By Mordechai Schmutter
As a man, I don’t know a whole lot of colors. I know what ROY G. BIV stands for (though I have no idea what indigo is), and I even know a few colors besides those—I know black, white, gray, pink, brown, and a strangely large number of colors that I classify as “beige.” And that’s about it.
Yes, I’m always trying to learn new things, but those things are not colors. My wife and I have an arrangement where each of us has our own departments that we worry about, and worrying about the other 890 colors is her department. I find that not caring about colors leads to fewer arguments. But on the other hand, I sometimes say things like “Why doesn’t Gedalyah just wear the green shirt?” And my wife goes, “What green shirt? He doesn’t have a green shirt.” And I go, “Yes he does. He wore it a few days ago.” And she says, “Oh. That’s not green, it’s avocado.” And I go, “What’s avocado?” And she goes, “It’s green.” And I go, “That’s what I said!”
So as you can imagine, I was pretty surprised when I read a recent UK Telegraph article that said that several men’s prisons in Switzerland are painting their jail cells pink.
I don’t think the prisoners are requesting it, and I can’t imagine who else would be asking for it. Is this something the taxpayers are petitioning for?
According to officials, the government actually did this as part of a project called “Cool Down Pink.” Because sometimes prisoners misbehave, if you can imagine. They figure, “What are they gonna do to me? I’m already in jail! They can’t put me more in jail!” But the truth is they can. They put the prisoners in solitary confinement in one of these pink rooms, and apparently it calms them down.
As it turns out, different colors have different psychological effects, and interior decorators are always using those effects in specific rooms. For example, red is a bold color that inspires action, energy, and high blood pressure. It also draws people together and stimulates conversation. This is why people tend to gather around red lights and exchange constructive ideas in the form of honking.
Blue, meanwhile, lowers blood pressure and inspires trust, loyalty, creativity, intelligence, and, for some reason, decreased appetite. This is why very few foods are blue, and very few foods come in blue packaging. Besides milchigs.
Scientists say that this psychological color spectrum is how each of us picks a favorite color—it’s the one that we get the best feeling from. Though that’s not entirely true. When I was a kid, my favorite color was purple, because it represented grape. I went mostly by flavor. Whereas now, as a parent, I pick colors mostly around which ones are least likely to show stains. So purple is out.
Personally, I think decorators might be taking it too far. It’s great that colors affect moods, but it’s not like you’re coming into rooms and staring at the walls. You have things to do. Unless you’re in prison.
So, apparently, pink is calming. According to one of the psychologists at the prison, “Anger levels can reduce in as little as 15 minutes, though we usually confine a convict to a pink cell for two hours.” People don’t climb the walls as much if they’re pink.
And according to a police spokesman, “It really seems to work. They quiet down and go to sleep much more quickly in a pink room.”
Maybe we should use pink for our boys’ room.
But it’s too late. We actually just recently painted our boys’ room. We had to do it, because until now it was white, but slowly turning brown, with holes in random places matched up with the height of their beds. And inside the holes we could see the original wall color, which was red. Hmm.
So we painted it—I want to say “green,” which we settled on because our three-year-old’s favorite color is green, for some reason. I’m not sure why, but we’re not going to fight it, because it means he’ll eat avocadoes.
But my wife says she settled on green because apparently green is calming as well, and it will help them fall asleep.
Does it matter? When we want them to sleep, the light is off anyway. Does the green work if you can’t see it? But you know when we do see the walls? In the mornings, when it’s time to wake up. Is this why we have so much trouble getting out of bed? Shouldn’t we paint it a more energetic color? We need colors when our eyes are closed and the light is off?
Well, actually, the light is not off. And as long as the light is on, they’re not going to sleep. But it does explain why even though they fight all day long, all of a sudden after bedtime they can get along for three hours even though they’re overtired. It’s the room color. But I do think that whitish-brown with holes had the same effect, because this is not a new development.
But my question is that according to my research, several colors would work to calm inmates down—blue is relaxing, yellow is happy, and green is restful. So that can’t be the whole reason they picked pink.
And pink has negative aspects too. If you offer someone a piece of chicken, and it’s pink inside, they don’t go, “Oh, I’m all calm now.” No, they yell, “Throw it back on the fire! Kill whatever’s on it!”
Why pink? Isn’t it a girls’ color?
Well, it wasn’t always. In the old days, boys wore pink and girls wore blue. If you need proof, just look at any black-and-white picture. Do you see how they’re not smiling? Now you know why. All of the boys look like their mothers washed their whites in the colored load. And that takes talent, because they used to do laundry in a river.
“Don’t worry; the water’s cold.”
Originally, boys and girls actually wore the same color, but then manufacturers realized they could get parents to buy an entire second wardrobe of baby clothes if they said each gender had to wear their own color. Before that, both genders wore skirts until they were six. There’s a famous picture of FDR where he has long hair and is wearing a dress.
So maybe the Swiss did it for the same reason as a prison in Texas, where, in 2006, the wardens decided to dress all the prisoners in pink jumpsuits.
In most prisons, inmates don’t wear pink jumpsuits. They wear jumpsuits because it decreases their movement, because every time they raise their arms, their pants legs go up, and also because it’s hard to hide contraband in a onesie. But the colors they wear are generally more along the lines of orange, which represents being visible from space.
And no, no one wears black-and-white stripes anymore, despite what the Purim costume store will have you believe. (How old are these Purim costumes?) In the old days, as you can clearly tell from any black-and-white picture, prisoners wore black-and-white stripes, like zebras, so that if they escaped, they would be eaten by lions. Nowadays, there are fewer lions roaming around, so it’s more important that the guards be able to spot them. Hence orange. No one else wears orange. And orange is a very visible color, which is why you see workers wearing orange while they’re drinking coffee on the side of the highway.
So orange is embarrassing enough. But the jail in Texas made the inmates wear pink to embarrass them even more and discourage them from committing crimes in the future. Pink is the color of embarrassment. That’s why your face turns pink.
“Are you guys sure you don’t want to come out and pick up trash on the side of the highway?”
“No thanks. We’d rather stay in our cells.”
But what happened next was even more embarrassing. Someone put the jumpsuits in the laundry, and the color bled all over the prisoners’ underwear and their bedsheets, and before long, everything was pink. This is what happens when laundry is being done in a men’s prison. This is why yeshiva guys wear black and white, and wash their whites in a separate load.
But my point is that maybe the prison in Switzerland is also using it as a punishment—to embarrass the violent inmates.
“Alright, Sven. Into the pink cell.”
“No, it’s not embarrassing! In the old days, all boys wore pink. FDR wore a skirt!”
That’ll help you. Knowledge is valuable in prison.
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of four books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.
By Mordechai Schmutter