Red Scares

“Even Romney’s tie was better,” Stanley Fish said after the first presidential debate. Unless he meant the knot or the width, he meant the color, red. Obama wore blue. Red is the color of male dominance, zoologists tell us. It signals danger: “Don’t tread on me.” If you place an apple slice between a group of rhesus macaques and yourself, the monkeys are less likely to dart forward and steal it if you’re wearing red.

In 2005 a couple of British anthropologists found that red uniforms were correlated with victory across a range of sports in the 2004 Olympics. In 2007 a team of researchers chimed in to report that the same holds true in English soccer: “Since 1947, English football teams wearing red shirts have been champions more often than expected on the basis of the proportion of clubs playing in red.”

Is it that athletes feel more confident when they wear red? Or that red intimidates their opponents? Mostly it influences referees, according to one theory. When the colors in the video of a taekwondo match were digitally manipulated, the same competitor received more points from refs when he was shown wearing red rather than blue.

Granted, if the red team is Harvard or Cornell and they’re playing the Green Bay Packers, the uniform colors probably aren’t going to make much difference. But when the two competitors are more closely matched?

In both the presidential and the vice-presidential debates, the Republican wore the red tie, which in Romney’s case reinforced the impression of how easily he commanded the stage in Denver. If Ryan’s red tie sent a subliminal message, it was that his restraint with respect to the cutup sitting next to him was a form of manly forbearance. I will leave further speculation in such matters to Naomi Wolf.

So will Romney go with a red tie again Tuesday night? We’ll soon find out.

Meanwhile, keep your eye on the Cardinals.


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