Monochrome Cars Reflect Society's Obsession with Fitting in

      July 11, 2011 11:02

      Korean drivers of the future may soon be able to take a leaf out of F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel "The Great Gatsby," which uses the colors of its characters' automobiles to describe their personalities or social standing.

      In the novel, Gatsby became rich selling bootleg liquor and engaging in all manner of speculative investments. He shows off his nouveau riche status by driving either a dark, cream-colored or yellow car. Meanwhile, Gatsby's rival Tom drives a dark-blue automobile to represent his blue-blooded origins and flaunt his authority. Gatsby's love Daisy, on the other hand, drives a white convertible before marrying to represent her wealthy upbringing.

      Last year, automobile paint manufacturer Dupont conducted a survey of the most popular colors of cars around the world and found that Koreans prefer silver. Europeans tended to opt for black, while white was the top choice in the U.S. and Canada. Monochromatic colors accounted for 82 percent of cars sold around the world, but in North America, red and blue took up 20 percent. In general terms, black is associated with a macho image, while white carries an aura of respect, red emits a sexy image, yellow is considered funky and grey stands for sophistication.

      With the development of nano-technology, cars in the future are expected to be able to change color depending on the whim of their operator. To this end, a team of researchers at University of California, Riverside have been developing a new material containing oxidized steel nano particles. The steel oxide shifts angles when exposed to electrical currents, allowing the color to change. This material may be used to paint cars in the near future. In 2007, Nissan said it began working on what it called a "chameleon" car that changes tone or hue at the touch of a button.

      The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Korea was a "silver-car nation," with nine out of 10 cars in the country either silver, black or white. While monochrome tones account for 80 percent of all cars in China and Japan, Koreans are especially fond of such colors as "style often boils down to fitting in," the paper said. Such automobiles fetch higher prices on the used car market because they are perceived to be better cared for, while more colorful vehicles are typically bought and sold at prices 5 percent lower, it quoted dealers as saying.

      This seems to have its roots in ancient Korean culture. Traditional Korean paintings focus on lines and space and are monochromatic in color. Meanwhile, hanbok dresses often come in bright colors for children, whereas the adult versions primarily come in jade green, grey or white.

      Interesting, many young Koreans say they want to dress in brighter colors, but decide not to for fear of the negative attention they may receive. The preference for monochromatic colors highlights our society's insistence on uniformity. This cannot be viewed as an entirely positive phenomenon.

      By Chosun Ilbo columnist Park Hae-hyun

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