soycow.org ~ Cameron Adamez

Helvetica's cultural bankrupsy

12 May 2009

After watching the movie "Helvetica" recently, I had a discussion with a friend about the implications of the movie, primarily that Helvetica is a font of a whitewashed culture and that the movie interviewed the same WASP types of people and only considered those people as having valid opinions. To their credit, one woman was interviewed, but her opinions closely mirrored those of her colleagues. We also discussed MySpace as an example of people making inferior art not because of a lack of ability, but a lack of a true creative toolkit. This same topic has been discussed at length on The Unapologetic Mexican. "Helvetica" frequently mentioned how powerful fonts are when creating an experience for the onlooker. I made the next logical step and decided to see what happened when I replaced Chican@-related posters with variations of Helvetica to see what the effect would be. The original is on the left, the variation is on the right, and the images link to the source. example1 The first image was taking a basic flier to see what the effect was. The original font used creates a more urgent need, whereas Helvetica makes the poster blend into the background. Source: justseeds.org example2 The second image was interesting as I was substituting a serif font for Helvetica. It completely destroys the effect of an strong, earthy woman. Source: Digindad Rebelde example3 The third flier looses all punch when substituted with Helvetica. Since it is also using a serif font, it looks inappropriate. Admittedly, my edit job on this picture could have been better. Source: Digindad Rebelde example4 The final picture, an iconic poster for the UFW, has been stripped of its meaning completely when using Helvetica Neue Condensed Bold. The perfect symmetry of the hand-drawn letters and the (somewhat sexist) way that the word "grapes" and the grape juice is implicating rape is very powerful. The substitution destroys the picture completely. Source: Xavier Montes (Edit. I forgot to draw a conclusion.) The next logical step is that when Helvetica is constantly in our environment, the lack of cultural cues is disturbing. Our culture has been slowly whitewashed by the starkness of Helvetica. It is everywhere, keeping us from expressing our insides.