Article on typography & culture wars

Hin-Tak LeungHin-Tak Leung Posts: 261
edited May 23 in Technique and Theory
https://backchannel.com/how-fonts-are-fueling-the-culture-wars-f9d692101fea

This post is more like @Dave Crossland 's posting, but one has got to do something different once in a while. :smile: happy reading.

Comments

  • James PuckettJames Puckett Posts: 1,439
    I think​ op-ed hacks are running out of people to point fingers at if they're pointing at fonts.
  • Typography is far more politically charged than even most type designers want to admit.
  • Micah StupakMicah Stupak Posts: 31
    This article really gets my dander up. It reads like something a sophomore design student would write early in term. Dude didn't even spell Gill right.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,150
    Nothing is beyond weaponizing, as clickbait writers battle for shares.

    But the metaphor of war is nothing new.

    My favourite is “charm offensive” (1956).

  • Ray LarabieRay Larabie Posts: 635
    It's always nice to see a mainstream article about type that's not just about Comic Sans or Helvetica.
  • Thomas PhinneyThomas Phinney Posts: 776
    While I like the general idea of articles like this, I thought this one was at heart... wrong.

    Typography in culture wars is primarily just another symbol vested with often-arbitrary meaning. Sure, that meaning sometimes comes from a historical basis, but at heart what matters is which ideas are associated with which particular styles, and sure it is great to be aware of that, but it is no more a big important deal than color or any number of other things that get associated as symbols of particular movements.
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 79
    That, as Hrant as said, typography may be more politically charged than we are willing to acknowledge, may well be true.

    However, I don't think that the article referenced made a convincing case for this.

    Of course a particular typeface or style of typefaces can, for historical reasons, acquire a negative connotation. But that's not a problem, it just means people will avoid it, unless they want to identify with extreme views.

    As for Serbian and Croatian: the issue has to do with writing systems, with scripts, not with typefaces. The problems with Arabic typography are real, and indeed due to colonialism, but they too are far off the purported topic of the article.

    If they could have tried to show how, say, the use of Scotch Roman or Baskerville, or even Times Roman, instead of Helvetica or Univers, sent an insidious message that patriarchy and tradition were just peachy... even if I didn't agree with them, at least I would have admitted they were actually talking about what they were claiming to be talking about.

    As it is, the article showed that typography is perhaps not as utterly devoid of political subtext as we might like to think... but not that this is so to any extent that requires anyone to actually do anything about it.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,150
    These days, everything is politically charged. Intersectionality. So any popular product is de facto an agent of neo-liberal repression.

    I know some designers who have avoided designing typefaces, because of the possibility that they might be used nefariously.

    T.M. Cleland could have been a great type designer (he actually was involved in a couple of fonts), but preferred to keep his lettering skills devoted to one-off custom work. Here is one of his ads promoting American capitalism.


  • Khaled HosnyKhaled Hosny Posts: 176
    Arabic and colonial influence is rather bullshit. Arabic printing and type were not started by colonial powers and the simplification of Arabic for typewriters and later printing was advocated by natives more than anyone else and it was for practical reasons. Also, no, the kind of calligraphy they show is art pieces like paintings or sculpture, this is not what everyone was reading or writing in, before printing and after it.
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 79
    the simplification of Arabic for typewriters and later printing was advocated by natives more than anyone else and it was for practical reasons.
    Of course, with suitable rephrasing, one can still blame the dominance of the West for the fact that the Linotype and Monotype hadn't been first invented in the Arabic-script world, and thus designed from the ground up with extra mechanical features to accommodate at least some additional features of that script.

    One can deplore, or at least regret, the effects of an overwhelming Western dominance that leads to other cultures being neglected without attributing it to colonialism or any other form of aggression.

    Of course, the fact that movable type was first invented in China does remind us that some technical limitations are real.
  • Arabic and colonial influence is rather bullshit. Arabic printing and type were not started by colonial powers and the simplification of Arabic for typewriters and later printing was advocated by natives more than anyone else and it was for practical reasons. Also, no, the kind of calligraphy they show is art pieces like paintings or sculpture, this is not what everyone was reading or writing in, before printing and after it.
    This is over-simple. Although the Eurabic concept might be over-played, the hotmetal mechanization of Arabic naturally brought along a Latin-centricism.
  • Khaled HosnyKhaled Hosny Posts: 176
    edited June 2
    The Arabic answer (in some parts of Arabic script-using world) was lithography, and similar block printing techniques were in fact used in Mamluki Egypt centuries before that and in a very smaller extent. But I don’t find block to be a very practical printing method and movable type has a huge advantage over it (even more so in its digital incarnation).

    People also over romanticize the Arabic script much (I’m guilty as anyone), the fact is most Arabic manuscripts are terrible and very hard to read, except the very few that were done by highly skilled calligraphers, and movable type is a huge improvement in readability over any mass book production method that predated it no matter how some people feel about the mechanization of the script.

    Also I find many of the movable types used in Istanbul or Cairo to be very elegant and beautiful, the uglification/simplification came from typewriters and newspapers and had very practical purposes and I fail to imagine much better and practical solutions given the technology of that time.
  • I'm speaking of the mechanization of hotmetal, not simply movable type. How could they have found a better solution? By worrying more about culture than money.
  • Khaled HosnyKhaled Hosny Posts: 176
    People who worried about culture at that time either wanted to ditch the script altogether or simplify it beyond recognition, it was people who cared about money that looked for practical solutions that current readership will not outright reject.
  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 692
    edited June 2
    You can worry about culture but still be wrong, but the people who cared about money didn't care enough about the culture. They just figured out the cheapest way to retrofit a Latin-centric technology, and that's where the colonialism kicked in. This is not unlike ASCII-7 causing non-English languages to suffer, to this day.
  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 692
    edited June 2
    A funny little anecdote concerning that last bit: a common female given name in Armenian is Անուշ, typically transliterated as Anush. I know a lady who was going through Istanbul airport, and her name had been transcribed as Anuş. Well the airport's ASCII-7–infected system dumped the cedilla, and then during boarding they had to call her name over the PA...
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 966
    Astute comment, Hrant ;-)

  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 79
    How could they have found a better solution? By worrying more about culture than money.

    That's easy for us to say in the industrialized Western world. People living in poor countries don't have enough money, so they have to worry about it.

    And, on the other hand, if the people of the Arabic script world were a mercenary lot that concentrated on commerce while giving short shrift to their own traditions... a great deal of recent unpleasantness in the news headlines would never have happened.

    People use the tools which they have available to do the things they need to do. And mass literacy and mass education were very rightly esteemed as urgent tasks by Iran, Pakistan, and the Arab world.

    Money versus culture? Bad if it's the money to buy a second yacht. Not so bad if it's the money you need to feed your kids. So I think you're raising a dichotomy that serves to produce, rather than dispel, confusion.
Sign In or Register to comment.