternal desire of women to shop and spend money.”33


The introduction of color into new arenas was consistently accompanied by a parallel discourse on innovation and novelty. Newly introduced color could render the existing technology or the surrounding monochromatic space anachronistic. Within the sphere of color itself, new tints and shades constantly replaced “last year’s colors” in the voracious cycle of consumerism, and color becames a factor in the planned obsolescence of goods. For the first time, a washer or a telephone could become outdated, not because of mechanical failure – but because its appearance was no longer fashionable. Color was almost always introduced as “the newest feature,” then quickly accepted as the norm. The advent of color film making, for instance, rendered black-and-white meaningful. Black-and-white was consciously not color, thus intentionally serious, old-fashioned, or low budget.


By the same token, the distinctive look of a new or innovative technology can, over time, come to symbolize the outmoded. Color film was first trumpeted as approximating the real world; cinema set designer Robert Edmond Jones proposed that “color should be no more prominent than it is in everyday life.”34 As reproduction techniques improved and color film became the expected norm, the bright, somewhat unrealistic color associated with the Technicolor process came to signify the plastic, saccharin world of popular 50s cinema. Black-and-white films came to represent a gritty reality, in contrast to the glitzy, colorful Hollywood spectacle. The disdainful label “Technicolor Tabloid” applied to USA Today, splices the tabloid’s shameless appeal to mass sentiment with the lingering notion of Technicolor as the empty embellishment of a flawed film.

The same transformation was visible in the use of color photography in news reportage. In “The Lasting Power of Black-and-White,” an article celebrating monochromatic photography, author Eric de Maré once again invoked the primordial allure of color: “Colour photography is, of course, a most valuable advance, as in teaching, for instance, in fashion illustration, and in many other ways, and one must admit that colour is seductive in itself and gives a primitive delight which is as old as humanity.” Yet, as seductive as it may be, “colour tends to weaken, rather than enhance, the visual impact of the photographic image. If that is not so, why do memorable photographs in black-and-white so overwhelmingly outnumber those in colour?”35


The advent of color television had a powerful effect – not only within the medium, but on the surrounding media as well. While the introduction of color was rather slow in film and paripatetic in printing, the colorization of television was swift and complete. The technology for producing color television was developed in the forties, but the network and apparatus were not in place for color broadcast until the early ’60s. Once widely available, however, color television’s ascension was meteoric. Between 1963 and 1969 the number of homes with at least one color television jumped from 3% to 33%.36CBS announced in its 1965 annual report that a full 50% of its schedule had been broadcast in color during the previous year, and by the following fall the entire evening line-up would be in full color.37 In 1961, the Walt Disney company switched their Disneyland program on ABC to NBC in order to take advantage of that network’s color broadcasting capability and introduced a new program: Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.


Color was aggressively marketed by both network executives and advertisers, who were eager to sell the new medium to clients. A print ad promoting color TV crowed, “Color programs rate double the popularity of the same program in black-and-white…and color TV commercials rate 3 1/2 times the impression as the same commercials in black and white.”38 By the early ’70s all new television programming was in color. Advertisers were reluctant to sponsor black and white programming as its antiquated quality reflected negatively on their product, and at the same time, they were averse to running a black-and-white ad with a color program for fear of looking out of date.39“Color in television offers exciting possibilities,” Farber Birren noted, “not only in the field of entertainment but in the sale of consumer goods. It is sure to accomplish (over black and white) equal if not more success than has been attained in magazines, catalogs and direct mail.”40

With the colorization of television news and their own marketing studies indicating the loss of younger audiences to television, news magazines began seriously to reconsider their rejection of color imagery in the editorial section. While news magazines had once evoked the “grey respectability” of the important newspapers, they were suddenly competing head to head with a new medium that was transmitting hard news in full color everyday. By the mid-’60s, Newsweek’s color spreads, which had been confined to society events and travel pictures, began to engage serious subjects: 1964, both political conventions featured in color; 1965, extensive coverage of the Vietnam war; 1968, the Tet offensive, the funeral of Martin Luther King, the summer riots, the Biafran/Nigerian war. For a special issue published on January 3, 1977, the editors announced: “This week, the whole panorama of 1976 is captured in an issue-length portfolio of the year’s most evocative images, among them an unprecedented 27 pages of color photographs.”41 (This unprecedented event apparently did not meet with universal approbation. In the following issue, a reader complained, “Whether or not a picture is really ‘worth a thousand words’ it certainly is cheaper and easier to produce. You can’t compete with television’s mastery of glossing over events.”42 )

By the late ’70s both Time and Newsweek had redesigned their formats and overhauled their production departments to accommodate a growing number of color photographs, as well as an explosion of colorful information graphics. Advertising strategists suggested that the right mix of both color and black and white advertising could be effective. “Generally speaking, print color advertising forces trust upon the consumer as it is a clear demonstration of power and solidity coming from the producer. On the other hand, black-and-white ads have a serious and informative trait, they look more factual and discreet. They also represent a change in rhythm in a campaign after a series of color ads and they combat color fatigue.”43

Newspapers had once dominated the visual presentation of the news. In twenty years television had become king, and print media were scrambling to catch up. In the early ’80s several newspapers followed magazines and began experimenting with full run-of-paper color; The St Petersburg Times, the News of Boca Raton, (a Knight-Ridder experiment that boasts a pink flamingo on the masthead), and USA Today, media giant Gannett’s national daily.44 While the use of bright color in the news and on editorial pages – along with extensive infographics, charts, and lists – was touted as revolutionary for news reportage, it represented a paradigmatic shift away from the authoritarian grey papers like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, and toward The Star and the National Enquirer, tabloids that had for years been running full color signatures and devices like boxed call-outs, bulleted lists, and inset photos. The real revolution was the application of tabloid technique to “respectable” news.


In an 1982 press release announcing the formation of USA Today, Allen H. Neuharth, president of Gannett Company, Inc., promised that the new paper would put into print “some of the excitement, some of the color, some of the graphics, that people are used to seeing on TV screens.”45 The first edition (September 15, 1982) announced that “USA Today is designed and edited to be: enlightening and enjoyable to the nation’s readers; informative and impelling to the nation’s leaders; challenging and competitive to the nation’s journalists; refreshing and rewarding to the nation’s advertisers.”46 The paper featured a cyan flag, color photography and – USA Today’s most imitated feature – a brightly colored full-page national weather map.

Reception to USA Today was mixed. Circulation shot up to over a million readers in the first nine months of publication and now tops over six million, but the paper has lost over 850 million dollars to date. Response in the journalism community was harsh, and the clipped stories and child-like charts and graphs have earned it the dubious distinction of “McPaper,” – news as fast food. The close association between the marketing and editorial departments of the new papers also raised critics’ suspicions. “You want to talk about changing mindset [at the News of Boca Raton],” notes one critic. “They plan coverage based on discussions with ad and circulation departments.”47 USA Today publisher Tom Curley countered his critics by arguing that market sensitivity is imperative: “USA Today is designed to fit the life style of the ’90s. It is increasing readership in an age where TV exists.”48

Perhaps USA Today’s most profound effect was in shaping the look of other newspapers. While managing editor Richard Curtis claimed the primary function of color is to differentiate the paper from its competitors, those competitors were quickly closing the gap.49 Between 1979 and 1983 the number of newspapers printing color more than doubled from 12% to 28%, and by 1986 53% of all weekday papers sported some color.50 In 1994, 97% of all newspapers ran some color at least once a week.51 In a study completed by the Poynter Institute in 1986, the researchers tried to address the issue of colorized newsprint and reader’s response. They found that color newspaper pages scored higher than black-and-white in word-pair comparisons in categories such as interesting/ uninteresting, bold/timid, modern/old fashioned, powerful/weak. However, black-and-white pages compelled readers to spend more time with the actual story. Evoking the familiar intellectual/emotional dichotomy, the report concludes that “color works better for the fast grab, for the quick emotional appeal, but that black and white produces a better response where more in-depth thinking is desired.”52 The researchers speculate “the fact that [The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, theWall Street Journal, the New York Daily News] use no color may contribute to the notion that ‘real’ newspapers print in black and white. This research project discovered that the public does not share this prejudice. How can newspaper leaders overcome this myth in their own staffs as they move toward color?”53

The Poynter Institute study ended with a vague but ominous warning: “Caveat: The manipulative use of color on news pages has profound political implications.” 54 Color was still imagined as a potent reagent that could be dangerous in the wrong hands. Despite concern from within the profession, journalism’s “move toward color” continued unchecked. The then-newly refinanced New York Daily News began color production; and even the staid New York Times – the Grey Lady – a paper that limited its use of color to the Sunday Magazine, introduced it first into its other Sunday sections, including the Book Review, the Travel section, and Arts and Leisure, the soft news departments, and then the editorial pages of its daily paper in late 1997. All the major news magazines are now completely color, and even the most primitive video from the most remote outpost is broadcast in “living color.” The Wall Street Journalwas the last major national to go color, which finally happened only recently.


The debate that spins around color continues to evolve. Ted Turner’s decision to colorize “classic” black-and-white films such as Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon for rebroadcast on Turner Broadcast Network raised a furor in the early ’80s. Turner argued colorized films would sell better in the television environment than black and white. Jesse Jackson’s “Rainbow Coalition” used the spectral metaphor to name a racially inclusive political platform. The same metaphor was utilized with the “Rainbow Curriculum,” the ill-fated New York school program that encouraged an inclusive pedagogy addressing the subject of “non-traditional” families. The rainbow has been used in conjunction with subjects as disparate as gay liberation and the user-friendly (i.e. welcoming, inclusive) Apple Computer.


Multiculturalism and its emphasis on mixing and coloring the all-white institutions suggest another application of the constantly shifting political meaning of color, expanding the trope from race to all forms of inclusion. For instance, United Colors of Benetton, the advertising slogan for the Italian multinational corporation that marketed knitware under the banner of globalism, and the attendant corporate magazine Colors, evoked the same metaphor of diversity. In the recent backlash against multiculturalism and so-called political correctness, however, spectral metaphors have been recast as signifiers of moral relativity and political uncertainty. Reporting on the Republican victory in the November 1994 election, New York Times reporter Maureen Dowd noted that the new Speaker of the House “promised to bury any remnants of what he disdainfully calls the ‘Great Society, counterculture, McGovernick’ legacy and return America to a more black-and-white view of right and wrong.”55

In its attachment to the “lifelike” and the approximation of the “living,” the reproduction of color continues to be a goal. The distribution of color now is ubiquitous. Practically every office and every home has at least the possibility of color printing. And web-based media, in its all-out assault on the news business, has made the whole question of color in print completely immaterial. How the paper looks is the least of their problems. The norm has shifted to the point where it is black and white that seems the anomaly. The exact meaning of color itself, however, remains elusive.

1 Alfred M. Lee, The Daily Newspaper in America: The Evolution of a Social Instrument, (New York: MacMillan, 1937), p.401.
2 Ibid, p.401.
3 Bill Blackbeard and Martin Williams, eds. The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics, (New York: Harry Abrams, 1977) p.12.
4 Lee, p.437.
5 Joyce Milton, The Yellow Kid, (New York: Harper and Row, 1989), p.17
6 Wilhelm von Bezold, (Boston: Prang, 1876)
7 Finetta Bruce, (London: Rider, 1912)
8 Sir John Gardner Wilkinson, (London: Murray, 1858)
9 David Ramsay Hay, (Edingburgh: W. and R., Chambers, 1936)
10 Moses Harris, (Edinburgh: W Blackwood, 1845)
11 Grant Allen, The Colour-sense; its Origin and Development, (London: Paul, Trench, Trübner, 1892). p.224.
12 Neil Harris, “Color and Media; Some Comparisons and Speculations” Cultural Excursions, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990) p.323.
13 Louis Weinberg quoted in William Leach, Land of Desire, (New York: Pantheon,1993), p.172.
14 Roland Marchand, Advertising the American Dream, (Berkeley: UC Press, 1986), p.118.
15 Ibid.119.
16 Faber Birren, Selling Color to People, (New York: University Books, 1956), p.114.
17 Newsweek, (July 21, 1934):p.16.
18 Neil Harris, “Color and Media; Some Comparisons and Speculations” from Cultural Excursions, p.326.
19 Newsweek, (June 22, 1935):p.23.
20 Roland Marchand, Advertising the American Dream, p.123.
21 Newsweek, 60 years…, corporate promotional brochure.
22 Personal conversation with Newsweek staff member Carol Sullivan.
23 Michael Middleton, “Colour Photography in Journalism” in The Penrose Annual, 1954, p.86.
24 Ibid, p.87.
25 C. Maxwell Tregurtha, “Colour Photography in Journalism” in The Penrose Annual of 1954, p.97.
26 i.e. a free and objective press
27 Maxwell Tregurtha, “Colour Photography in Journalism,” p.98
28 Run-of-paper color refers to color in the actual editorial section of the paper, not in special supplement sections.
29 Sales Management, August 15, 1953.
30 Faber Birren, Selling Color to People, p.113.
31 Ibid, p.5.
32 Ibid, p.21.
33 Ibid, p.113.
34 Newsweek(June 22, 1935) p.22.
35 Eric de Maré, “The lasting power of black and white,” in Penrose Annual volume 59, p.38.
36 Neil Harris, “Color and Media; Some Comparisons and Speculations” from Cultural Excursions, p.333.
37 1965 CBS annual report.
38 Sales Management, November 10, 1963.
39 Neil Harris, “Color and Media; Some Comparisons and Speculations” from Cultural Excursions, p.333.
40 Faber Birren, Selling Color to People, p.113.
41 Newsweek special issue (January 3, 1977).
42 Newsweek (January 17, 1977) vol.89. no.3.
43 Jean-Paul Favre, Color and Communication, (Zurich: ABC, 1979), p.81
44 The Quill.
45 UPI 23 September 1982.
46 USA Today September 15, 1982, vol.1, number.1 p.1.
47 Quoted in Jay Taylor, “Success Stories?” The Quill, Vol.81, No.4, p.24.
48 Ibid, p.24.
49 Personal interview with Richard Curtis.
50 Mario Garcia and Robert Bohle, Color and Newspapers, Poynter Institute for Media Studies, 1986, p.32.
51 UPI.
52 Mario Garcia and Robert Bohle, Color and Newspapers, p.43.
53 Ibid, p.41
54 Ibid, p.41
55 Maureen Dowd, “GOPs Rising Star Pledges to right the wrongs of the left,” New York Times, November 10, 1994, Sect. A, P.1, Col.3.

© Michael Rock