This week I’ve been thinking about how our beliefs fit together, and particularly the danger of developing “isolated beliefs” – opinions that don’t fit into a broader, more stable, more developed web of beliefs. How do you identify them? How do you avoid acquiring them in the first place? Are they more likely in this internet-enabled era of ideological abundance? That’s what this week’s article is all about.
Most of the beliefs we hold comes as part of a package, fitting into a broader tradition and forming part of an interconnected web. But what happens when we develop beliefs far outside that web, beliefs that stand in isolation?
Sarah Kramer tells the fascinating story of the typeface “Jim Crow”, and the intersection between typography and wider society.
The typeface is named after the minstrel character Jim Crow, whose name became a shorthand first for Black Americans and then for the system of laws that oppressed and segregated them.
The typeface has a fascinating history, and it’s fascinating even that it’s been in constant use for over a century. But to my mind the most interesting moment in its history was its reclamation by Black designers in the 1960s:
“Graphic designer Archie Boston remembers the moment he first came across the Jim Crow typeface. He and his brother, Bradford, were flipping through thick type specimen books in 1967, looking for a typeface to use in the logo for their new advertising and design agency, Boston & Boston. When he came to the page displaying the Jim Crow typeface, he saw it as the continuation of a white joke at the expense of Black people. He wasn’t surprised: ‘You know, we had grown up in a racist society ourselves. We grew up in Jim Crow.’
“Yet, aesthetically, Archie and Bradford Boston liked the typeface. ‘It’s strong, it has a gradation, which gives it an uplifting feeling’ Archie Boston told me. The boldness and stripes of the typeface felt almost patriotic to him. ‘I have always been a jokester, I do things to try and get reactions, you know, whether positive or negative.’ So Archie and Bradford decided to turn the Jim Crow joke upside down. The Boston brothers would use Jim Crow as their logotype.”
A quirky “and in other news” story on the BBC:
“A man who uses his 72-year-old toaster every day said he was embracing the spirit of the wartime generation.
“Jimmy James, from Stanwick, in Northamptonshire, said the toaster was manufactured in December 1949 and given to his parents as a wedding present.
“The 69-year-old said it only needed repairing once every six or seven years.”
But it makes a good point about the durability and repairability of modern products:
“He said the age of Mr James’ toaster was actually a benefit: ‘Newer ones aren’t always repairable. Manufacturers don’t want us to be able to mend it. They want people to buy a new one.’
“Mr May said there was ‘a growing pile of waste across the planet,’ with environment pollution and plastics joined by ‘mountains of white goods’.
“‘We have been caught up in a race to the bottom with a belief that cheapest is best,’ he said.”