Extra: Guilty Pleasure: Comic Sans

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S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate Plus membership.

S2: I’m Kurt Andersen and this is the Studio 360 podcast in October.

S3: The attorney John Dowd sent a letter to the House Intelligence Committee on behalf of two recently indicted associates of Rudy Giuliani. The letter said that his clients wouldn’t comply with the request for information as part of the impeachment inquiry. The letter’s message wasn’t unexpected but what was remarkable about the letter from the lawyer was its typeface. JOHN DOWD addressed the House committee in comic sans. Maybe he was just celebrating its birthday. It was 25 years ago last month that Microsoft released the typeface that everybody loves to hate. Well not quite everyone on today’s Studio 360 podcast we hear from somebody who wants to know what’s so wrong about Comic Sans.

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S1: That’s coming up. But first I want to remind you to follow us on Twitter at Studio 360 show. What is the cultural thing that you love. See they’re completely unfashionable or that somebody like you is supposed to hate. That is the question we asked for our feature that we call guilty pleasures. In this installment somebody who is a member of the tech cognizant tea but also a free speech advocate which kind of explains her guilty pleasure.

S4: My name is Jasmine West and I’m a librarian and Technology Educator in central Vermont and my guilty pleasure is the typeface Comic Sans wink wink wink wink wink wink.

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S5: The Internet has spoken Comic Sans is the most hated fan out there who would ever have imagined that a typeface could arouse such emotions that there would be an international campaign to ban it which says the font conveys silliness childish naivete irreverence. It is analogous to showing up for a black tie event in a clown costume comic sans the most hideous typeface known to man.

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S4: Comic Sans is a typeface that was created by Microsoft in 1995 and it’s an informal typeface it’s supposed to be sort of a hand writing a kind of big round letters maybe looking like something that you drew with a magic marker. I think a lot of people hate on Comic Sans without actually knowing why they’re doing it or without actually knowing where it came from.

S6: It was sort of created for a specific purpose. Microsoft was working on ways to make the computers more accessible and they had a program called Microsoft Bob Microsoft Bob gives you and your household essential programs for home computing.

S7: Kind of a friendly leg. Hi my name is Bob. Okay great. There’s a talking dog there and this is how you’re going to interact with your computer through this kind of friendly cartoony interface. There we go. But the typeface that you would read when you saw the talking dog talk to you was Times New Roman.

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S4: Which is super not a talking dog font. So I saw this dog talking in times of Roman. And said. That’s wrong. Vincent Conners a guy who worked at Microsoft and was a font designer.

S8: I liked comics I’d have comic books. They don’t talk in times their own.

S4: Vincent was like this is. Come on guys you can do better than this. Really go you can do better than this and he’s like yeah totally I can do better than this. So he created this informal. How would a talking dog talk type face which actually didn’t make it into Microsoft. Bob for a whole bunch of other stupid structural reasons. But it did make it into Windows 95. It fit the brief. You know Microsoft had a thing was like This is what we’re trying to do with a new typeface and you know comic sans nailed it. Whether or not it solves a problem for you and your interoffice memo is completely different than how good it was at being what it was supposed to be. I had gotten a Windows 95 computer right about the time they were sort of coming out and so my Windows 95 machine came with a short list of typefaces most of which were not that interesting. You know Times New Roman is kind of stodgy but epic. You had like Courier which kind of looked like a typewriter. And so looking at your font list and saying you know I want to pick something that’s different really if you looked at the list of what you had Comic Sans was what was different. Which honestly I think is sort of why people kind of get snippy about it now like Well that was it’s time for alternative. But then it went mainstream and now I don’t like it anymore. It’s a well designed font but for designers people they don’t like seeing it places they don’t want it to be. And so it created this sort of context collapse where Comic Sans should have been in certain contexts. Only Comic Sans was everywhere like flannel shirts.

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S7: They existed for lumberjacks and you could wear them and they were great when you were cutting down trees in the woods and they meant a certain thing and you knew certain things about a person who wore a flannel shirt.

S9: But then they became a fashion point and suddenly everyone was wearing them even if they didn’t need to be wearing them.

S7: And suddenly if you looked at a person wearing a flannel shirt you didn’t know what you thought you knew about them and so there’s this sort of context collapse where if somebody uses comic sounds on their poster and its poster for a puppet show you’re like Okay I get what you were getting at.

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S4: It’s a kid thing and you used a kid font but if your boss is using comic sans on a memo that’s telling everybody to you know not wear shorts at work you’re like I’m not really sure if they’re trying to be lighthearted about this. It’s a style choice just like wearing a flannel shirt right.

S10: The front page of The Sydney Morning Herald used Comic Sans Comic Sans really the most universally hated font. You are you sure this far. Yep. Yeah. Really. Just because you’re doing a comic doesn’t mean you have to use comic sans. What’s.

S11: Hader up until now. The reason Republicans have had so much trouble repealing Obamacare is that their senators couldn’t agree on how to replace it. Some wouldn’t vote for a bill that cut Medicaid too much. Some wouldn’t vote for a bill that left any Obamacare taxes in place some wouldn’t vote for the bill because it was printed in comic sans. It just doesn’t look professional.

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S12: It’s completely appropriate for you know friendly flyers about a thing Comic Sans is completely appropriate for your goofy Christmas letter that talks about the things that have gone on in your family and you can probably put it in red and green typeface right. It’s fairly legible I’ve heard people talk about Comic Sans being really useful for sort of ESL materials right.

S4: Comic Sans can make the language itself seem less assuming less problematic less in your face.

S13: People who use Comic Sans are trying to say Look at me I’m a bit wacky. They’re trying to be funny but they haven’t the wit to think of an actual joke.

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S4: So they fall back on a comic book style typeface as if that’ll do I think for a lot of people computers feel formal. They feel like work. They feel like something that’s a little difficult to kind of get through and understand and Comic Sans is a way of being like hey here’s a way to be informal with your computer which I think a lot of people desperately want. Definitely digitally divided people desperately want to find a way to interact with their computer that doesn’t just feel like they’re getting beat up by it and told what to do and Comic Sans is relieving to them.

S7: I work at a local vocational school and I teach adult education and I teach people how to use computers.

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S4: So a lot of these people are people who don’t have a very sophisticated understanding of technology and so to them this sort of rarefied air of font choice you know if somebody has just learned how to change the typeface to comic sans in their email and they’ve been sending email for two months I’m like way to go. You learned how to customize and personalize because that is a a a net good for your interaction with technology essentially. And the last thing you want is to be like well there’s a bunch of internet people who think that font is dumb. What you want to do is encourage them to make it their own. And if they’re comic sans people they should be using comic sans. Not. Just.

S7: Comic Sans should exist because it helps people feel better about their computers. Everything else seems detail ish to me.

S3: That piece was produced by Evan Chong with assistance from Skyler Swanson and we’re enhancing. Thanks for listening. And you can subscribe to Studio 360 wherever you get podcasts.