In a colour bind

Kate Ellison 3 May 2015

As the General Election draws near, one cannot escape the different colours of the political parties, which seems to percolate into everything from the colour ties they wear, to the many slogans plastered across any available surface. By association, colours like dangerous red have become synonymous with Labour, dower blue for the Conservatives, mellow yellow for the Liberals and the obvious green for the Green Party (no surprise there!).

Colour has been used to represent different emotions and thoughts, often being used as a medium for expression in therapy. Despite this, there is no universal consensus as to the meaning behind each one; for example, whilst some may interpret red as love, others may see it as fear or even joy. No doubt this is influenced by our cultural experiences, and so will inevitably vary between societies and individuals. In UK health adverts for example, greens and yellows tend to be used, perhaps to evoke nature and purity, but in many Eastern countries, dark purples and even blacks are used.

Sadly this does mean that the once innocent colours of the rainbow have become polluted and dyed by media and politics. Instead of seeing a yellow sun surrounded with crystal blue skies, do you see it as representing the mutual coalition of the Tories and Liberal Democrats? Instead of enjoying the sun setting on a clear night, can you not help being reminded of the blazing yellow M cutting across the red background of McDonald's? However, this highlights the centrality of these companies and groups in society, as they are brought into the fundamental building blocks of our perception.

I have a 'condition' named Synesthesia; I am not mentally ill, I just perceive things rather differently.  Synesthetes have senses that overlap and muddle sights, sounds and tastes up, so that one will trigger the other. For example, if you were to play a 'C' on the piano, I would immediately think of the colour lilac and taste pear drops. If you were to instead play a 'G', I would smell cut grass and feel its texture on my fingers.

It may sound a bit weird, but it has become part of normal everyday life and provides me with a completely unique experience of the world. However, It also means that I will inevitably form positive or negative associations between the seemingly unconnected. One example of this is how the sound of a spoon going round an empty bowl (my worst nightmare) immediately evokes the colour blue in my mind and means that I dislike the colour. Although I am not biased to vote against the Conservatives for this reason, this example clearly demonstrates how individual differences in colour perception can influence our thinking patterns and perhaps even our behaviour.

Colours go beyond the enhancement of pictures or being the favourites of Geographers, holding their own special, subjective meanings. We should let our true colours shine through, without the simplification implied by social media ‘aura’ tests. Likewise, political parties cannot be reduced to the connotations of a single colour. Yet by having one that permeates their campaign, they can send a message out to the masses, echoing their policies for all to see, instead of only hear.