Last week’s decision by the Supreme Court to legalize gay marriage—along with the beautiful language Justice Kennedy used to write the majority opinion, President Obama’s stirring endorsement of it, and the outpouring of support from just about everybody—warmed my heart and made me cry for joy. Yet some of the graphic forms of that support also brought out the curmudgeon in me.
I have always thought that the rainbow flag was just one more rebuttal to the notion that LGBTQ people have better taste. A supremely ugly amalgamation of colors assembled in bad proportions, it makes me flinch every time I see it. Now it is everywhere, from the Facebook profiles of millions of people (gay, straight, and otherwise), to landmarks all over America. Of course I am happy and proud that the Supreme Court made my 27-year relationship into a legal marriage, and I am grateful for the heartfelt support of so many. I just wish there was a better way to express that love.
The plastering of the White House, the Empire State Building, a bridge in Minneapolis-St. Paul, and even the Niagara Falls with those colors also highlights the increasing spread of sophisticated projections and computer-generated images onto buildings. As somebody trained as an architect, I cannot help but feel offended by the manner in which such color baths usually drown every feature of the building behind them. They treat constructions on which architects lavished a fair amount of time working out everything from the details to the overall composition and on which workers spent countless hours constructing those pieces into a harmonious whole, like irritations in a visual field they have to bombard with lumens to cover up.
Take the rainbow projection on the White House. However stirring it was to see a house—that until six years ago, was not only white, but represented the domination of straight white males over every aspect of reality—dissolved by those colors, I could not help but notice how the rhythm of the projection completely ignored the relationships between the classical elements that make up this overblown residence. The White House is not a great piece of architecture, but it deserves better than to have its forms ignored so thoroughly.
You can, of course, take the opposite standpoint, and see this and other projections as the victory of a new kind of reality—one that is more fluid, evanescent, and thus open to change while dissolving power structures and their symbols. If I am optimistic, I hope that at some point those usually anonymous engineers and designers who create these quasi-works of art will gain expertise and sophistication so that they can make their work have a consistency and power equal to the architecture they now ignore.
If they do, I hope that they come up with something better than a rainbow as a symbol for part of who I am. It might be easy to think of our country as being made up of people of many colors and color tastes, but that is so reductive. The rainbow flag fails the test of great flags like that of the United States, which use a combination of abstraction, graphic rhythm, and symbols abstract enough to defy immediate definition to lift us into feeling part of something that is more than who we are as individuals. I do not feel an allegiance to that rainbow flag, and I did not sense myself projected onto the White House. But every time I see the American flag I feel, even though I know the crimes and misdemeanors that have been committed in its name, part of this country. If LGBTQ people need a flag, it should be one that has that power and, if we are going to project it onto buildings, it should be done in a manner that builds on, reinterprets, and liberates the architecture on which it appears.