Midweek self-criticism: disdain for other flavors of geekery.

Mar 02 2011 Published by under Passing thoughts, Personal

Given that at least some denizens of the internet assume that I (like all my comrades in academia, especially at a public university system in California) must be a card-carrying Communist, public self-criticism may become a semi-regular blog feature here. (Verily, given how judgmental all that grading makes me, I ought to use some of it on myself.)

Anyway, the other night I was mulling over whether I wanted to watch the documentary film Helvetica, a film that explores the typographical font of the same name. I've spoken to people who have seen it and have really enjoyed it, and yet, I found myself resistant.

On the surface, at least, I put down my resistance to my impression that Helvetica is maybe a documentary best appreciated by font-geeks. While I appreciate a well-balanced font as much as the next producer or consumer of written language, I am not a font-geek.

At least, I'm not a font-geek at present. Maybe my hesitance to watch Helvetica was really a matter of fear -- fear that the film might turn me into a font-geek. Not that there's anything objectively wrong with being a font-geek, but I have lots of other kinds of geekery on my plate at the moment, and I worry that adding one more might be a geek too far. Also, I'm not sure I want to find myself staying up late switching the fonts on all my old web pages, handouts, and manuscripts (which is maybe something that a serious font-geek might do).

But, if I'm worrying that the activation energy to turn me into a font-geek is sufficiently low that an 80 minute movie could push me over it, maybe there's an uglier side to my resistance.

I must acknowledge the possibility that what I really fear is that watching Helvetica will turn me into one of them (i.e., a font-geek), and that my real problem, should this outcome occur, is not that it will be time consuming to indulge in this additional geekery, nor that it will displace some existing geekery in which I currently partake. Rather, maybe I'd have a problem with letting go of my disdain for this other sort of geek that I am not, with their strange ways and odd interests. The emotional distance is similar to what I imagine a non-Trekkie would feel toward Trekkies when watching the documentary Trekkies.*

Am I a person who needs to hold on to disdain for others, even to the point of disdaining myself if I should find myself like those others in my appreciation of the aesthetic qualities of typographical fonts? I hope not.

Having recognized my error in resisting Helvetica and my own potential membership in the fellowship of font-geeks, I affirm my willingness to watch the film, as well as my commitment to hold no other geeks in disdain for the focus of their geekery.

* I haven't actually watched Trekkies, either. I don't dress up in Federation uniforms or go to cons, and I never got too immersed in the shows in the Star Trek franchise that came after the original series, but I acknowledge that I'm at least a low-level Trekkie.

12 responses so far

  • Rob Knoo says:

    I would describe myself as a Trekkie. I watched very little of Enterprise, but I saw all of all the other shows. I've seen all the original series episodes multiple times, and at onr point in grad school could tell you all of their titles from memory.

    I used to think I was kind of a scary weirdo with all of this. Then I saw the movie Trekkies, and it made me feel very normal...

  • "I mean, sure I play Magic: the Gathering. But at least it's not D&D - those guys are WEIRD!"

  • rknop says:

    ...it reminds me of the "nerd hierarchy" from Brunching Shuttlecocks. Sadly, it's not online anymore, but the Wayback Machine comes to our aid:


  • Just because you might like "Helvetica" isn't gonna turn you into a typeface aficionado. Now if you stay up all night reading "Anatomy of a Typeface" because it is such a page-turner, then we can talk.

  • WhizBANG! says:

    I was a D&D player in high school, and a bit of a Trekkie (I can still do the live ling and prosper hand signal). And yet I also modeled and placed in beauty pageants, and now I can blog about shoes.
    Stereotypes don't capture the entirety of anyone. Even those of us who have strong opinions regarding serifs.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I am happy to sneer at font geeks and Trekkies alike. Also at D&D Dorques.

  • JB says:

    I'm with DrugMonkey on this. It's all geek to me.

  • Uncle Fishy says:

    Perhaps you should start with the comic sans documentary

  • Evelyn says:

    My partner in crime (whom you may remember for his smooth control of two successive spilled water glasses at a restaurant in Minneapolis) was, I would say, a further distance from being a font-geek than you currently are until he watched that lousy documentary. Here are just a few results of that encounter:
    1. Helvetica movie poster on his office wall and a strict enforcement of modernist aesthetics in said office (because lord knows we're not getting the HOUSE down to "clean lines"!
    2. Current books in his possession: Typography for Lawyers, which he insists applies just as well to philosophers as lawyers, and Just My Type.
    3. Constant snickering about a colleague in our department who sends her e-mails in Comic Sans.

  • Alice says:

    Don't worry. Helvetica won't turn you into a font geek. It's actually fun. How could anyone make a film about a typeface (does use of the word make me a type geek?)? It's an example of that it isn't necessarily the subject or the story but what you do with it. Helvetica is about how typeface, something we are presented with constantly, affects us and how it reflects changes in the society at large. An interesting look at modern design. Watch it.

  • becca says:

    I say refrain from watching it, and laugh at CPP's pathetic attempt to justify his font geekery. That's my plan, anyway.