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The Biggest Obstacle to Social Harmony

By Cyrus Safarty

Our world hasn’t changed much since May 2019. The wars being waged and hourly sparring matches on the political stage are unfortunate, but to be expected if you’re a cynic. Our failure to meet climate goals is certainly an overlooked issue, but progress seems to be in the works as we speak. A pandemic? Granted, seven million deaths are no laughing matter, but we’ve found a way out.

Sure, the world may not seem all that similar at first glance, but one thing remains unchanged: a brutal reminder of human greed and the bane of our existence: people are still using Comic Sans.

Four and a half years ago, I thought I had changed the course of history. As I climbed the steps onto the stage of George Weston Hall and brushed back the shoulder-length grease-fest that was my hair, my braces-laden teeth chattering like the faulty second hand of an analog clock,, I thought the world as I knew it would finally break out of purgatory. I thought paradigms would shift. “Ladies and gentlemen,” I declared to an audience of budding adolescent souls, “ban Comic Sans now!”

How naive of me. How could a gawky twelve-year-old change the world?

For those of you blessed with ignorance, Comic Sans is a typeface created by graphic designer Vincent Connare in the heyday of Microsoft’s user-friendly operating system, Microsoft Bob. A specimen with playful curves and legible text that ostensibly mimicked a cartoon’s captions, Comic Sans was initially regarded as the foil to Times New Roman’s draconian dominance over the screen and sign. What could possibly go wrong?

Fonts exist for a reason. If we use Times New Roman for an academic paper, we help to construct its ethos appeal; Times New Roman is straight and sturdy, and its serifs and stroke weights are more associated with inscriptions on Roman temples than with your local library’s “Kidz Korner.” Similarly, if we use Comic Sans for essentially anything that isn’t baby food wrapping or daycare signage, we present an egregious incongruity that mocks the object’s actual purpose.

Comic Sans was devoured early on. A massive success. But in the blink of an eye, it had already outstayed its welcome. It was a drug, a mass epidemic whose carefree vim and vigor infected a voracious target audience… as well as ambulances, defibrillators, “CAUTION: DANGER OF DEATH” signs, and directories for the U.S. Sex Offender Database who had no business appropriating the font’s friendly nature. Indeed, this insipid behavior was nothing short of systemic. There is a time and place for everything, and, as designers soon discovered, the common Homo sapiens were somehow capable of exercising the most tasteless judgment when it came to selecting an appropriate typeface. Now, I am not excluding myself from this group. I’ve made plenty of questionable design choices, ranging from the moderate (I get hooked on Arial for no good reason) to the odious (you can only change the text color so many times in a single sentence before the U.N. Security Council is mobilized). Nonetheless, I believe that our continued use of this font exemplifies just how coarse we humans can behave when given the freedom to do so.

I could go on and on about the unilateral outcry from designers worldwide, but I’d like to present a different angle on this dilemma. Unchecked use of Comic Sans promotes habits of recklessness and negligence– why exercise our social contract and help uphold our shared morals when we can just turn a blind eye and ignore it? This is what I said behind the Weston Hall podium, and this is what I maintain four and a half years later: fonts have inherent meaning, and by shielding our eyes from their values, we miss out on an essential part of what it means to be human. By disregarding our constructs, our selfish, primordial desire wrests the steering wheel from our ethics and sets us up for a dog-eat-dog landscape.

Comic Sans is still being used impetuously today. Of course, its controversy seems to have died down a bit; the official Ban Comic Sans movement unceremoniously ended in May 2019 (complete coincidence, by the way) when one of its co-founders rebranded it as “Ban the Ban. Use Comic Sans.” in a plea for a less judgmental world. But I still see the typeface used with abandon, and I’ll keep fussing until it’s eradicated.

We’ve successfully instituted measures to minimize the effect of the pandemic, the virulence of the ongoing wars, and the decline of our planet. Let’s learn from our past and ban Comic Sans once and for all. For my sanity, if not for everyone else’s.

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