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I hate the letter
December 12, 2003 12:12 PM   Subscribe

Microsoft Typeface Recall and an apology offered: a Swastika happened to slip by the censors. But is it really all that offensive? (more inside)
posted by five fresh fish (54 comments total)

 
Yes, I completely understand that the swastika is representive of some of the most horrific evil ever wrought upon this world. But I question this action: Stalin and company killed many more people than WWII did, yet no one has effectively banned CCCP t-shirts. Despite the hate-on for Cuba, Che Guevarra symbols are quite popular.

One might think religious symbols would be popularly banned. One school banned pig books out of some odd idea that they might offend Muslims... yet no one has banned the Darwin Fish, which is directly offensive to Christians.

Of course, if the Darwin Fish were banned, one might also have to ban all Black Christs (especially those that don't actually depict Christ, but substitute a popular figure in his place!) as they certainly don't coincide with the lily-white European model so many Christians imagine.

There is the Confederate Flag debacle, and even Japanese Flag insults.

Frankly, I think there are no symbols that do not offend someone, somewhere. Except, perhaps, this one... although I wouldn't bet money on it.

Should we bother with banning symbols? Doesn't banning them just retain their meaning? Maybe they should be co-opted for other uses, diluting if not eliminating the old meaning. It certainly worked on the swastika, at least in the Western world. Westerners must have conniptions when they visit Nepal...

I understand being offended by a symbol. I also understand rising above that offense and recognizing that it is just a symbol, and that the offense is by my choice. It's not the symbol that should be the issue: it is the use of it, and the person who chooses to use it, that we should pay attention to.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:14 PM on December 12, 2003


(dammit, the title was supposed to be I hate the letter "Q" (except in "Quonsar")
posted by five fresh fish at 12:17 PM on December 12, 2003


From MSNBC:
The swastika, which was made infamous by Nazi Germany, was included in Microsoft's "Bookshelf Symbol 7" font. That font was derived from a Japanese font set, said Microsoft Office product manager Simon Marks.
Not to diminish the impact the swastika obviously has on many, but clearly the Asian origin of the font at the very least demonstrates that no one at Microsoft was acting in bad faith.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 12:23 PM on December 12, 2003


Even if it's a hated symbol, if you were designing a document about world war 2, say, a swatsika dingbat might be handy.

I think banning, or making taboo, any kind of symbol from any end of the political sprectrum is ridiculous and facistic. Plus, it only encourages the more rebellious and shock infatuated among us to embrace the forbidden in the name of "shock" and "edginess."
posted by jonmc at 12:24 PM on December 12, 2003


I think they removed it to cover their asses from lawsuits.
posted by cinderful at 12:27 PM on December 12, 2003


When did CC start designing fonts?
posted by COBRA! at 12:29 PM on December 12, 2003


I feel there's such a thing as trying too hard not to offend someone, and the whole swastika thing is one of those situations (especially considering the context it appears in).

Now, the happy face on the other hands, needs to be banned. It's evil, pure evil.
posted by piper28 at 12:30 PM on December 12, 2003


It is how you display a symbol; thought eye sores won't make you blind.

As I've grown older I separate myself from objects that are worthless meaning for me. Growing up I collected military objects. Desired a "nazi" bayonet; then one day it hit me why would I spend MY money on "evil"; gyofm.
posted by thomcatspike at 12:31 PM on December 12, 2003


Some use the swastika as an in-your-face statement of racism. Some use it for nothing more than shock value. Some use it for much older meanings.

I'm not Jewish, so what do I know? But it has always seemed to me that so much commotion can be caused by a simple swastika, like stirring an ant hill, that some kids might be motivated purely by the power of creating that commotion. Take away that power by refusing to go nuts about it.

Myself, I seriously resent those stinkin' nazis for perverting such an elegant symbol. Damn, I shouldn't have thought about nazis. They pervert everything they get their hands on, even the U.S.A.
posted by Goofyy at 12:33 PM on December 12, 2003


at the very least demonstrates that no one at Microsoft was acting in bad faith.
Remembers Japan is finally recongnizing the bombing of Pearl Harbor in their history books. Heh maybe we Americans are caring ...
posted by thomcatspike at 12:35 PM on December 12, 2003


...rebellious and shock infatuated among us to embrace the forbidden in the name of "shock" and "edginess."

I don't discount this as a bona fide phonemenon, but it's a very dated concept. Punks in the 70s and early 80s routinely used the swastika for its shock value and nothing more. Since those days, I haven't really seen it used for anything other than its association with neo-fascism or race hatred.
posted by psmealey at 12:35 PM on December 12, 2003


I recently was in the market for an antique buddha statue, to give as a housewarming gift. I had the damndest time, because many such statues feature a swastika, which was--at the time the statues were made--a good luck symbol. (It didn't help that the intended recipients are Jewish.)

Obviously, the symbol means something today that it didn't mean a century ago, but it's too bad that more people aren't aware of its history.
posted by jpoulos at 12:43 PM on December 12, 2003


pimping: more discussion of this for type nerds at typographica.
posted by luriete at 12:54 PM on December 12, 2003


No doubt a powerful symbol. This is not the best-designed site, but goes to some lengths to point out the various meanings and origins of it. It is very unfortunate that it's only remembered for signifying something very specific and horrible in the 20th century, as there is clearly some richness to it.
posted by psmealey at 12:56 PM on December 12, 2003


Fortunately it's easy to tell the "good" swastika from the "bad" one - the buddha's symbol points counter-clockwise; hitler reversed it. (still wouldn't give it as an xmas present, of course.)
posted by PrinceValium at 12:57 PM on December 12, 2003


Here is some more info about the symbol.
I personally feel that calling it a swastika calls up racist/Nazi/hate imagery for people. I'm not sure what it's called in Japanese, but you see them on lanterns and flags near temples in Japan, and it's a symbol of good luck and happiness.
on preview: what jpoulos and PrinceValium said...though I think a lot of people, asked to draw a swastika, wouldn't even know which way it really goes.
posted by ArsncHeart at 12:58 PM on December 12, 2003


it's not really being 'banned' or censored though. from what i've heard, microsoft is enabling people who wish to remove it the chance to do so. nothing wrong with that. now, if they'll only give us a utility to remove IE.
posted by poopy at 12:59 PM on December 12, 2003


I was watching a show on the National Geographic Channel the other day called Worlds Apart, which sends families from the US to live with families in the "Third World" (for lack of a better description) for ten days. A Jewish family from Long Island went to live with a Hindu family in a small village in Northern India, and was aghast to see a temple with tons of swastikas in it. Their Indian hosts appeared to have no idea that the symbol was offensive to the Americans there.
posted by greengrl at 1:05 PM on December 12, 2003


Fortunately it's easy to tell the "good" swastika from the "bad" one - the buddha's symbol points counter-clockwise; hitler reversed it.

The examples in the links provided by psmeasley and ArsncHeart indicate that that's a myth. There are examples of the "good" version pointing in both directions.
posted by jpoulos at 1:07 PM on December 12, 2003


There are examples of the "good" version pointing in both directions.

For instance.
posted by eddydamascene at 1:30 PM on December 12, 2003


I just knew something like this had to exist somewhere.
posted by digaman at 1:37 PM on December 12, 2003


I stand corrected, thanks guys.
posted by PrinceValium at 1:42 PM on December 12, 2003


It's fairly disturbing to me that people think the Darwin fish should be offensive to Christians. It isn't Christians that the creators of the DF are mocking -- it's deliberately irrational creationists who have adopted Christianity as their faux rationale.

Granted, the Christians certainly do present their fair share of opportunity for spite.
posted by atbash at 2:02 PM on December 12, 2003


卍 the good swastika: 卍
卐 the other swastika: 卐
posted by bobo123 at 2:21 PM on December 12, 2003


If we continue to follow this trend, we may someday need to ban the "W"..
posted by 2sheets at 2:21 PM on December 12, 2003


I personally feel that calling it a swastika calls up racist/Nazi/hate imagery for people.

It doesn't call up that sort of imagery for about a billion or so people who speak languages descended from Sanskrit. Our English name for the symbol is derived from the Sanskrit word "svastika", a word that carries connotations of good fortune and peace. If any name for the symbol disturbs you specifically, it should be the German "hakenkreuz".
posted by mr_roboto at 2:30 PM on December 12, 2003


If we continue to follow this trend, we may someday need to ban the "W"..
Can't we just download something to remove him from office? ; >

There are other symbol fonts that have the swastika, along with crosses, and other religious symbols, etc and gothic letter fonts that have it too...it all depends on use--If you're doing something on nazis or that era, it's sometimes necessary. I know that when i see it (on a building or hatefilled website, for example), I instinctively shiver.
posted by amberglow at 2:35 PM on December 12, 2003


Isn't it still illegal in Germany to 'display' the swastika in any format that isn't explicitly historical (i.e. anywhere but in a museum)....?
posted by anastasiav at 2:35 PM on December 12, 2003


The swastika is needed in a Japanese font set because it's the standard symbol for temples on maps, and you need a map for everything because very few roads have names. People navigate by landmarks on the map: temples, McDonalds, 7-11.
posted by planetkyoto at 2:35 PM on December 12, 2003


Wingdings redux... (But at least this latest case has rationale)
posted by teradome at 2:42 PM on December 12, 2003


anastasiav, we had the "hitler" dog thread recently which discussed this. Personally I'm glad we have the freedom displaying what we want in America: showing self-control
is better than enforced control.

Years ago while working in a hat store, had a customer from Germany come in(iirc). He hands me a New Orleans Saints hat which displayed the team's logo. His then asks: what does this sign represent. I tell him it's an American Football team. He laughs and says he must buy it, but please don't let the women in his party see it. I ask why?; he says: where he is from it 's the local sign for brothel house. Guess it was a pippin hat for the guy.
posted by thomcatspike at 2:58 PM on December 12, 2003


Now you are mehrer the murk, Lansdowne Road. She's
threwed her pippin's thereabouts and they've cropped up tooth
oneydge with hates to leaven this socried isle.
- James Joyce Finnegans Wake

pippin hat?

(When the only mention you can find is in Finnegans Wake, you know it's going to be a long search.)
posted by milovoo at 4:06 PM on December 12, 2003


ArsncHeart: the Japanese "swastika" is called a manji. The blades on the design can be turning either way, and the manji has a different meaning depending on which direction it's facing. The most common one (and the one on maps) is the reverse of the Nazi symbol. It's pretty much ubiquitous in Japan.
posted by vorfeed at 4:14 PM on December 12, 2003


A distinction that has more substance than the apocryphal clockwise/anticlockwise distinction, is that many Buddhist swastikas are made from horizontal and vertical lines, while the nazis seem to have canted it by 45 degrees.
posted by carter at 4:22 PM on December 12, 2003


a swatsika dingbat might be handy

And in the plural, it'd make a helluva name for a riot-grrl band.
posted by condour75 at 4:51 PM on December 12, 2003



? the good swastika: ?
? the other swastika: ?


Because I do not know, bobo123, I have to ask you where you found that code. I'd love to know.

Webmonkey has a lengthy list of characters, but that ain't one of them.

Thanks very much.
posted by hama7 at 5:07 PM on December 12, 2003


Or rather: 卍 ?

posted by hama7 at 5:09 PM on December 12, 2003


Or not.
posted by hama7 at 5:09 PM on December 12, 2003


He hands me a New Orleans Saints hat which displayed the team's logo. His then asks: what does this sign represent. I tell him it's an American Football team. He laughs and says he must buy it, but please don't let the women in his party see it. I ask why?; he says: where he is from it 's the local sign for brothel house.

Gee, I wonder what he thinks of the Boy Scouts...
posted by Mars Saxman at 5:32 PM on December 12, 2003


Hama7, I came across the code mentioned over at the Everything2 swastika node, but the page seems to be down at the moment.
posted by bobo123 at 5:48 PM on December 12, 2003


He hands me a New Orleans Saints hat which displayed the team's logo. His then asks: what does this sign represent.

The fleur-du-lis is an incredibly widespread symbol, most prominently used by the French monarchy. I guess the Germanic association with whores makes sense in the context of the historic Franco-German rivalry (though I'm surprised that thomcatspike's German tourist was so pruriently delighted by such a common symbol; surely he had seen it in other contexts?). I would also guess that the Saints use the symbol as a tribute to the French heritage of New Orleans.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:54 PM on December 12, 2003


Makes sense to me, mr_roboto. Once when travelling in Germany, I couldn't communicate to the hotel owner that my girlfriend and I wanted a double bed instead of two twin beds. Finally he understood, saying lasciviously, "Oh, you want a French bed. We don't have those here".
posted by fuzz at 6:09 PM on December 12, 2003


swastika = star of david = crucifix = moon and crescent
posted by mischief at 6:19 PM on December 12, 2003


I may be repeating someone else, but id like to add my two cents: the swastika was pirated from the chinese. I believe it used to mean harmony, or luck or something.

The KKK uses burning crosses to abuse people, but we haven't banned the cross.
posted by Tryptophan-5ht at 6:34 PM on December 12, 2003


One of the most cherished heirlooms in my family is a foot locker my great-great-grandfather crafted out of wood. As close as I know, he made it in the late 19th century, well before WW2. He decorated it with inlay of a darker wood, and it features large swastika symbols. I believe he knew it as an ancient celtic symbol. Whatever the case, it sits covered with quilts at my Grandfather's house now, could never be sold on eBay, and I'm sure the world is full of folks who'd tell me to burn it at my nearest opportunity.

It's a strange world.
posted by scarabic at 7:14 PM on December 12, 2003


Many thanks, bobo123. More here.
posted by hama7 at 7:49 PM on December 12, 2003


bobo123, hama7 - there's a complete unicode table available at www.unicode.org. Once you have the hexadecimal value of the code point you're interested in, say U+ABCD, you can represent it in HTML as ꯍ or you can convert it to decimal and write ꯍ . (Hexadecimal ABCD happens to be decimal 43981.)
posted by hattifattener at 8:21 PM on December 12, 2003


Brilliant link. Thanks hattifattener!
posted by hama7 at 8:31 PM on December 12, 2003


Here's Jackie Onassis in a swastika costume as a little girl.
posted by jonp72 at 8:51 PM on December 12, 2003


From Swastika to Thunderbirds.
posted by dhartung at 9:16 PM on December 12, 2003


Yerkes Observatory, which I have visited twice, has some very ornate details in its architecture. Built in 1897, it predates the Nazis, and the swastika being a symbol for them. Here is an interesting picture that shows a swastika next to a six pointed "Star of David" in what today would be considered a rather unfortunate juxtaposition. Rather than removing it and erasing history however, the tour guides point it out and explain that things didn't always mean what they do today. [More Yerkes architectural details here.]
posted by AstroGuy at 10:06 PM on December 12, 2003


"Svastika" is the Sanskrit word for flyfot. You'll need to scroll down a bit for it. It's also been called the crux gammata.
posted by josephtate at 12:26 AM on December 13, 2003


Yes, anastasiv. This is what made corel draw temporarialy banned in Germany.

Now that microsoft owns (owned) Corel Draw, they are just playing it smart.
posted by shepd at 4:42 AM on December 13, 2003


pippin hat? = pimpin' hat?

Anyone?
posted by milovoo at 12:12 PM on January 7, 2004


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