This last weekend’s season premiere of Saturday Night Live was a night to remember. The iconic sketch comedy show produced some of its best bits seen in years. One of the night’s most memorable moments featured a video starring host Ryan Gosling as a distressed man named Steven (played by Gosling) and his inner struggle to understand why on earth the 2009 mega-hit blockbuster ‘Avatar’ chose to use the cliché Papyrus font for its logo.
The film begins with Steven and his better half sleeping in the middle of the night. Steven suddenly arouses out of a night terror as the viewer begins to hear the man narrate his backstory, “It happened again. I thought it was behind me, but…the dreams came back.” Gosling’s character suddenly begins to have haunting flashbacks of his past experience with the ubiquitous film’s poor choice in cover art.
In hopes of coping with the problem, he goes to see a therapist (played by the hilarious Kate McKinnon). He begins to unravel his vexation towards the film’s professional, Hollywood-paid graphic designer who somehow got away with flippantly putting together a logo with a font he didn’t even create, “He just highlighted ‘Avatar’, he clicked the dropdown menu and he just…randomly selected ‘Papyrus’ like a…like a thoughtless child just wandering by a garden just yanking leaves along the way.” Gosling had us rolling on the floor, as many of us knew all too well his character’s frustrations. Why would a movie with a quarter-billion dollar budget choose one of the most undesirable fonts known to man?
If you’ve used a personal computer with a word processor in the past 30+ years, you most likely are familiar with the Papyrus font. Created in 1982 by graphic designer Chris Costello, the typeface was originally made to provide a framework for what a written font might have looked like in biblical times. The font had a surge in popularity during the new millennium. Public distaste for it (especially among graphic designers), however, has heavily increased in modern day contexts due to its predictable overuse in stereotypical settings such as visual software presentations and print advertisements. It’s hysterical that so many people still continue to use this font so regularly in contexts other than originally intended. While functional fonts like Times New Roman and Arial have stood the test of time (even if they’re not necessarily the “coolest” anymore) in numerous everyday settings, Papyrus was meant for a small, niche market—and even in that market it’s been overdone. It’s like taking a trip back to middle school all over again, when every 8th grader alive thought they were so cool if they used it in order to spice up their Powerpoint presentation on Egypt. It’s like, over time, we just settled for using this one specific font whenever we wanted to convey some “international”, “ancient” or “Middle Eastern” vibe. Nowadays, there are literally thousands of brand new, beautifully crafted typefaces for 2017 that would do wonders in its place—though some amusingly think otherwise.
Later on in the SNL sketch, Steven’s friend tries to reason with him explaining that, although Papyrus might’ve been the starting point for the Avatar logo design, the graphic designer and his team clearly did some things to modify the font. Steven passionately rebuttals, “but whatever they did…it wasn’t enough!” He then describes how he’s always reminded of that graphic designer’s indecent decision whenever he sees Papyrus used in public, including hookah bars, Shakira merch and off-brand teas. Steven finally chooses to confront the graphic designer in person by stalking him at his residence. The scene ends with Gosling’s character standing outside of the designer’s house staring at him face to face through his window. He yells one last cry of injustice to expose the corrupt graphic designer’s shameful deeds, “I KNOW WHAT YOU DID!” The graphic designer triumphantly shuts the curtains into his home never to be found out. The parody subtly ends with the words, “papyrus” written in the other cliché font: Comic Sans. Truly brilliant.
This skit was so funny, even Chris Costello, the creator of the Papyrus font, watched it and found it downright irresistible, calling it “…one of the best things I’ve seen.” Well done, Lorne Michaels. Well done.