Kern Your Enthusiasm (24)

By: Cintra Wilson
August 24, 2014

An Hermes sign is seen on one of their Paris stores

One of 25 installments in a series of posts analyzing and celebrating a few of our favorite (and least favorite) typefaces.


“Sign becomes the arena of the class struggle.” — Volosinov (1973)

Long before the black arts of advertising dominated and deformed human consciousness via the media, the eternal war between the ruling class and everyone else articulated itself in the arena of sign with the foundation of luxury brands.

The Hermès brand, established by Thierry Hermès in 1837, was recognized by the aristocracy for its quality equestrian harnesses and bridles. By 1915 it had branched out into luxury saddles. Today, the Hermès luxury brand, known for its loud scarves and leather lifestyle accessories, has its own mystique of entrenched, untouchable wealth.

Since our society has become steeped in commercialization, brand logo typefaces, like fashion statements, have become a language of references that immediately register vast amounts of information to the viewer, at the speed of synapse-connection. The power of branding to confer or deny status has now extended to typefaces in and of themselves. At this point, a typeface may so completely telegraph the perceptual value of the signified object that the object itself is arguably no longer required as measurable proof of its own value.

The current Hermès logo, in use since the 1950s, is a modified form of the typeface Memphis, designed by Dr. Rudolf Wolf in 1929. The logo, in all caps, with its broad and overlong slab-serifs, suggests a surplus of elegance — and the time, means, and cavalier attitude to cultivate it. The Hermès iteration of the Memphis typeface has “Fuck You” kerning, designed to evoke the privileges, status and authority of “Fuck You” wealth.

The Hermès logo evokes the institutional power to enslave, discipline, terrorize and punish. Its typeface does not merely amplify feelings of economic prestige among the wealthy (which are open to be interpreted as superiority above and beyond the economic — i.e., personal, racial, genetic) — it also has the power to produce converse feelings of amplified inferiority among the poor (also welcome to be misinterpreted as racial, personal and/or genetic).


Conversely, there is no authority whatsoever permitted by the bulbous lettering of the Hotdog typeface. In the most primitive part of our brains, we are all permitted to feel superior to anything written in Hotdog. This is arguably its function.

The tubular letters, which look as if they were shat out of an industrial asshole in an unkosher frankfurter production-line, telegraphs to the eye a unifying come-as-you-are vulgarity. It is a bathrobe-casual, obese, flatulent Everyman of a typeface, evocative of aluminum deck-chairs, Coors tall-boys, primary-colored plastics, carnival nausea, and profane, brutalist dick-cartoons scrawled next to the faces of toothy television actresses on subway posters.

Fontwise, Hermès, in its fragrant calfskin jackboots, is a bright smack across the eyeballs with a $3500 riding crop. It shits on Hotdog from the towering height of its authoritarian, bronze warhorse. Hermès enslaves Hotdog, and, finding its labor to be of less value than its incarceration, ultimately solves the problem of Hotdog’s existence — its blight upon the aesthetic landscape — by imprisoning it.

Hotdog is already nearing extinction. Hermès, on the other hand, is arguably just getting started.


2014: KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (typefaces): Matthew Battles on ALDINE ITALIC | Adam McGovern on DATA 70 | Sherri Wasserman on TORONTO SUBWAY | Sarah Werner on JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | Douglas Wolk on TODD KLONE | Mark Kingwell on GILL SANS | Joe Alterio on AKZIDENZ-GROTESK | Suzanne Fischer on CALIFORNIA BRAILLE | Gary Panter on SHE’S NOT THERE | Deb Chachra on FAUX DEVANAGARI | Peggy Nelson on FUTURA | Tom Nealon on JENSON’S ROMAN | Rob Walker on SAVANNAH SIGN | Tony Leone on TRADE GOTHIC BOLD CONDENSED NO. 20 | Chika Azuma on KUMON WORKSHEET | Chris Spurgeon on ELECTRONIC DISPLAY | Amanda French on DIPLOMA REGULAR | Steve Price on SCREAM QUEEN | Alissa Walker on CHICAGO | Helene Silverman on CHINESE SHIPPING BOX | Tim Spencer on SHATTER | Jessamyn West on COMIC SANS | Whitney Trettien on WILKINS’S REAL CHARACTER | Cintra Wilson on HERMÈS vs. HOTDOG | Jacob Covey on GOTHAM.


2013: HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (old-school hip hop tracks): Luc Sante on “Spoonin’ Rap” | Dallas Penn on “Rapper’s Delight” | Werner Von Wallenrod on “Rappin’ Blow” | DJ Frane on “The Incredible Fulk” | Paul Devlin on “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | Phil Dyess-Nugent on “That’s the Joint” | Adam McGovern on “Freedom” | David Abrams on “Rapture” | Andrew Hultkrans on “The New Rap Language” | Tim Carmody on “Jazzy Sensation (Bronx Version)” | Drew Huge on “Can I Get a Soul Clap” | Oliver Wang on “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” | Douglas Wolk on “Making Cash Money” | Adrienne Crew on “The Message” | Dart Adams on “Pak Jam” | Alex Belth on “Buffalo Gals” | Joshua Glenn on “Ya Mama” | Phil Freeman on “No Sell Out” | Nate Patrin on “Death Mix Live, Pt. 2” | Brian Berger on “White Lines (Don’t Do It)” | Cosmo Baker on “Here We Go (Live at the Funhouse)” | Colleen Werthmann on “Rockit” | Roy Christopher on “The Coldest Rap” | Dan Reines on “The Dream Team is in the House” | Franklin Bruno on The Lockers.

2012: KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (Captain Kirk scenes): Dafna Pleban: Justice or vengeance? | Mark Kingwell : Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | Nick Abadzis: “KHAAAAAN!” | Stephen Burt: “No kill I” | Greg Rowland: Kirk browbeats NOMAD | Zack Handlen: Kirk’s eulogy for Spock| Peggy Nelson: The joke is on Kirk | Kevin Church: Kirk vs. Decker | Enrique Ramirez: Good Kirk vs. Evil Kirk | Adam McGovern: Captain Camelot | Flourish Klink: Koon-ut-kal-if-fee | David Smay: Federation exceptionalism | Amanda LaPergola: Wizard fight | Steve Schneider: A million things you can’t have | Joshua Glenn: Debating in a vacuum | Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons: Klingon diplomacy | Trav S.D.: “We… the PEOPLE” | Matthew Battles: Brinksmanship on the brink | Annie Nocenti: Captain Smirk | Ian W. Hill: Sisko meets Kirk | Gabby Nicasio: Noninterference policy | Peter Bebergal: Kirk’s countdown | Matt Glaser: Kirk’s ghost | Joe Alterio: Watching Kirk vs. Gorn | Annalee Newitz: How Spock wins

2011: KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (Jack Kirby panels): Douglas Rushkoff on THE ETERNALS | John Hilgart on BLACK MAGIC | Gary Panter on DEMON | Dan Nadel on OMAC | Deb Chachra on CAPTAIN AMERICA | Mark Frauenfelder on KAMANDI | Jason Grote on MACHINE MAN | Ben Greenman on SANDMAN | Annie Nocenti on THE X-MEN | Greg Rowland on THE FANTASTIC FOUR | Joshua Glenn on TALES TO ASTONISH | Lynn Peril on YOUNG LOVE | Jim Shepard on STRANGE TALES | David Smay on MISTER MIRACLE | Joe Alterio on BLACK PANTHER | Sean Howe on THOR | Mark Newgarden on JIMMY OLSEN | Dean Haspiel on DEVIL DINOSAUR | Matthew Specktor on THE AVENGERS | Terese Svoboda on TALES OF SUSPENSE | Matthew Wells on THE NEW GODS | Toni Schlesinger on REAL CLUE | Josh Kramer on THE FOREVER PEOPLE | Glen David Gold on JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY | Douglas Wolk on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY | MORE EXEGETICAL COMMENTARIES: Joshua Glenn on Kirby’s Radium Age Sci-Fi Influences | Chris Lanier on Kirby vs. Kubrick | Scott Edelman recalls when the FF walked among us | Adam McGovern is haunted by a panel from THE NEW GODS | Matt Seneca studies the sensuality of Kirby’s women | Btoom! Rob Steibel settles the Jack Kirby vs. Stan Lee question | Galactus Lives! Rob Steibel analyzes a single Kirby panel in six posts | Danny Fingeroth figgers out The Thing | Adam McGovern on four decades (so far) of Kirby’s “Fourth World” mythos | Jack Kirby: Anti-Fascist Pipe Smoker