Grotesk

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Helvetica is an hour and a half of people with bad hair and bad accents talking about fonts.

I don’t want to discourage people from seeing it, really. It’s a very well-made documentary, doing all the things a documentary should do. It stays neutral throughout (like you’d expect from the subject matter), but a couple of sections are downright clever. You can find plenty of reviews from people who never expected to be at all interested in a documentary about a font, but came out pleasantly surprised.

My problem with it is the same thing that pleasantly surprises people about it: it’s not quite a documentary about a font. They do a great job of giving you the history of it, and the intention behind its design and use, and showing how ubiquitous it’s become, and gauging all the different reactions to it.

But to do this in a film without its turning into a dry History Channel-style documentary, they have to interview a lot of people. People who have strong opinions about fonts. In other words, the kind of people you really wouldn’t want to be spending much time around in real life.

Part of my problem with the movie is that I like to believe that geekery is a contained phenomenon, and not some global pandemic that’s all part of the human condition. It’s like Sanctuary for the people inside the city in Logan’s Run* — I know that in the circles I travel in, people obsess over comic books and TV series continuity and the efficiency of algorithms; but I want to believe that there’s a better world outside where the people are free of that.

But this just perpetuates the idea that because of the Original Sin or something, we’re all mired in our own little worlds of pointless obsessions. I have to hear insufferable people claiming that they know they won’t be popular for this, but The People simply must hear their opinions of “Battlestar Galactica” or BioShock or “Sam & Max”. And now I realize that others have to hear insufferable people saying that Helvetica represents corporate oppression and war, or that they realize they are being iconoclasts and their views might not be popular, but they cannot condone using more than one typeface in a publication.

It’s movies like this that make me think humanity was just better off back when we had to spend all our time worried about finding food and not being mauled by large animals.

* The fact that I used Logan’s Run as an example merely proves my point.

3 thoughts on “Grotesk”

  1. Dang, Jake. What are you doing putting links to a typography website on my blog? That’s like bringing a bottle of Wild Turkey to an AA meeting. Now it’s an hour and a half later and I’m wishing I had $300 (!) to buy Burbank, even though I’ve got no reason to use it.

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