a punctuation in the field of red things

We never thought it would come to this. But it finally happened, and we can’t look away and pretend any longer. It’s time.

Not one of the scientists who had long studied the fields of blue things, green things, or yellow things had ever come across such a phenomenon. Chromatic evolution in those fields had always proceeded normally. Sure, there might be odd variations once in a while – the Kylie Jenner Hair Events in particular got the science bloggers going – but nothing was outside the acceptable parameters of the normal. And then this happened, and we were in totally uncharted color territory.

They call it “punctuation,” a kind of shorthand way of talking about punctuated equilibrium. It’s a rapid burst of change in the chromemes of a species of colored objects. Simple concept – we all learned this in high school biology. But no one ever thought that even if it did come to pass in our lifetimes, the consequences would be so dramatic.

It started in an otherwise completely innocuous-seeming J. Crew store in Vancouver. The behavior of the colors there had always been just this side of predictable: sensible brown coats in “morose dustbunny,” reserved cashmere sweaters in “chestnut fiesta.” The reds – naming notwithstanding – had always existed in a kind of stable ecology: rooftop red sneakers, tank tops in “gatekeeper flag,” button-down shirts in “revolution red,” headbands in “Madagascar soil.” All different variations on the same basic species. Everything was fine. And then came this year’s spring catalog.

Somewhere on page 6 or 7 was a dress in a red like no other. Clearly the result of a major evolutionary burst – a punctuation event – the dress was splashed in a color so dramatically different from that of its surrounding pages that it had clearly flummoxed the catalog designers: they described the color simply as “red.”
The dresses immediately sold out, flying out of the stores more quickly than they could be restocked. Soon, only one individual of the species was left: a single dress hung on the wrong rack in a store in downtown Vancouver. Lonely and desperate, it tried its best to mate with the dresses around it – members of the closest species it could find – but nothing came of those trysts. At the end of its threads, one Friday night it tentatively dropped a button or two, unraveled a bit of ribbon trim, and realized that it could reproduce itself without the help of its garment brethren. By the time the manager arrived to open the store early Saturday morning, three more dresses hung on the rack. By the following Wednesday, carefully folded stacks of the dress were squeezing sweaters and jeans off their shelves. After a week or two, reports of unexplained dress sightings were coming in from stores in Seattle and then further afield.
Now, the red dresses are taking over.

Reports have been coming in from across North America. Little girls go to sleep in their pajamas and wake up looking ready for a party. Young men exit locker room showers to find a sensible sheath in place of their t-shirts and sweatpants. It seems that the dresses don’t like to be watched when reproducing, so people have tried to halt their spread by backing themselves into corners and staring at the walls: one can only do that for so long, though, and it only takes a moment of inattention for the red to spread. Many stopped trying to fight it, and began to wear the dress to work as a kind of uniform. After months of this the dresses had been reproducing so quickly that there were no longer enough bodies and closets to hold them, and people began arriving to their offices and classrooms to find the walls covered with red fabric and the floors carpeted with the garments. After the first suffocation – a store clerk in Vancouver – we were called in.

Anywhere they find textile material, they are able to regenerate and make copies of themselves. The only way we’ve been able to fight back, as a result, is by sending naked armies into the field, armed with bleach and fire. (We’ve tried to set up no-cellphone perimeters around these attacks, but invariably someone slips through. We’ve found that it’s best to avoid Twitter for about a week after an assault.) One museum in New York City has asked for a specimen to keep under glass, as a reference sample for their collection. Otherwise, it’s now open season on the red dress.

Despite the reports of human casualties, special interest groups have called for a cease-fire, claiming that this evolutionary behavior is a sign of some kind of consciousness, demanding an end to what they’ve been calling “vestocide.” Some of us see their point – it’s possible that the pattern of dresses that appeared overnight in Stanley Park was, in fact, an attempt by the species to communicate – but the time for debate is over: if we don’t act now, we may not have another chance. We’ve stripped down, fired up, and are ready with the Clorox.

If you’re watching this, it means I probably didn’t make it. Please tell the rest of the survivors – if there are any – that we did our best.

Wish us luck. Reports of another unusual punctuation event are slowly coming in, and if this works it looks like we’re going to have our hands full with green hats for a while.

[Return to “Reading Notes: The Intertwining – The Chiasm”]