New Glory Blue

The Blue Screen of Liberation

Photograph of Dylann Roof

The Flag is the Grin

On July 9, 2015, South Carolina state governor Nikki Haley signed the necessary legislation to remove the Confederate flag from the state capitol. The flag has flown at the statehouse since 1961, and was moved from the top of the building to the lawn as a measure of compromise in the year 2000. Though the removal of the flag has been demanded since the flag was raised, it wasn’t until the necessary legislation was signed into law that the flag could officially be removed. This came after several weeks of criticism from those who don’t understand why the Confederate flag has any remaining social currency. The formal lowering of the flag was prefaced by Bree Newsome’s bold demonstration on June 27th in which she climbed the flagpole and removed it. “It’s the banner of racial intimidation and fear,” said Newsome. “How can America be free and be ruled by fear?” The state’s removal of the flag on July 10th was well attended, which seemed overly sentimental to those who take the flag as a threat rather than an image of southern pride.

There is irony in mourning a symbol of oppression, but not in a way that conjures laughter. The ceremony surrounding the lowering of the flag was an inappropriate formality, inconsistent with the amount of pain the flag has already caused. It could be humorous if not for the violence that caused legislators to become aware of the flag’s toxic symbolism in the first place.

“The state’s removal of the flag on July 10th was well attended, which seemed overly sentimental to those who take the flag as a threat rather than an image of southern pride.”

When Dylann Roof massacred nine Black Americans, the Confederate flag was a prop he posed with in numerous photos while wearing a Neo-Nazi number across his chest. As Roof bore down on his nine victims, the Confederate flag was waving on the South Carolinian capitol grounds. In the shameful diptych drawn between Roof’s act of terror and the capitol’s lack of foresight, the Confederate flag plays the grin on a ruthless killer’s face.

The United States of America, a serial murderer of minorities and perpetuator of white privilege, may have a killer’s psychopathy — a diminished empathy and remorse, multiplied by an abnormal psychological gratification in killing. The truth is that even though the flag was removed from the South Carolina statehouse, the hatred it represents is an intrinsic part of American society.

It should go without saying that a national flag is a tired construct. It is a sewn together system of iconic dominance — a structured layering of colors, an army of stars and stripes. It is a system that aestheticizes control. Unable to support its own weight, it folds and falls. A flag rises up in arms when touched by a mild wind. Flags are representative of volatile national pride that has instigated violence and oppression since the beginning of human history. In the weeks following Dylann Roof’s crimes, America realized this. But it will be forgotten as we rally behind our familiar U.S. flag, because it is the flag that wronged us less recently.

Colors of the flag of the Unites States, Wikipedia

The key differentiation between flags of different nations is their colors. The colors of the U.S. flag, which are the same as those on the Confederate flag, are defined in a book of swatches called the Standard Color Reference of America. The colors derive from the first official U.S. flag, flown in August of 1777, which was constructed of torn strips of cloth from soldiers’ shirts, their wives’ scarlet petticoats, and the blue cloth coat of the Dutch Captain Abraham Swartwout. The state of the cloths at the time of the flag’s creation is reflected in the swatches, which appear dirty, dark, and old. These colors are called Old Glory Red, Old Glory Blue, and White.

“It should go without saying that a national flag is a tired construct. It is a sewn together system of iconic dominance”

The White is closer to light beige, tinged with brown as a marker of the age and experience of the United States. But the U.S., a country that declared its independence a little over 200 years ago, has neither age nor experience. These colors are aged in the way clothes purchased from Hot Topic might be. The country wears its jeans with pre-made tears and a pair of antiqued Converse. America understands the value of experience but has very little.

Because it is so young, when we think of the United States we never picture its old dirty swatches. Most reproductions of the flag represent its hues much brighter and richer than those it’s been embodied with. Just as “Old Glory” has been dropped colloquially from any reference to our national colors, the faux patina has dropped with it. Millions of Independence themed products fill the market, further promoting the spirit of America as a young nation. The people that dictate the history of the United States might have you believe that we are a nation with a long and noble history, but don’t be fooled. The bright colors are a better reflection of our naiveté.

Firecracker®, American Fourth of July Popsicles, in a shape resembling a firecracker

Active Void

Old Glory Blue was a valuable color to produce at the time of its naming. Indigo dye, which was historically used to create the deep blue in flags and the shade of blue in worker’s denim jeans, was produced by slave-owning plantations in the South in the 1700s. At that point in time, indigo was as economically valuable to produce as sugar and cotton. Despite Old Glory’s intention to paint a noble look on a young nation, the deep shade of blue carries a painful relationship to forced human labor and the ownership of slaves in the United States. But discontinuity between a symbol’s ideal and the reality it represents is not unheard of. As the meaning of a symbol shifts from its original value to a perverse or self-destructive one, it must either be healed through a gradual shift in national attitude or by being succeeded with a more representative symbol.

“Despite Old Glory’s intention to paint a noble look on a young nation, the deep shade of blue carries a painful relationship to forced human labor and the ownership of slaves in the United States.”

Fortunately, not all shades of blue are as burdened as the one used on the national flag. A familiar blue that evades these connotations is the high-intensity blue native to digital interfaces. It is seen on television monitors when no signal is present. It is identifiable by the charge of electricity that brings minute changes with each refresh of the screen. It conveys discreetly the color’s natural desire to act, and its potential to produce images. This blue is represented by the absence of red and green light in the spectrum of additive color. This is a color I’d like to call New Glory Blue. Contrary to Old Glory Blue which has a history of oppressive behavior, New Glory Blue implies the potential for revolutionary action.

The Blue Screen of Death

New Glory Blue is known primarily for its use in fatal computer error warnings. It was popularized by early Microsoft operating systems, though it is used in countless others. The warning screen that appears when the system cannot continue operating safely contains the name of the error and a list of instructions for how to proceed. This screen is commonly referred to as The Blue Screen of Death, as it indicates that the computer will have to restart in order to function properly again. As the system ceases to perform properly on its own, it displays a full page of blue and awaits user guidance. The use of New Glory Blue within the Blue Screen of Death represents the state prior to restarting. This is a euphemism for what it can represent in a political sense — the state prior to reform or revolution.

“The use of New Glory Blue within the Blue Screen of Death represents the state prior to restarting. This is a euphemism for what it can represent in a political sense — the state prior to reform or revolution.”

New Glory Blue is an active void. As a sign it represents a lack of information or a space of non-activity. Yet it requires a continuous input of energy to be rendered. This is similar to how the working class is viewed in the United States, as a silent body. A group of individuals that is incapable of forming a coherent signal or data output. The American people are treated as a void while they are actually a constantly feeding entity. Within that image of silence and incoherent thought, lies potential. Just as New Glory Blue withholds the potential to display an image at any moment, the silent proletariat may be moved to action. And just like the blue on a television with no signal, it gives no indication of the moment it will become animate.

For a computer, the only solution to the Blue Screen of Death is restarting. The same can be said for a society that fails to acknowledge when its legislation is out of date, and it cannot fairly represent a diverse body of individuals. New Glory Blue can be proclaimed as a sign that it is time for reform. As the Confederate flag goes down in a tribute to its obsolescence, maybe it’s time we thought not about flags but about a single revolutionary color.

Bloomberg Business, screenshot of www.bloomberg.com, July 10, 2015

As Branding Mechanism

In 2015, Bloomberg Business rebranded. New Glory Blue was the primary change, outside of some basic modernist aesthetics. The text and images on the website are highlighted and activated by the powerful shade of blue. The design seems out of place for a business magazine because it promotes neither comfort nor concentration. The discreet electric charge of New Glory Blue is incapable of being subdued, and makes the reader cautious as they browse the popular news magazine. Reactions to the rebrand have been paradoxical. It’s been described as “beautifully bizarre,” and contradictory of the normalcy our eyes are trained to see. It is a design that “pulls you in as much as it spits in your eye.” New Glory Blue is enigmatic and hard to predict. Though it is worn by Bloomberg Business, it is not owned by it.

New Glory Blue is also an accessory to the design of E-Flux’s Conversations. The political art magazine designed the series as “…a new platform for in-depth discussions of urgent artistic and social ideas. Using a hybrid editorial model, the open forum allows for participation from any user…” New Glory Blue functions on a subtle level, in the progress bar to show how many pages you’ve covered, in the image caption layer, and in a single 10px square next to the word “Forum,” acting as a beacon for floating opinions.

E-Flux: Conversations, screenshot of http://conversations.e-flux.com, July 19, 2015

Another site that investigated this hue was the online-only art gallery called #0000FF. In HTML, #0000FF is the six-digit hex code necessary to render New Glory Blue on a web page. This gallery only exhibited artworks that made use of or were inspired by this shade of blue. Keeping in line with the unique quality of New Glory Blue as a color that can only be rendered digitally, #0000FF did not have a physical gallery space, but used a Facebook page by the same name to serve as their gallery.

#0000FF’s virtual gallery is an important example of how one can activate a hegemonic platform such as Facebook. Though Facebook was notably used to organize protests during the Arab Spring, Facebook has also served the agendas of large corporate sponsors. This has occasionally resulted in the removal of Facebook groups that were created to incite protests. As a sign of Facebook’s ambivalence in the role as a site of cultural change their theme color Facebook Blue is much less saturated than New Glory Blue. It is a physically reproducible shade of blue, and while it is not as dark as Old Glory Blue, it appeals equally to conservative agendas that must operate under a color that does not incite leftist discourse. Facebook Blue can be seen as ‘optimistic’ to a favorer of Old Glory Blue, and ‘safe’ to someone progressive who prefers to operate under New Glory Blue.

Facebook Blue, image from www.color-hex.com/color/3b5998, July 14, 2015

The Blue Screen of Liberation

A subtractive color is the type we think of in most conversations about color. These are colors produced when materials such as pigment, dye, and ink are used to strategically block out parts of the spectrum of light. A sheet of paper that appears white reflects all color wavelengths, until certain wavelengths are blocked out — subtracted — by some type of marking material. This process of subtraction is how these colors get their name. Because they are created by physical processes, they have a physical form. They remain in paintings and printed photographs until they are destroyed.

New Glory Blue is an additive color. While subtractive colors have their stake in permanence, additive colors are ephemeral. They can rarely be produced without the use of technology. They appear on a wall when you use a video projector, or on a CRT monitor when phosphors are lit up by electron guns. They appear on a computer monitor when the screen is backlit. In all of these cases, the colors only appear when there are different shades of light converging (adding to one another) to create one image.

Subtractive colors like the dyes in the American National flag are overzealous in their materiality. The ephemerality of additive colors better reflects today’s society, which values anonymity. In a world where our movements and interests are strategically recorded and formed into Big Data, actions that are hard to trace have become practical. The generation that takes pride in having social media profiles that accurately portray their lives is entering into adulthood, while Generation Z gravitates toward social media platforms that function on anonymity. The desire to identify one’s self in virtual spaces has become old-fashioned.

“Subtractive colors like the dyes in the American National flag are overzealous in their materiality. The ephemerality of additive colors better reflects today’s society, which values anonymity.”

This pull toward anonymity is what forms the backbone of the hacktivist group Anonymous. Anonymous is a loose group of individuals that fluctuate between performing large-scale pranks and activist measures to take down the websites of powerful corporations that threaten the safety of the public. It is a web-based group that began on the website 4chan, a place where anonymous authorship is encouraged. Anonymous is a “hive-mind of popular opinion,” which means there is no leader. The actions of Anonymous represent the desires of the most outspoken members coming together at a particular moment. Anonymous cannot be captured because Anonymous is not anyone. Anonymous can appear and disappear without leaving a trace, which is why it has been able to continue doing what it does. Like the congregation Anonymous, New Glory Blue is a color that denies representation. It is a color that cannot be captured. When the projector goes off, or the monitor’s power is cut, New Glory Blue no longer exists. Anonymity and ephemerality are important tools to acquire liberty within a state of mass surveillance.

As the construct of a flag becomes obsolete, citizens of the United States will find immaterial signs to represent them. New Glory Blue never manifests itself physically. It is closer to an idea than an object. While the U.S. flag is a stable and perpetual symbol, New Glory Blue is mutable and modifiable. It is a color that has no set dimension or form, one that represents a more diverse body of individuals. In a country that murders minorities, where its citizens’ actions are turned into records to be used against them, one can expect to find new representations of liberty to gain traction. New Glory Blue must be draped across digital devices in solidarity with a notion of impermanence, change, and imminent restart. When the United States recognizes itself as a host of systemic oppression and a fosterer of phony nostalgia, it will cease its processes in surrender to its users, those awaiting a Blue Screen of Liberation.

The Blue Screen of Liberation (text from The New Colossus, image by American Artist)