When I read L. Frank Baum’s original The Wizard of Oz, his description of the Emerald City got me thinking. In that version of the Wizard of Oz, there was a city law mandating that all people entering the city must have sunglasses attached to their head. The shades literally locked over your ears (though they seemed to not notice the fact that the tin man and scarecrow don’t really have ears). The stated reason they gave for this was that the emerald city was so dazzling that you needed to wear the sunglasses or you would be blinded. Inside the city, everything was green, green buildings, green clothes, green horses, green-skinned people, everything. They even get Dorothy a green dress. Well, they have their audience with the Wizard and everything, and then leave the city, having the shades removed at the gate and Dorothy is surprised to find out that her dress has changed to white. Later they find out that the shades weren’t just shades, they were tinted green! The city wasn’t really as green as it claimed to be, but everyone thought it was because they were wearing green sunglasses! Now, there’s some inherent flaws in this whole plotline, such as the fact that they didn’t notice that each other turned green as well.
Anyway, imagine a race that grew up in such a world, where they were forced to wear green shades all the time. It’s sort of a specialized way of being color blind. It’s still monochrome, but instead of seeing in shades of gray, it’s shades of green.
But the most interesting thing would be the question of what happens when you take an adult, who’s lived their life in a green world, out of that world and let them see the full spectrum. The first question, and an interesting one, is whether they would be able to see the other colors at all. I took a psychology class in college, and one of the random tidbits I remember from it is that vision isn’t inherently built into our systems. It is learned through experience. They explained one experiment in which they put polarized glasses on a kitten and kept them on it for the first couple months of its life (probably not ethical these days, but the results are interesting nonetheless). When they finally took the glasses off, the kitten couldn’t see light that was polarized in the other direction! It had never seen that kind of light so its brain never learned to process it. I don’t recall if the cat developed the full optical abilities later in its life, but I think animals have to learn pretty early.
So along these same lines, would people who grew up in the Emerald City be able to see other colors at all? I don’t think they would. What would they see instead? Would they see everything, but shifted into the greenscale? Would non-green things be essentially invisible to them, hiding in giant blindspots? I’m curious.
Let’s assume that they’re physiologically and mentally capable of processing the full range of colors. Can you imagine what a wondrous time it would be, just taking them for a walk, showing them multicolored flowers, seeing songbirds, or even a rainbow? It would be like a drug! They would never want to go back to the Emerald City again! And if they did, and they told their friends about colors, their friends would laugh and think them crazy!
Would a monochrome society develop any differently than a full-color society? At least some areas would. Art would be viewed very differently. Florists would probably have much less demand. Marketing people would have to rely on other tactics rather than color of packaging. I’m sure there are many other ways. Can you think of any others?
Would people as individuals develop any differently?
Now, this idea was covered in some extent by the movie Pleasantville, but in a rather different way. In that movie, the main characters enter a classic 50s TV show, which is of course in black and white, and are stuck there for a while. But that is really a different thing. That society didn’t develop that way, it was an artificial construct by entertainment censoring standards in the 50s, as well as the lack of the development of color TV technology at the time. It wasn’t forced on them by their government, it was just how the artificial world was fabricated. Along with the lack of color were other oddities, such as no one being aware of sex, or toilets, or reading, and firemen that didn’t do anything but rescue kitties from trees. When color started bleeding into the world, it represented a loss of innocence, which some people thought was a good thing and others thought was a bad thing. It’s a great movie, but again, it’s usage of color is rather different than the Emerald Citizen concept. Emerald Citizens are otherwise normal people, knowing of copulation and defacation and firefighting.
In The Matrix, there’s at least one mention of Oz–not surprising of course with the parallel world analogy. But another parallel that might not be so obvious is that the cities inside the matrix tend to all be tinted green, as though seen through a green filter, just like the Emerald City. And in both cases, the populace is largely controlled by an uncaring dictator who controls them by misleading them.
Also, a friend pointed out an interesting side effect that might be visible to Emerald Citizens when they first see the outside world, assuming they are physiologically capable of seeing other colors. When you look at one color or image too long, then when you close your eyes or look away you often see an afterimage, everything still in the same place but with all the colors inverted to their negative–black becomes white, green becomes red, etc… So these people might see everything in tints of red for a while until their eyes cope and adjust.
On a related side-story, I took a car trip with my older brother a decade or so ago. I wasn’t old enough to drive yet, so he did all the driving, and I tended to be lulled to sleep by the sound of the engine. On more than one occasion I woke up to find the whole world was tinted green! The effect faded after a few seconds or a minute, and then everything was normal again. It was bizarre! I recently found out that it was probably just another afterimage. I must have been sleeping in direct sunlight so that the sun glowed red through my eyelids. After hours of red exposure, I woke up, and opened my eyes, and everything was tinted green–the negative of the red filter provided by my eyelids. Crazy stuff. 🙂