Disruptive Color

Event Recap of Bright Signals: A History of Color Television, 9/25/18

We gathered on September 25 to celebrate and discuss Susan Murray’s Bright Signals: A History of Color Television. Murray’s recently published book is filled with plenty of color images, which are imperative to the narrative she communicates. She asserts that color television was “a disrupter” because it was a radical departure from the black and white standard technology. During the conversation, the audience was shown a clip of people seeing themselves on color television for the first time. Upon seeing themselves on color television, each face was more shocked than the last.

However, it took over a decade for color TV to become the norm in American living rooms or dens. It was the most complex communication technology of its time, and as consequence of it’s era, it became one of the central tools of the Cold War imaginary. Thousands of Americans watched political speeches, current events, or diplomatic meetings such as one between Nixon and Kruschev–which we watched during the conversation. Color television became the mode of communication for the Cold War era, and American Exceptionalism was cited once again for the technological advancement of the color tube.

Murray cited David Sarnoff, who said “we want everyone in the world to see America in its true and natural colors,” referring both to the nationalistic associations of color television, and to the concept that color television was a new way of seeing. Some believed viewers were more attentive because color gave the “illusion” of three dimensions when compared to the grey slate of black and white television. The “true and natural colors” were best showcased by documentarians such as Jacques Cousteau who filmed bright and colorful underwater landscapes, bringing viewers to exotic locations while they sit in front of the telly.