Designed by Chris Costello back in 1983, Papyrus (and not Comic Sans) is my least favorite font. The disdain is rooted neither in its subtle serifs nor its curious kerning, nor any particular aspect of the typeface itself, but rather how it is used—and what the usage says about us as a culture.
I take personal delight in pointing out typefaces to friends and family. “Excellent use of Garamond in this menu, don’t you think?” or “Wow, Adelaide for a law firm. That’s ballsy.” It comes across as terribly geeky, though it’s perhaps no different than a mechanic pointing out a custom tailpipe or a doctor noting that you really should have that Subdural Hematoma looked at. Still, my favorite of all fonts to note is Papyrus, if only for its incredible breath in usage.
To illustrate my point, I’ve just googled (oh my, the spell checker in Firefox 2.0 doesn’t recognize “google” as a word) some general categories that I thought might show a little Papyrus and, sure enough, they have.
Yoga is a no brainer. Spas, meditation centers, health clubs all use Papyrus out the proverbial wazoo. Its weathered outline conjures up an organic frame in stark contrast to a more modern font like Futura (which ironically was created 55 years previous to Papyrus).
This thread takes us through earthy endeavors such as landscaping, plant nurseries, or even local hippie gatherings. Papyrus is the perfect font to announce that save the oak tree grove benefit concert you’ve been planning. And the green grass grows all around, all around. And the green grass grows all around.
By now you may start to see my point. What exactly does Papyrus say about Africa other than that we think of it as an underdeveloped and rustic continent? Okay, barring the fact that papyrus was first popularized by usage throughout the Egyptian Kingdom—in which case it’s actually much more relevant to Africa than it is to Navajo yoga hippies.
In short, Papyrus is our font for The Noble Savage. It is unrefined and uncivilized without being barbaric, connoting health and/or righteous purpose. The incredible variety of things that is categorized in the American brain in just such a way is astounding, and entire sites exist just to watch where it might pop-up next.
With that, I’ll leave you to do some hunting on your own. Throw a link into the comments if you’ve found an especially telling use of Papyrus as indicator of “uncivilized” status. I’m not sure if this counts or not.
I am off for Japan and Korea for two weeks of “VacAsian”, to continue my sociological analysis of typography. Let’s see what typefaces they use to represent the West, shall we?