A Subjective Obsession

The black and blue dress.

In Meditations on First Philosophy, René Descartes argues that the main foundation of knowledge is one’s own mind: we think; therefore, we are. We can trust our subjective reality more than the objective one. It should follow from such a philosophical notion that people should not judge each other’s perceptions because no one can know what is really true. For a short time this winter, such a judgment was suspended, and everyone freely judged others. An individual could call out another individual on a very specific opinion about a very specific topic: a garment of a questionable color scheme. To think, all of this free-flowing judgment originated in a single Instagram post of a dress.

For days after the Dress became famous, I heard people asking: “Is it black and blue or white and gold” and “where were you when you first saw the dress?” and “the dress thing is so crazy haha!!” My biology class had been reviewing for an upcoming test and the teacher asked if there were any other questions, to which a student replied, “What color is the Dress?” People were engaged in this dress drama in ways I had never seen before. Everyone cared so deeply about a single post online that, in itself, had no meaning. Unsurprisingly, organizations capitalized on the dress phenomenon. The Salvation Army released an advertisement raising awareness for domestic violence and various scientists released responses to the dress color, trying to put some logic into this mess.

Not to be a killjoy, but I hope the craze disappears as soon as possible. Thank goodness it’s already on its way out. The situation simply doesn’t make sense: why should so many people debate the color of a dress? Why should anyone care about something as minute and irrelevant as the colors of fabric? They are so obsessed with what those around them are seeing in the dress that they cannot see anything for themselves. I shudder at the thought of this dress being recorded in a history textbook. 

I’ll admit that there could be some value in this discussion. I learned, from the dress, that the people of the Internet are easily mobilized when they find a common cause. The Internet provides a voice and a common ground for people who may live thousands of miles apart but share the same political views. It is also a debate platform to experiment with new arguments, a source of data, and a valuable tool for education. A key influence of the web on feminism can be seen in the expansion of Networked Feminism—feminism that manifests itself as online mobilization against misogyny. Activity on Tumblr, a social network popular among teenagers and young adults, can help expand the improvement of equal rights. Individuals swear by the Tumblr blogs that they read, treating the art and writing as a frequent call to action.

I don’t want future generations to remember the ease of formation for peculiar obsessions that lingered on webpages and biology classrooms for days after an initial post, nor do I want future generations to discover the superficial, dress-obsessed commentary of the modern day. I do, however, hope that future civilians can recognize the power of a single post, whether of a dress or some other subject, that they will harness such power, and that they will make it all worthwhile.

This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.

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How to cite this page

Landau, Rachel. "A Subjective Obsession." 17 April 2015. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on November 14, 2019) <https://qa.jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/subjective-obsession>.

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