Black and white is a beautiful color palette. It grants a fictional world a gossamer haze, a feeling of unreality, a dream-escape hue with unparalleled transportive power. It can hurl one back to a time when the world was simple, the cars beautifully curved and neon flickered dark to light; Hopper in trilby-ed dreams, the inhabitation of a romanticized past existing only in the screenplays of Hollywood’s Golden Age.
Black and white implies starkness, a grim demystification of the vibrant color palette of life. It implies a yes/no worldview, a fight or flight. It can push you into the darkest recesses of your most dire nightmares, a Nick Cave Murder Ballad with Kylie Minogue.
Separately and exclusively, those visions are incorrect. Together, in a marriage of co-independence, they are correct. It is the duality of black and white–light and dark, haze and stark–that gives it its life. When we want to live our lives in the former black and white, when we sing songs of being born in the wrong era, when we yearn to have been born amidst the heaven-sent sound of typewriters clicking and clacking, we forget what that clicking and clacking was for: paying the rent.
When we romanticize in black and white, we do the past its greatest disservice: we gloss over the mistakes, the crimes, the beautiful, the ugly, the triumph and the tragedy and forget that history is built of people, not characters in fedoras and suits with a cigarette dangling out of their mouth in retro-chic cool, but people in the midst of the same decisions that we are faced with: who to love, what to do, where to go, where to be, how to survive. Conversely, when we point out only the ugly in black and white, we also do it a disservice.
Respect, even love, what came before, but don’t be beholden to it; sing the songs of our era, tell the stories of today, demystify the past–learn from it, correct the failings and celebrate the success–in black and white’s true color: shades of gray. As for the future? Hope in vibrant technicolor.