Faint signals, emerging trends?

imagesAn anthropologist looks for puzzles. This is, after all, the way the future often makes a first appearance.

Two puzzles have crossed my path this week:

1) Why is Gill Sans winning out over Helvetica?  (If it is, and, come on, it is.)   Long the visual language of public institutions in the UK (the subway, especially), it looked until recently (to me at least) a little out of touch.  But now it seems to be to have all the punchy clarity of the sans-serif regime without giving away the ability to evoke something bigger than the message at hand.

There is a follow up question: will Gary Hustwit ever make a documentary about it of the kind he made for Helvetica?  I would so love to see this documentary.  The Helvetica doc is a thing of wonder.  “Gill Sans” as a follow-up doc would have lots more historical depth and charm.  No modernist hoodlum this.

2) Why is that in at least two instances in popular culture, the role of the guardian angel is occupied by a psychopath.  I refer to Dexter and the BBC show Luther, and in the case of Luther specifically to the character Alice Morgan. Strictly speaking, the last person who should serve in this capacity is a psychopath, but somehow in our culture right now, the notion is not implausible.

Anyone want to write fewer-than-a-thousand words on either topic (or for the very daring both at once) should send it to me and if it’s really good, you will win a Minerva.


Thanks to Wikipedia for the Gill Sans Demo.

4 thoughts on “Faint signals, emerging trends?

  1. Jeremy Cherfas

    I have no idea why guardian angel as psychopath is wonderful, but I do know that my heart skipped when I saw Alice wave at the cops in the trailer for the final episode of the latest series of Luther. That final episode was then very deus ex machina, as befits a guardian angel, but still completely satisfying.

  2. Carlen Lea

    I’m so in! Just sent you ~1000 words on Gill Sans vs. Helvetica. I’m betting I could apply the same lens to the who psychopath angel trend too.

    That feels like a grown up version of the vampire trend — “I’m dangerous and could kill you, but I love you — so I don’t.”

  3. Dennis Nordstrom

    Hi Grant,

    Here’s my humble attempt to try and address your second point:

    I believe we inhabit a world, where the veil of black vs. white / good vs. evil is slowly fading, and where dichotomy and shades of grey is rapidly emerging. On a daily basis we see catholic popes suddenly appear accepting of homosexual marriages, we see presidents with loud and clear anti-war messages during elections propose air-strikes, we see governments shut-down, we see our chosen guardians of freedom and privacy examine every man’s emails, phone call’s, and Facebook accounts, and we start to understand how things are much muddier than the clear definitions we have attempted to draw. Within pop-culture we see war heroes being national threats (Homeland), we see cancer-diseased family fathers become drug kingpins (Breaking bad), and we see family fathers turn to torture and captivity to rescue their daughters from her kidnappers (Prisoners).
    Places that we thought to be safe (Schools, churches, etc.) become places of mass-shootings. Countries that we thought were internationally taking a backseat suddenly become main actors in international matters (Russia and Putin in the case of Syria).

    We now understand that things are more than what they appear to be at a first glance and are rarely as simple and two-dimensional as we sometimes would like them to be.

    So, with this cultural emergence of dichotomy, our definitions are no longer stagnant and fixed. Instead, we define traits by applying a movable spectrum that can be adapted and adjusted on a case by case basis. I would even make the argument that some of the largest definitions we have today are reflected through widely opposing traits. (For example: what is government, what is freedom, what is life, what is privacy, etc)
    In fact, to me it seems that the more opposing traits a definition contains, the more it resonates with our culture of dichotomy, and thus the more it resonates with our current world-view.

    I therefore believe that the theme of having two opposing ideas co-exist within the same ideology is a strong cultural phenomenon, and I believe that having a guardian angel displayed as anything but a psychopath would be seen as unreal, improbable, and simply put; as too shallow.

  4. DP

    Great questions.

    Re: the first one, I noticed how Gill Sans had really taken hold when I realized how many imitators there were. I’ve been wondering similar things about H&FJ’s Gotham (born in 2000.), and how it’s become a stand-in for ‘American’ boldness. Why does seemingly every corporation feel Gotham is right for them?

Comments are closed.