In case you missed it—and hopefully you did miss it, as I pray you have better things to do—an image of a dress posted online yesterday “[set] off a social-media conflagration that few were able to resist,” according to The New York Times. (That the NYT published an article about the dress makes you wonder about their tagline “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” as surely there are other things happening in the world that are more relevant to the public interest than the color of a dress). Obviously, I do not care about the dress-color issue and am not going to wade into those waters. What I do want to talk about, however, is how this episode demonstrates precisely what is wrong the world today.
You see, with so many issues going on in the world today—war in Ukraine, the ongoing drone war in AfPak & Yemen, widespread NSA surveillance, rampant socio-economic inequality, a straggling economy, etc.—a dress is what captures our collective attention. As the NYT reports, BuzzFeed’s poll as to the color of the dress has been viewed 28 million times already. And I’m sitting here thinking: why can’t we get 28 million people to care about any of the issues I mentioned above? Surely socio-economic inequality and the relentless cycle of work-bills-debt affect more people than that? No? The whole episode reminds me of that quote from Orwell’s 1984 that I wrote about yesterday: “Why was it that they could never shout like that about anything that mattered?” Unfortunately, I already know the answer to that: people just don’t care about NSA surveillance, an endless drone war, etc. They care about dresses: blue ones, black ones, gold ones, white ones.
And you know: I just don’t get it anymore. Working-class Americans are working harder and earning less day after day. Wall Street banks are richer and larger today than they were before they nearly wrecked the global economy. The Global War on Terror seems to have no end in sight. And yet here we are, going cuckoo over some irrelevant dress that will be totally forgotten 48 hours from now (if not before that). With priorities like that, I wonder whether we’re starting to make the Dark Ages look enlightened by comparison. The whole episode about this dress, in fact, reminds me of graffiti artist Banksy’s recent work in Gaza. One of Banksy’s newest pieces is a spray-painted image of a cat against an anonymous blown-out wall in Gaza, the sole remainder of what was presumably once a house or building. As Banksy explained regarding the piece, he drew a picture of a kitten on the destroyed building in the hopes of drawing attention to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, because he’s learned (as have I) that people don’t care about the situation there—they care about cute cats instead. I’m starting to think his work would’ve fared better had he painted an image of a white-and-gold dress against the destroyed building instead. Maybe then people would start to care about things that matter.