Joseph Epstein is the author, most recently, of “Charm: The Elusive Enchantment.”
Quick question: Would you rather be attacked for your opinions or your taste? I would much prefer to be attacked for my opinions. Opinions, after all, can be modified, altered, changed, dropped. Taste, on the other hand, is more an expression of one’s personality, point of view, character. No doubt I hereby reveal my shallowness, but I would rather be thought wrong about Brexit than about the choice of buttons on my double-breasted blue blazer.
Can’t stand the Comic Sans?
Tastes vary in different social and intellectual circles. Dining in one’s shirtsleeves in the haute monde — is there, I wonder, still a haute monde? — would be thought vulgar. I am old enough to recall when, in highbrow circles, writing for the New Yorker was thought in poor taste. I myself harshly judge people who have the bad taste to use the words and phrases “impactful,” “existential threat” and “in terms of.” Funny thing, taste. Petty and merciless it can often be, and when one’s own is under fire, it can leave a sting.
Only recently have I learned that my own taste has been called into question, and for, of all things, my choice of computer typeface. I use, and have used for at least the past 20 years, the typeface known as Comic Sans, and I use it in 12-point type. The attack has not been personal but has come by the way of an attack on John Dowd, a former lawyer of President Trump. Dowd had the temerity to send a letter in Comic Sans explaining why he would not supply documents nor allow two of his clients to appear before the House Intelligence Committee. Comic Sans, which USA Today described as “the whimsical, chalkboard-like typeface that often appears in school projects and memes,” apparently “has been divisive for years.”
Letters castigating Dowd’s choice of Comic Sans were written; the Twittersphere was abuzz with condemnations. Vincent Connare, who created the typeface in 1994, told the New York Times, “If you love Comic Sans you don’t know much about typography. And if you hate it, you need a new hobby.” He also called it “the Justin Bieber of fonts.” Dowd meanwhile claimed he had been using the typeface for many years, in all sorts of correspondence, and hadn’t until now received any complaints.
Comic Sans is even in bad odor internationally. In Britain, when the Conservative Party recently used the typeface in an appeal to “get Brexit done,” the Tories were accused not of rotten taste but of cynically choosing Comic Sans to seem unslick and thereby of and for the people. One graphic designer argued that the use of the font “tips you to the fact they’re doing this badly on purpose.” Has a mere typeface before now or ever carried such heavy political significance?
I claim no expertise, but I am mindful of typefaces, especially when it comes to choosing type for my own books. Until recently, though, I had no notion that my own typeface of choice, Comic Sans, was déclassé, infra dig or in bad, make that execrable, taste. Now that I learn that I have been in wretched taste all these years, well, what the Helvetica, you could knock my serifs off, embolden my Bodoni, italicize me purple, I intend to do nothing about it.
There exists online a Ban Comic Sans manifesto, created by a couple whom I have made a mental note never to invite for dinner. Others characterize the typeface in its whimsicality as being an affront to political correctness, which would recommend it to me. Some claim it is the type favored by comic books (hence its name?) and that there is something inherently juvenile about it. Comic Sans, I have learned, is also a typeface favored by the British Dyslexia Association, and if it is favored by those with dyslexia, it is good enough for me.
Undaunted by what is apparently my ghastly taste, I plan to continue using Comic Sans. I like the spaciousness it allows between letters. I can see an entire sentence in it as I can in no other typeface. I feel it provides a clarity for me as a writer that is helpful in revising my writing — and revising, it has been noted, is what writing is really all about. For serious and trivial correspondence, letters of resignation, essays, short stories or polemics, Comic Sans remains the typeface for me, and I’m sticking with it.