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Ed Driscoll

…But His Fonts Were Perfect

November 20th, 2013 - 12:36 pm

helveticaYou may know graphic designer Michael Bierut from the above scene in the 2007 documentary Helvetica, which explored how a mid-century European font became the face of corporatist America, private enterprise yoked increasingly under the command of government. Or as I dubbed it back in 2010, after watching the film on a flight back from New York, “Liberal Fascism: The Font.” As I wrote back then, Bierut’s statement in the above clip is a dual-edged sword. Yes, there was a revolution in graphic design in the 1960s. The problem, as Bierut tacitly announces above, is that everything looked the same afterwards, just as the influence of the Weimar-era socialist Bauhaus made every skyscraper in America looked like “socialist worker housing pitched high,” to borrow from Tom Wolfe’s lingo in From Bauhaus to Our House.  In the 1950s, every behemoth corporation in America dumped their original offices for Mies van der Rohe-inspired buildings; in terms of graphic design,  every behemoth corporation the following decade dumped their individual graphic design, often built up over decades, for a Saul Bass-style corporate logo and their name spelled out in Helvetica. As Frank Burns, the token conservative and — not coincidentally — locus of hate on TV’s M*A*S*H once said, in a quote that would come to define the M.O. of the modern left, “Individuality is fine, as long as we all do it together.”

Deep down, Barack Obama would absolutely agree with Frank’s comment; as his former secretary of state infamously said, “We’re going to take things away from you for the common good.” In the late 1990s, when asked about a possible tax cut, her husband, then president, looked at the surplus generated by the Republican Congress and commented, well, we could give you the money back, but you might spend it on the wrong things. And at the 2012 Democrat convention, aka, Obama’s second coronation, the narrator on the video famously said, “Government is the only thing that we all belong to.”

But back to Bierut. Here’s a telling observation from Rich Lowry of National Review, who notes that “Obama Loses His Cool,” or as the blurb on the NRO homepage linking to it adds, “Only the trouser crease remains:”

Barack Obama is the coolest president we’ve had since John F. Kennedy, at least according to conventional standards for such things. Obama has always been a brand as much as a politician, one that has been perceived as sleek, smart, and up to date.

Then along came HealthCare.gov. Its failure to launch is a signal event in the long political battle over Obamacare and perhaps an inflection point in the president’s image. It’s hard to maintain a sense of truly being on the cutting edge of change when you can’t build a website.

Obama’s cool was, in part, an artifact of world-class marketing. Graphic designer Michael Bierut writes in the book Designing Obama (yes, there’s such a book) of how impressed he was watching Obama rallies in 2008: “The awe-inspiring part was the way all the signs were faithfully, and beautifully, set in Hoefler & Frere-Jones’s typeface Gotham.” If only the folks at Health and Human Services were consumed with such attention to detail.

But that’s just it — the graphic design of the Website looks fine; the “vaguely ethnic smiling woman,” on its homepage, as Viacom’s Stephen Colbert dubbed her, was a fine choice as the site’s first icon. It’s what’s going on behind the scenes that counts. And from all accounts, while its fonts are perfect, the actual back-end coding is a mess — it crashed today in front of legendary Internet maestro Kathleen Sebelius with reporters and video cameras present, leading Glenn Reynolds to Insta-quip, “Have we reached ‘peak schadenfreude’ yet?”

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
I can only hope he stays "bored" and does not put his attention to the crisis.
Can anyone name me a leftist community organizer voting present, half-term affirmative action person who has ever solved any real problem?
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
Pardon me if I wander off topic but I think this is apt: G.K. Chesterton has a saying that you shouldn't take down a gate until you understand why it was put up in the first place. Why are the 50 states in charge of health care? What is the mechanism that compels insurance companies to go before state insurance commissions to get their heath insurance plans approved? Why were these systems put in place? Why did Obamacare think it could bypass these systems? Who do we go to for answers to these questions, and why weren't they already addressed?
Having to pass a bill to find out what is in it isn't leadership, it's robbery.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (24)
All Comments   (24)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
I'm an Arial man, myself.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
Strictly speaking, those are typefaces, not fonts.
Be that as it may, left-wing fonts have only the upper case.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
"once said in admiration that Mr. Obama has been bored his whole life"

Admiration because this means he is too smart for the rest of us? An unprepared and insecure person thrust suddenly well above his/her competence level often acts bored, superior and indifferent. Actually engaging can only reveal the awful truth that you don't belong there. Stick to talking points, teleprompters and simplistic ideological principles. Rely on others to do the thinking and the work. But when the "others" on whom you depend include people like Valerie Jarrett and Nancy Pelosi, and other such "progressive" types, you might want to get your resume up to date.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
"once said in admiration that Mr. Obama has been bored his whole life"

So have I. Most lives are boring, not "special," despite what a couple of generations of liberal educators have tried to teach us.

There might be less trouble in the world - and less discontent - if more people (liberals especially) remembered one simple principle: Work is the price all living things pay for being alive. You can follow your bliss AFTER you pay for the groceries. If I had learned this properly when I was young, it would have saved me a lot of frustration.

At least I'm not an extravert. I never had any desire to enter politics and inflict my "specialness" on the rest of the world - unlike some people I could mention whose last names happen to begin with "O..."
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
Aw, man, I was expecting a Warren Zevon reference.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
As we say in Texas "all hat, no cattle"
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
I loved the example of "Amalgamated Widget" becoming "WidgeCo" (whatever).
I also remember the real life examples when consumers/customers would say to themselves: Who's "WidgeCo"?; and, Whatever happened to "Amagamated Widget"?

"Drink COKE, period!"....and they gave us New Coke to go along with the new font.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
The change from the 50s to the 60s is interesting. I suspect "Adriana" will never return to healthcare-dot-gov. Nevertheless, I wonder how natural and reassuring this will look on its death server:

http://0bamacare.blogspot.com/
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
I can only hope he stays "bored" and does not put his attention to the crisis.
Can anyone name me a leftist community organizer voting present, half-term affirmative action person who has ever solved any real problem?
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
"I became the president using this 1 weird trick" (photo: some old dude with an outlandish mustache)
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
Pardon me if I wander off topic but I think this is apt: G.K. Chesterton has a saying that you shouldn't take down a gate until you understand why it was put up in the first place. Why are the 50 states in charge of health care? What is the mechanism that compels insurance companies to go before state insurance commissions to get their heath insurance plans approved? Why were these systems put in place? Why did Obamacare think it could bypass these systems? Who do we go to for answers to these questions, and why weren't they already addressed?
Having to pass a bill to find out what is in it isn't leadership, it's robbery.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
"What is the mechanism that compels insurance companies to go before state insurance commissions to get their heath insurance plans approved? Why were these systems put in place?"--Katherine in RB

A. To increase opportunities for graft.

"Why did Obamacare think it could bypass these systems?"

A. Obama wished to increase opportunities for graft for himself and his inner circle.

C'mon, did you really have to ask?
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
You are being facile, but my questions were not rhetorical in nature. No one is writing anything along these lines, I've tried to Google myself into information with very little results. No one is asking the how or why of the current structure or how a federal interface could work given the current construction of the laws.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
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