title. To Give Poetry Back To Green
name. Marie K
right now. Second year studying at The University of Edinburgh
In 2009, McDonald’s logo turned from red to green after a few disastrous years for its reputation. Indeed, it has become a magical colour, which has the power to create an illusion of cleanliness and integrity. Its connotation is increasingly powerful in a ‘post-industrial’ society, where the concepts of ‘health’, ‘sustainability’, ‘environmentally friendly’ are overrepresented. Tightly linked to those ideas, green has been given the thankless mission to save the world. Because it is a synonym of righteousness and environmental duty, it is used to clean the reputation of companies, such as BP, or political parties. It is one of the consequences of the instrumentalization of ecology, unfortunate victim of political marketing. The virtue of collective duty has the power to silence everyone. It has become a flag, in the same way as red was used by communism. The colour green has thus lost its disturbing beauty and the poetry of the ephemeral.
‘As for the deep greens, such as emperor green and myrtle green, these suffer the same fate as the blues and become indistinguishable from black. Only the pale greens therefore remained, peacock green for instance, or the cinnabars and lacquer greens, but then in their case lamplight extracts the blue in them, leaving only the yellow, which for its part shows only a poor false tone and dull, broken sheen’. The words of Joris-Karl Huysmans in Against the Grain reflects the relationship between the unstable chemical composition of green and its symbolic.
At first, it was seen as the disturbance of the order. Ancient Judaism was obsessed with purity and the respect of the universal order, as the Leviticus demonstrates it. Therefore, it was strictly forbidden to mix two elements to make a third one. Green was a mix of yellow and blue rather than a colour, which dyers refused to work with for a long time. The idea of elusiveness was due to the fact that it faded easily after a difficult process of synthesis. For those reasons, the medieval symbolic associated green with perturbation. The green knight was often the disturbing element in a narrative. On coat of arms, such as those of Tristan or Sagremor, it was a symbol of madness when used with yellow. In the collective imagination it is the colour of the enemies of Christendom, for instance the devil, reptiles, or even aliens. Shakespeare made the green-eyed monster a symbol of jealousy. However, the idea of change has two faces, namely degeneration and progress. Romanticism emphasised this positive dimension by introducing youth, hope, young love to its possible meanings. The green colour of the poker carpet evokes the uncertainty of destiny, which is not negative anymore, but associated to game and pleasure. Thus, green represents the danger of change but also the hope it can offer. By refusing to be tamed, it challenges the established order, which reassures us so much.
An attempt to do justice to a colour sounds like intellectual masturbation. However, the history of the green colour encourages us to look at a more significant narrative. Max Weber analysed what he called the ‘disenchantment’ of the world, namely an increasing rationalisation. The beauty of the unexpected and the poetry of everyday life could be fading away, in the same way as green was tamed. Indeed, those values are timeless contrary to political messages. Our attraction to its ephemeral nature also questions the importance of ownership, which can prevent us to look beyond the mundaneness of everyday life. This colour represents ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’ in a world where gravity is so valued.