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The wrong fonts in ‘Mad Men’ (and sometimes the right ones)
October 7, 2008 9:18 PM   Subscribe

Definitive guide to fonts on Mad Men. Mostly the fonts that didn’t exist during the time of the show. Not every single thing is “historically accurate,” apparently.

Improves on the various blog posts (and Flickr photos, like mine) on the topic, as you’d expect from Mark Simonson, ace spotter of typographic ahistoricism.
posted by joeclark (23 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow, someone put a ton of effort into documenting something that I'd only idly thought about before.

I love the internet, while also hating it for making me feel lazy.
posted by rokusan at 9:24 PM on October 7, 2008 [4 favorites]


A graphic designer I know, who's Very Serious about typefaces, says he can't watch Mad Men because using Gill Sans on the walls and doors at Sterling Cooper is ALL WRONG for an American agency of the period. He's going to be so happy when I send him this link, so that he knows he's not alone in his angst.
posted by scody at 9:43 PM on October 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Interesting how we zero in on different things. I was recently bothered by some of the colors the women were wearing. They seemed more 2007 or 2008ish and not early '60s colors. I went to the library and pulled out some Ladies Home Journals from that time and while I did find the colors in question, they didn't appear to be nearly as prominent as they were in Mad Men. I'm probably going to go have a look at some Redbook and Vogue magazines from that era too.

While MM gets the women's styles dead on, they're off on some of the colors. I hope it gets better once we get to the Beatles, mod fashions, and the mini skirt or I'll have to start "watching" it with my eyes closed.
posted by fuse theorem at 10:14 PM on October 7, 2008


Nerds: ruining TV for the rest of us.
posted by garethspor at 11:15 PM on October 7, 2008 [6 favorites]


Oh, bitch bitch bitch!
posted by chillmost at 12:43 AM on October 8, 2008 [3 favorites]


As a Mad Menaholic, I love your post. Yes, those little details make a difference when one is savoring a detailed time-machine ambiance. Now that you point it out I thought some of those fonts were a little off.

Fascinating to really look carefully at the difference between Helvetica and Arial and to think about something like "Do a show’s closing credits take place outside the world of the show?" It would be better, imo, if the credits were in exact keeping with the show.

Never thought of Woody Allen having a font, but there it is, White Windsor on Black.

I like Caslon Openface used a lot in that era (and its derivative, Academy Engraved).

Haven't heard telephone exchanges used either, which were routine then, like Trafalgar 6-3048 or Regent 7-9076 as phone numbers.

And you're right fuse theorem, some of the colors seem too intense for that time, for daytime office wear. Or that orange lingerie peignoir swimming outfit thing that Don wouldn't let his wife wear to the beach. I didn't think that was a properly WASPy color for her.

So agreeing with the statement on the excellent Panopticist blog: "Part of the fun of watching Mad Men is knowing that we’re watching the tail end of an era—and knowing that few of the characters have any idea what’s about to happen."
posted by nickyskye at 4:02 AM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


pwnd
posted by matteo at 5:23 AM on October 8, 2008


Is this the post that led to the "creative mind troubled soul" post?
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 5:49 AM on October 8, 2008


I see this just all the time in period television shows and films, and it makes me crazy. Why even bother paying your prop guys and artists if they do such a shit job?

This one
is especially bad and obvious. If Peter Jackson changed LoTR to have Gandalf saying "fuck this magic bullshit" and pulling out a grenade launcher, I would say it would be not quite as bad as the type fuckups on Mad Men.

Hollywood! Listen: there are type nerds available! Stop having your PAs do this shit on their MacBooks!
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:48 AM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Those Mad Men opening credits completely sell the show for me. If they weren't so perfectly situated in the 60's with the whole 3d animated rooms and guys falling from buildings and snazzy late 90's breakbeat pop fusion running underneath, I'd think this show were set in the 30's or something. Thank goodness it's spot-on.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 7:00 AM on October 8, 2008 [3 favorites]


If Peter Jackson changed LoTR to have Gandalf saying "fuck this magic bullshit" and pulling out a grenade launcher, I would say it would be not quite as bad as the type fuckups on Mad Men.

I would have thought this level of hyperbole would've been saved for a Comic Sans sighting.

The thing of all this is that one part of me wants to point out that we're rapidly approaching a forest-for-the-trees type of attitude here; Mad Men is one of the few period shows which is consistently trying and hitting a decent average in keeping the period look, as opposed to completely and egregiously throwing anachronisms around or just sort of ignoring the period (like the last few seasons of Happy Days, p'rhaps.)

But then there's the other part of me that piped up during the pilot, when the boys pitched "It's Toasted" as a slogan for Lucky Strike, and said "But that was one of Lucky Strike's first slogans! Even before LSMFT!" However, the rest of the show: the characters, the acting, and some truly sublime moments so far have given me reason to enjoy the series and not dismiss it based on a few inaccuracies. Maybe I'm a bit more forgiving than Staunch Font (oh, sorry, Typeface) Defenders. Probably.

(Of course, you can take the easy reconciliation and declare this an alternate universe with an alternate timeline, where Gill Sans had been created years earlier but one of the more famous advertising slogans wasn't around until 1960.)
posted by Spatch at 7:08 AM on October 8, 2008


Wow, almost a dozen comments in and no obligatory "it's just fonts, who can tell the difference????".
posted by signal at 8:26 AM on October 8, 2008


it's just fonts, who can tell the difference?
posted by leotrotsky at 9:10 AM on October 8, 2008


People care way too much about what they see on TV.

TV isn't supposed to be like a quality film. It's accepted that the product is shoddier. The writing, acting and overall production is always inferior.

To critique the font on a store sign on a show with so many other shortcomings is laughable.
posted by Zambrano at 10:22 AM on October 8, 2008


“[Q]uality film[s]” also screw up their fonts, Zambrano.
posted by joeclark at 10:57 AM on October 8, 2008


When Betty looks at the phone bill in the first season, I was annoyed at the fact that the mailing address was typewritten. Surely if they had a billing system that stored the time and place of calls, Ma Bell would have had dot matrix based mailing systems. They should hire an old mainframer for IBM's OS/360 (which was being introduced during the timeframe of Mad Men) along with the font nerds proposed above.

Shame on them! How am I to maintain believability if they keep screwing up like this?
posted by sleslie at 12:03 PM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


whats that quote about type revealing the true brutality (or fascism, or something) of an era, i think from the 20s or 30s?
posted by yonation at 12:08 PM on October 8, 2008


huh. and obama & fascist design. a good day for font-fish!
posted by yonation at 12:12 PM on October 8, 2008


I don't know; the show seems so stylized that I never thought it was supposed to be super historically accurate. I think it's showing a vamped up version of the 60s which is why maybe the colors are different -- more intense maybe. Also, the ads that Don comes up with aren't real (the Kodak one definitely wasn't), so why would the typefaces have to be real from the 60s? Couldn't they be something that Sal or someone else in the art dept came up with? It's not based on an actual historical story. Plus, I'm too busy being jealous at Joan's gravity-defying updo's to worry about anachronisms. They must take hours to do.

Still, I'm glad there are people out there who take TV seriously. I, for one, don't think it's a shoddier art form than film. I think there is a lot of innovative story-telling going on on TV that isn't happening in cinema.
posted by bluefly at 1:09 PM on October 8, 2008


TV isn't supposed to be like a quality film. It's accepted that the product is shoddier. The writing, acting and overall production is always inferior.

Maybe 15 or 20 years ago, but not anymore. This is the Golden Age of American television.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:07 PM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


I agree with bluefly on this; the show is an idealized version of the 60s.

And it's not just the fonts they have changed. Women wore really uncomfortable girdles and corsets and yes, the clothes were fitted and better made but some of the colors were really ugly then, like yellow herringbone monstrosities. I saw an interview recently where some of the actors remarked that the prop people were taking it easier on the women, who were finding the styles of the time difficult to wear*, with all the foundations and undergarments to slither into. So they aren't as authentic there as they could be any more, either, including the patterns and colors.

*Let's face it, if you haven't grown up in girdles, and bras that make your breasts into torpedoes, and nylon stockings with garters, they do take some getting used to once you start wearing them.
posted by misha at 2:21 PM on October 8, 2008


@sleslie: Surely if they had a billing system that stored the time and place of calls, Ma Bell would have had dot matrix based mailing systems.

More likely, it would have been an IBM drum or barrel printer.

The first dot matrix printers became available from DEC in 1970.
posted by kcds at 6:25 PM on October 8, 2008


Matthew Weiner knows we’re watching.
posted by joeclark at 8:37 AM on October 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


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