Safety Orange

2022
Author:

Anna Watkins Fisher

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How fluorescent orange symbolizes the uneven distribution of safety and risk in the neoliberal United States 

Safety Orange emerged in the 1950s as a bureaucratic color standard in technical manuals and federal regulations. Anna Watkins Fisher uses Safety Orange as an interpretive key for theorizing the uneven distribution of safety and care in twenty-first-century U.S. public life and for pondering what the color reveals about neoliberalism’s intensifying impact often hiding in plain sight in commonplace phenomena.

Safety Orange first emerged in the 1950s as a bureaucratic color standard in technical manuals and federal regulations in the United States. Today it is most visible in the contexts of terror, pandemic, and environmental alarm systems; traffic control; work safety; and mass incarceration. In recent decades, the color has become ubiquitous in American public life—a marker of the extreme poles of state oversight and abandonment, of capitalist excess and dereliction. Its unprecedented saturation encodes the tracking of those bodies, neighborhoods, and infrastructures judged as worthy of care—and those deemed dangerous and expendable.

Here, Anna Watkins Fisher uses Safety Orange as an interpretive key for theorizing the uneven distribution of safety and care in twenty-first-century U.S. public life and for pondering what the color tells us about neoliberalism’s intensifying impact often hiding in plain sight in ordinary and commonplace phenomena.

Anna Watkins Fisher is associate professor of American culture at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She is author of The Play in the System: The Art of Parasitical Resistance and coeditor of New Media, Old Media: A History and Theory Reader.

Contents

Introduction: Ordinary Life on High Alert

1. Orange You Glad You Live in America: The United States of Perpetual Risk

2. Orange beyond Orange: Normalizing Catastrophe in Public Risk Communication

3. An Infrastructural Band-Aid: Outsourcing State Accountability

4. Orange Is the New Profiling Technology

5. Orange Applied: Artistic Appropriations

Conclusion: Seeing Red

Acknowledgments

Bibliography

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Available in December 2021