Sunday, June 25, 2006

Pretty in Pink

Anyone who isn't blind has noticed the epidemic of pink shirts that's currently sweeping the world of men's fashion. You see the benighted metros wearing them everywhere, on the street, in the office, and if you go into a menswear store, you're confronted with a sea of pink, leavened by the occasional pastel highlight.

Now, normally I don't care about men's fashion. "This is in this year? Whatever. Just ring it up so I can get out of this damn mall and back to doing something interesting." That in a nutshell is my usual attitude towards clothing.

But this is different. This is pink. And ever since the pink trend started to catch on (first observed in Toronto, but recently it's followed me to Tokyo) I've had a niggling suspicion that there's something, well, sinister about the whole thing.

Or maybe I'm just an unreconstructed homophobic backwoods redneck, and I'm over-reacting to the whole 'pink' thing because I Fear Change (then again, sports bore me, I've never been hunting, and I expect and hope for a technological singularity, Coming Soon to a Planet Near You. I do like beer, though. And whiskey. Sweet, sweet whiskey....) So I'm open to the possibility that I'm ranting about nothing here, but anyways.

Now, as is fairly well known, color has a very strong psychological aspect. Blue is calming and authoritative, red can mean aggression or sex. That kind of thing. And yes there's a cultural component to all this, but mostly I'm talking about this as relates to one culture (the West) so that's not really at issue, I think.

Most of the hits I got on a quick google gave the psychological components of pink as calm, warmth, and nurture, with the particular emphasis on calm. All of them of course generally feminine qualities (which would explain the color's historical association with femininity.) A little more digging revealed that "Sports teams sometimes paint the locker rooms used by opposing teams bright pink so their opponents will lose energy," a dirty trick inspired by the technique of using pink jail cells to calm inmates (using a very specific shade, call 'drunk tank pink', which was discovered by the U.S. Marine Corps.) Apparently drunk-tank pink must be used sparingly: exposure to the color for more than an hour pacifies the subject so effectively that he becomes suicidal.

So what does all this say about the latest fad for feminized menswear?

I see it all as a symptom. Here we have a generation of men raised in schools that treat them as deffective women, to the point of medicating them if they prove restless. They then go to work in office environments where overtly masculine displays are greatly frowned upon, and where traditionally feminine abilities - multitasking, consensus-building, that sort of thing - are prized. The surrounding culture tells them that women want soft, sensitive men (men who get sympathy pain, not men who shrug at pain) with soft, sensitive skin (waxed, not shaven.) They're not allowed to take part in any 'men-only' organizations, either in work or in play; it's instructive that the Boy Scouts' name now counts as false advertising, though the Girl Guides remain true to their title.

It's only natural that many choose, consciously or not, to subdue their masculine side, and wearing pink is undoubtedly a part of that.

At the same time, instinct whispers to them, "Something is wrong." It's a persistent, niggling disquiet in the back of their minds, the notion that they've been cheated, somewhere, somehow, of something that every other man in the history of the species expected without even knowing they expected it. And so they need to be calmed ... and that nice pink polo shirt for the club, or the soft pink business shirt for that important Wednesday lunch, speak directly to that need.

But the calming power of pink is not forever. As the experience of the police shows, expose a man to pink for too long and he'll go suicidally insane.

Not that it will come to that.

Things will start to swing, soon I think, in the other direction. A lot of men don't buy the whole 'senstive modern man' thing and never did. A lot of women admit they don't even really want that. Both of those groups resent having masculinity squelched because it's inconvenient. And as for the large numbers wearing pink, to me they seem to be as a group desperately, silently pleading for help. They'd like to be men, and though they can't really remember how, instinct as always will prove stronger than social engineering. There will come a time when they demand to start learning.

From this perspective, the epidemic of pink might even be a hopeful sign. Short of mass vasectomies and mandatory estrogen injections, how much worse could it get?


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