The Uncanny Valley on the Dorm Fridge

Comic Sans is the “bro” of fonts. You see it used in passive aggressive notes taped on workplace bathroom stalls and other contentiously communal spaces, hokey joke email forwards and in powerpoint presentations best left forgotten.  

The font oozes bubbly positivity, akin to the handwriting of the head cheerleader who loves puppies and can’t wait for prom.  Everyone knows that peppy script, and anyone who appreciates Morrissey probably hates it.

                  

It is not refined, it feels like a typographer’s step-child, quickly dashed off without the loving care given to a Bodoni or Akzidenz Grotesk.  It’s plump curves are clumsy and quaint, always on standby in case someone has flamenco classes they’d like to advertise on telephone polls. At the very least it is legible, though for me its readibility dwindles rapidly once it’s used for more than a paragraph’s worth of words. In terms of artistic craftsmanship (though I am no typographer) it seems flawed.  Aesthetically, it is a nightmare.

         

Introduced into the world with Windows 95,  Comic Sans was baffingly one of few web-safe fonts for too long.  It has grown into the running joke of the home-computing era, an almost nostalgic throwback to now seemingly prehistoric geocities sites.  Today the use of it illuminates someone’s membership in the unhip Other, or, those who still use PCs, reply-all and  don’t see the banality or triteness in Comic Sans that (us) tech sophisticates do.  They aren’t one of the over 53.000 people who “liked” the McSweeney’s classic peice “I’m Comic Sans, Asshole.”  Google’s 2011 April Fools joke was so cruel as to return all search results for Helvetica in Comic Sans. 

But I wonder whether whether it’s only about looks, or,  just like disliking the cheerleader’s happy demeanor, says far more about us than it does her.  I first tweeted last spring: 

"Comic sans is the uncanny valley of fonts. People who use it seek humanity, those who hate it don’t trust it’s lack of it."

I found similar thinking in a recent blogpost:  

Casual script typefaces such as Comic Sans, Brush Script and Chalkboard mimmick casual human handwriting. Because of the nature of rendering of the glyphs as single units, in long bodies of texts, the pattern is instantly noticable in repeating glyphs which defeats the whole purpose of mimmicking organic flow. Instead of looking organic, they now look as if they were robots, acting too hard to move like humans do.” 

                                                             -Servet  October 15, 2011

The demonization of Comic Sans is almost a Platonic dismissal of mimesis, the font so blatantly and alienatingly removed from its inspiration.  Comic Sans is a fraud, a shyster, an empiric,  strenuously trying to be something we humans hope it can never be. It is the uncanny font, unsettling yet ubiquitous.  Each time Comic Sans guest stars in pedestrian and painfully human contexts, like embarrasing notes or home-printed restaurant menus, the more intense the break between the “natural” and our hi-tech world feels.  It’s the glowing red HAL light, the anxiety that stems from a dark, hidden mistrust of the tools we completely rely upon.  

                 

Perhaps it is simply an aesthetic aversion,  or embarrassment over the kinds of situations in which Comic Sans is most often used.  But, the next time you see Comic Sans,  try not to snicker - just consider in which font the Secretary-General of the UN may someday write “I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords.”