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What is Handel Gothic to you?
One font's many personalities
Handel Gothic is a font that’s lived dozens of creative lives. In between those lives lies a lesson in how we consume art and design: we all see things a little different because the first thing we see is our reflection.
Here’s a soundtrack to set the mood.
Beth is 82, Akron born-and-bred and now living, assisted, in Cleveland Heights. Despite her failing health she has not lost an inch of her wit, and now she is at that wit’s end. “It works fine. I don’t need a new one,” Beth pleads with Scott. Her little Scott. Now 59, simmering with exasperation that his mother won’t throw it out. She doesn’t even know what it is, at least by name, and refers to it as the player. “Mom. Look at it. It has its name written on it… it’s like a pair of a sleep-away camper’s underwear. SoniVox. What good stereo has a name? And look at that font it’s written in for Christ’s sake.“ This is the kind of embarrassment that Handel Gothic, the font in question, gets subjected to now.
Maybe it’s deserved. Handel Gothic is plastic, oversized, and clumsily electronic like a toddler’s toy cellphone. It is memorabilia of a past future, preserved under the dust of rural Radio Shacks and aging ravers’ boxes of concert posters. It is from an era when digital memory wasn’t in the infinite Cloud, when a home movie lived on magnetic tape coiled around two spools, entombed in a PB&J-sized plastic box, slipped in a cardboard cover frayed white at its edges, and sitting on a shelf in the basement next to the golf clubs and hand-me-downs.
It’s not all that bad, though. Beth’s grandkids actually kinda like Handel Gothic. Not that they could name it. But they’d fuck with it on the label of thrifted JNCOs or a Post Malone album cover. Their generation understands that time is no longer a flat circle. Forget about trends coming back - now they never go away. They just mingle on the universal moodboard, a dechronologized stream of looks peddled at the algorithm bazaar by vibe-merchant accounts with handles like “soft__aesthetic“ or “vinyl.jpg.“
And Handel Gothic is most certainly a vibe. The vibe is a Star Trek sex scene, a Berlin-based high-end synth company, the sharp bite of a 02:00 am gin and tonic that jolts you awake from the club trance.
Of course, this is all hedonistic and shiny black and cool and if you’re wondering how Handel Gothic actually affords the rent, let alone the designer drugs and clothes, you’re thinking clearer than most. Handel Gothic is the child - the trust fund beneficiary, even - of our country’s great industrialists. It looks produced and regimented because it actually is. It is manufactured, perhaps in the same factories that make the products its advertised. Each letter is in effect one or two metal tubes, bent at the corners and soldered at the edges. The tubes’ width never changes, and they remain rigidly straight until a pneumatic pump shoots a piston forward, hammering a metal knuckle into the tube’s midsection over and over again until it’s been abusively articulated into a picture-perfect N.
This is all a far cry from Beth’s stereo. Don’t expect an explanation that ties it all together. The American monoculture was the shortest-lived non-Nazi empire in recorded history, and it’s now gone the way of the Dodo in a leisure suit.
There is no longer a core curriculum for how we consume things. Scott looks at Handel Gothic and sees his mother’s old stereo. He sees its age and it reminds him of his mother’s and he subconsciously knows that he needs to get rid of it now, while she’s still around, because if he has to carry it alone to the curb after she passes he might collapse under the weight of its memory. Wouldn’t a Sonos just be easier? And on one coast or another, a Nike creative director looks at Handel Gothic and sees the display text for an Instagram ad. She sees something quick and aggressive, something hyper-technical and cleanly masculine, a font that might finally justify her promotion to Menswear Creative Lead (not that it needs justifying to anyone but her).
We all see something a little different when we see Handel Gothic. What do you see?