The team is joined by Guest Kats Rosie Burbidge, Stephen Jones, Mathilde Pavis, and Eibhlin Vardy, and by InternKats Verónica Rodríguez Arguijo, Hayleigh Bosher, Tian Lu and Cecilia Sbrolli.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

The meaning of "red carpet" in two and three dimensions: from Ancient Greece to Cannes


A carpet is a carpet is a carpet--unless it is a “red carpet.”

The dictionary tells us that a “red-carpet” is a “long, red floor covering that is put down for an important guest to walk on when he or she visits somewhere and receives a special official welcome, or a special welcome of this type.“ With the Cannes Film Festival 2017 coming to an end, with its own “red carpet”, let's take a Kat pause to consider how the notion of the red carpet has come to be imbued with distinctive meaning, both in its two-dimensional and three-dimensional forms.

As described by Thomas Page on cnn.com on May 26th, in his article—“Greek tragedy and railways: An unexpected history of the red carpet”, the “red carpet” has a history reaching back to ancient times.
“Arriving with a sting in its tail, the red carpet has deadly origins. But its modern day incarnation, synonymous with wealth, glamor and stardom, is about as far removed from its beginnings as you can imagine. So how did we get to here?”
The literary use of the term goes back to the Greek playwright Aeschylus, in his play, "Agamemnon", written around 458 BC. Page notes that Clytemnestra, Agamemnon's wife, talks about a "floor of crimson broideries to spread / For the King's path." The question is why the reference to the “floor of crimson broideries.” Page brings the view of Amy Henderson, historian emeritus at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, who observes that --
"Agamemnon goes away to fight (in the Trojan Wars) and leaves his wife Clytemnestra at home. He's away for a long time, and they both find significant others. When he comes back he's in love with Cassandra and brings his concubine home with him."
While Clytemnestra has carried on her own acts of infidelity, she also has the burden of the memory that Agamemnon had sacrificed their 15-year-old daughter so, with the help of the gods, he could benefit from the winds necessary to sail. And so, Clytemnestra proclaims--
"Let all the ground be red / Where those feet pass; and Justice, dark of yore, / Home light him to the hearth he looks not for."
According to Henderson, Clytemnestra “rolls out the crimson carpet to convince him to walk into his death.” As Page sees it, “Clytemnestra had grim proof of concept that people will follow a red strip of textile.” The end reminds one of a Spaghetti Western—either Clytemnestra murders her husband, in the bath no less, or her lover kills Agamemnon. Whatever happened at the end, the first “red carpet” is a long way from the Academy Awards and the Cannes Film Festival.

We move forward over 2000 years. According to Henderson, there is documentary evidence that James Monroe, the fifth U.S. president, in the 1820’s, would disembark from a boat, presumably via a red carpet. Later, the carpet was tied to the railroads. As Henderson notes--
"In 1902, New York used plush crimson carpets to direct people boarding the trains."
While the red carpet itself does not appear to have been anything special as a matter of quality, nevertheless since it was used in connection with first class passengers, it came to be identified with high social status. This seems to have led to the use of the term-- "red carpet treatment". Hollywood soon followed, blending the sense of “the special” as embodied within the early 20th century meaning of the term with the actual use of a red carpet to promote the premiere of movies.

It was Sid Grauman who apparently first did so in 1922, in connection with the movie, “Robin Hood”. Down the red carpet at the theatre walked such superstars of the silent movie era as Douglas Fairbanks and Wallace Berry. The effect was almost instantaneous. Again, in Henderson’s words--
"the idea of glamour became instantly associated (with it). For the actors, it was all about you, and that of course is what Hollywood loves."
From movie launch, the red carpet then moved mainstream to the Academy Awards. In 1961, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences incorporated a red carpet as part of its presentation format. Then, as now, format might be a difficult thing to protect by IP, but the red carpet was on its way to taking on a transcendent meaning. Henderson observes—
"Of course, it was black-and-white... (but) the process of the runway culture was more important than seeing it in red to begin with."
The broadcast of the Oscar ceremonies went color in 1965, and with it, the "red carpet" became mainstream among home viewers. The "red carpet" has become a staple of other events, perhaps most notably the Cannes Film Festival. So what do we make of the "red carpet" as a matter of IP? This Kat has three thoughts.

First is the fascination with the color red. Red, as the color of blood, related both to life and death, dates back thousands of years. More recently, psychologists, neuroscientists and the like have studied the hold that the color holds over us. Much of this is beyond this Kat's catnip grade, but Kat readers are encouraged to delve into the subject.

Second is the development of the physical object as a symbol of status. No trademark here, even of the three-dimensional kind. Still, the presence of the red carpet in various settings continues to connote glamour, irrespective of the quality of the carpet itself. Indeed, the red carpet used at the Oscar ceremonies is destroyed at the conclusion of the ceremony, while that used at Cannes is recycled as pellets for use in packaging. Accordingly, it differs from the luxury watch, whose allure is embodied in the affixed mark, or the diamond, whose value is largely measured by its price. Here, the concept of the red carpet merges with the object itself, at least for few hours; the notion that future red carpets, if used in the appropriate settings, will also connote glamor, is unimpaired.

Third is the use of term in a two-dimensional manner. There are two aspects here. First, consider the dictionary understanding of "red-carpet treatment", namely, "very special treatment; royal treatment.” Obviously, this meaning is connected with the significance that has already been attached to the three-dimensional object. As such, it has become part of our modern lexicon.

But having come to take on such a laudatory connotation, one wonders how use of the term "red carpet" has fared as a trademark. After all, given its laudatory meaning, one might expect that it will be viewed as lacking distinctiveness. This Kat was therefore surprised to find that on the U.S. Trademark Office database, there are 299 entries for marks comprised or consisting of "red carpet." Slightly more than half of these marks are now inactive, but compare it with "green carpet" (31), "blue carpet" (10), and "brown carpet" (0!). Despite the fact that "red carpet" carries with it a potentially non-distinctive trademark meaning, it has fared much better as a mark than other forms of descriptive use of the name of a color together with the word "carpet."

A carpet is a carpet is a carpet--unless it is the unique story of the "red carpet".

Photo on lower left by Ovedc

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