The Color of Ties / The Ties of Color

In the Town Hall Debate last night, the first—and for me—only visual shock was to see Barack Obama wearing a red tie and Mitt Romney wearing a blue tie. Just when I thought that the “red party” was the Republican Party and the “blue party” was the Democratic Party, they went and did a switch on me. Here’s what came up when I did a search:

Red state is Republican, Blue state Democrat
Blue-tied Romney sparring with red-tied Obama            (photo from USA Today)
A state is considered blue if the voting history trends to the Democratic party and red if it trends towards the Republican party. These colors are selected because they are on the opposite ends of the color spectrum. In other countries, the color scheme is rversed, where red is the color of the liberals and blue the conservatives. The exact use of this color scheme emerged in the 2000 elections, due more to general agreement among commentators than anything else.—Charlie

Red=Republican. Blue=Democrat.

There isn’t any deep meaning. [my emphasis] It just happened that way in the media broadcast of the 2000 presidential race. After that, it became the accepted, albeit unofficial nomenclature of politics. As Wikipedia describes it:

“Early on, the most common—though again, not universal—color scheme was to use red for Democrats and blue for Republicans. This was the color scheme employed by NBC—David Brinkley famously referred to the 1984 map showing Reagan’s 49-state landslide as a “sea of blue”, but this color scheme was also employed by most newsmagazines. CBS during this same period, however, used the opposite scheme—blue for Democrats, red for Republicans…

“But in 2000, for the first time, all major electronic media outlets used the same colors for each party: Red for Republicans, blue for Democrats. Partly as a result of this near-universal color-coding, the terms Red States and Blue States entered popular usage in the weeks following the 2000 presidential election. Additionally, the closeness of the disputed election kept the colored maps in the public view for longer than usual, and red and blue thus became fixed in the media and in many people’s minds. [2] Journalists began to routinely refer to “blue states” and “red states” even before the 2000 election was settled. After the results were final, journalists stuck with the color scheme . . . . Thus red and blue became fixed in the media and in many people’s minds [3] despite the fact that no “official” color choices had been made by the parties.

The quote goes on and on…

What I find interesting is the assertion that “there is no deep meaning” in it. But of course there is. Since the ‘Teens of the 20th century, the Red Party has been associated with the Communist Party. To be called a “Red” was the same as being called a Communist. And Communists, as we all know, are associated with the Left. And Democrats, though becoming more and more Centrist, began on the Left even if they’ve moved to the Middle.
So what’s going on here? It’s taken me years to adjust (and I still haven’t or hadn’t adjusted) to thinking of the Red Party as the Republican Party. Interestingly, this color code-switching nearly coincides with the demise and eventual collapse of the Soviet Union, one of the last bastions of so-called “Communism.”

Is there a deliberate emptying out of signified tied to the signifier of color?

With last night’s reversal: the Democrat sporting a bright red to go with the bright red carpet, the Republican sporting a royal blue tie to match the sky blue walls, I’m perplexed. Perhaps it was Obama unconsciously signaling to his constituents that he was still on the Left. And Romney signaling he was still the party of the rich. Their people must decide these things beforehand. Imagine if both came out wearing the same color tie. . .

The only thing constant was the two wives of the two candidates as well as the first woman commentator on PBS in luscious hot pink: pink being the color the most closely identified with women and femininity and sex. According to the InternetSlang dictionary, PINK means “Vagina.”

What’s a girl—oh, I mean a woman—to think.

What Is It About the Dodge Poetry Festival

Okay. It’s pretty cool to read to a packed auditorium of poets and poetry lovers. To share the stage with so many luminaries like Natasha Trethewey, Terrance Hayes, Eavan Boland, Jane Hirshfield, and the inimitable Patricia Smith who took the photo below. To yatter on about poetry, my influences, going public with private feelings. To read from my new book and all my others. To sell books and sign them.

But what makes the Dodge special is the chance to change lives. Literally. I could feel that happening on Friday, the day devoted to high school students. I had finished up by early afternoon, was standing outside in the sun, when 4 young women sheepishly approached me. I recognized one of them. She’d been in the front row of the auditorium when I’d read earlier that morning. They came over to tell me how much my reading, my presence had meant to them, particularly when it came to reading certain poems. Now I had shied away from reading from my new book, Whirlwind, on that day, a book devoted largely to my divorce, though I must have read one poem from it at the end. Mostly, though, I read from early books, including my first book,Heart Work, which Sheep Meadow published way back in 1995. Now that I think about it, before any of these girls had been born. What moved and transformed them was my poem “If My Mother” about getting my schizophrenic mother to sign herself into a hospital. It made me realize all over again how difficult it is for individuals everywhere, particularly young people, to feel comfortable talking about such things. That there is still a stigma attached to mental illness, just as there is to alcohol and drug addiction. Perhaps even more so. One of them also was moved by “Passing” from Burn and Dodge, which talks about racial passing and my own experience of passing as Irish because of the way I look in combination with my Irish-sounding surname when I lived in Carroll Gardens in the late Eighties and early Nineties, when it felt unsafe to reveal myself in what was then a working class Italian neighborhood. I can sniff anti-Semitism the way I’m sure some folks can sniff racism.

The emphasis at the Festival was often on a more narrative or lyric confessionalism, for lack of better terms. I don’t really recall anyone there from the more language-based or experimental sector of the poetry world. And while I’d argue that strict schools of poetry have pretty much gone away, there was a noticeable tendency to feature the popular, even populist poets. That’s not to say they’re facile. Far from it. Terrance Hayes read all new work every time I heard him and the poems were dizzying in their complexities. Dorianne Laux read a startling, brilliant new poem that jumped from Paul Simon and Grace and Graceland to the diamond mines in South Africa to those “diamonds on the soles of my shoes.” And Jane Hirshfield always dazzles with poems that conjure the unsaid, the silences, as much as the said. But there was no Sharon Mesmer or Charles Bernstein or even Lyn Hejinian present.It was thrilling, yet odd to get 6 minutes, really, to read to a packed house on Thursday night. And so I chose to read 2 poems, one from either end of the poetry spectrum: “Desire and the Lack”–as language-dense as possible–and “To the Furies Who Visited Me in the Basement of Duane Reade”–a poem of narrative hyperbole.

I do hope I get asked back.

Sharon Dolin’s Schedule at the Dodge Poetry Festival

Thursday Oct. 11th
Conversation: The Riches of Daily Life
Sharon Dolin, Thomas Lux, Idra Novey
First Peddie Baptist Church

Reading and Conversation
Sharon Dolin, John Murillo, C.K. Williams
Prudential Hall

5-7 pm
Poet Reception
Chase Room

Poetry Sampler
Sharon Dolin and 25 other poets including: Eavan Boland, Terrance Hayes, Jane Hirshfield, Dorianne Laux, Patricia Smith, and Natasha Trethewey
Prudential Hall

Friday, Oct. 12th
9:30-10:30 am
Festival Poet Readings
Brian Barker, Henti Cole, Sharon Dolin, Nicky Finney, John Murillo
Victoria Theatre

Poets on Poetry
Eduardo C. Corral, Sharon Dolin

Sat., October 13th
Festival Poets Reading
Sharon Dolin, Juan Felipe Herrera, Mark Hilringhouse
First Peddie Baptist Memorial Church

Conversation: Going Public with Private Feelings
Nicky Beer, Richard Blanco, Sharon Dolin, Timothy Liu
Trinity & St. Philip’s Cathedral

Sunday, Oct. 14th
9:00-10:00 am
Festival Poet Readings
Sharon Dolin, Terrance Hayes, Joseph Millar, Benjamin Alire Saenz
Prudential Hall

Conversation: American Poetries
Sharon Dolin, Kurtis Lamkin, Ada Limon, C.K. Williams
Newark Museum

Dodge Poetry Festival

Dodge Poetry Festival Sharon Dolin will be a Featured Poet at this 4-day poetry extravaganza of readings, talks, and conversations about the art of poetry. To be held in the Downtown Arts District of Newark, NJ on Thursday, Oct. 11-Sunday October14. Detailed Schedule tba. Go to their events page at: