In the wake of Erik Spooner’s terrific guest-post debunking the wrong-headed typographic history of Suzy Rice, and expanding on the actual connections between pre-war German modern font design and the post-war Modernist Swiss design of Helvetica typeface; I rewatched the 2007 documentary entitled Helvetica. I am happy to report it is still as wonderful a design history of the post war period as I remembered.
“The corporate culture was the visual language of big corporations, and at that time they were persuasively Helvetica. And they looked alike. They looked a little fascistic to me. They were clean. They reminded me of cleaning your room. I felt like it was some conspiracy of my mother’s to make me keep the house clean, that all that my messy room adolescent rebellion was coming back at me in the form of Helvetica and that I had to over throw it."
"I was also morally opposed to Helvetica because I viewed the big corporations that were slathered in Helvetica as sponsors of the Vietnam War. So therefore if you used Helvetica you were in favor of the Vietnam War so how could you use it?”
When asked, "If Helvetica was the typeface of the Vietnam War, what's the typeface of this [the Iraq] War? - Scher replies without hesitation, "Helvetica... It is. It repeated. That's why we're there. Helvetica caused it." As a designer she equates the American Cold War policies of Containment and Detente with the so-called Bush Doctrine of the NeoCons and lumps all of those violent paranoid ideologues with the use of Helvetica. fascists.
Paula Scher rejected Helvetica because of what it had come to represent for her. Her story about Helvetica is a microcosm of a wrenching moment that split two generations. This narrative of rejection is repeated in architecture, art, film, literature, and throughout the academic world. Scher's moral opposition to Helvetica, her association of Modernism to the violence of the Cold Warriors (and their NeoCon progeny) is at the core of the Post-Modernist break.
Towards the end of Helvetica Massimo Vignelli, one of the Modernists, complains that the Post-Modernists "didn't know what they were caring for, they only knew about what they were against, and what they were against was Helvetica." The deep awareness for history that is on display throughout all three sections of the film (especially by the younger designers) make it abundantly clear that what caused the Post-Modernist split was not a lack of understanding. It is truer to say that the Modernists still do not understand that it is what they had come to represent, as much as what they were doing that was rejected. That the association to Vietnam, police riots, political and corporate malfeasance was septic, and caused them to be rejected by their heirs. That's got to suck.