The dress that shook the world

The infamous internet meme now known as "The Dress" is a portent of our social disorder and apocalyptic rush towards dystopia. [video]


If that sounds heavy handed, consider how the over-exposed photo of a black and blue dress (and yes, it is black and blue), caused internet traffic and even social debates unheard of with more serious, urgent issues. Even our Corsair Newsroom became a battlefield where friendships and perceptions came under threat over the raging debate over what color the dress was.

The madness began as the result of another act of lunacy, a wedding. To make a long story short, the member of a Scottish wedding party posted a photo of a dress, first photographed by the bride's mother, on her Tumblr blog last week asking what color it was (apparently members of the bride's family had already started a debate). Someone posted the blog on Buzzfeed and by Saturday had attracted 24 million views.

What has ensued in the last few days is one of the most fascinating sociological short circuits of the decade.




Blogs, message boards, Twitter feeds, have all been consumed by "The Dress." CNN, the BBC, NBC, Fox, and other outlets made it front page news. Psychologists, scientists, neurologists have all written articles as to why some see white and gold and others black and blue. Some articles have even pondered what seeing one of the two color selections says about your I.Q. We're still waiting for the United Nations to issue a statement (joke).

I don't write from a high tower, I happily engaged in the Dress debate, and during the Super Bowl, Left Shark gained my immediate admiration. But there's little doubt that the explosion of The Dress says a lot about who we are right now.

A simple truth here is that The Dress enraptured the world because it perfectly embodied the vapid times we inhabit.

In a fast moving age, thinking is a real chore. The Dress requires little actual thinking. It simply provokes an immediate reaction and everyone can chime in. Deadly serious issues on the net such as Benjamin Netanyahu's speech this week to Congress denouncing negotiations with Iran (war clouds on the horizon), the assassination of a top Russian dissident in Moscow (the world's biggest country potentially destabilized), or a possible coup plot in Venezuela (serious unrest next door), elicit blissful ignorance.

It's true that people have different interests. Not everyone enjoys processing political/global news, but that's part of the point. The Dress became a phenomenon because it connected everyone through its sheer meaninglessness. It had nothing to do with the arts, music, sports, or even anything provocative. It is solid proof about how we are a society that goes insane over nothing. It explains why someone like Kim Kardashian can become a pop icon by doing nothing more than turning herself into a product. Our idols are transparent and made of glass.

Socially we are like moths to a flame when it comes to going nuts over memes and bizarre, fleeting fads. While we can easily blame the internet, The Dress is like a culmination of the consumerist culture that first really began in the 19th century. The great critic Walter Benjamin chronicled the rise of glittering department stores designed to entrance the masses with fashion and objects in Paris. Benjamin described the modern world's obsession with being shallow consumers as "the sadist's mania for novelty."

It is the same principle applied to human interaction in our society. I once heard a student claim that "hooking up" is better than finding a decent person because "I don't have to think, and my instincts are satisfied momentarily." I know someone who would call that person "someone with issues," but indeed, socially we all have issues and The Dress proves it.

Our worship of things, of objects, has culminated in The Dress "breaking the internet" and causing fierce online exchanges that would make extraterrestrials wonder if the garment's color scheme were essential for human survival. The diagnosis by the alien observers would be that we live in a world dominated by illusion and fantasy. The fantasies consumer culture offers are made physical by The Dress. Everyone sees the color they want, and they obsess themselves with proving it, for what reason? There is none. But then again, what's the logic in waiting in line for the next iPhone? Current events matter little. Even when audiences go to see a historical film at the box office they prefer the uber patriotic fantasies of "American Sniper," where again, real thinking about the Iraq War is discarded for a shallow, macho vision of war and killing.

Let's continue to obsess over The Dress, or whatever other meaningless object conquers the internet, while in the background new wars are brewing, the world is changing and we won't realize the storm has arrived until the first drops of acid rain fall on our keyboards.