Mostly (not) on McSweeney's!

A blog for my academic ideas, more or less.

A brief analysis of the McSweeney’s website, as it is today

So a nice wee screengrab to start us off. Doesn’t show up fully, annoyingly, because of the columns either side. No big obstacle. So, just going to riff on this image a bit, see what it gives me.

First thing: Timothy McSweeney is a Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery Wrapped in Bacon.

They change the title a lot, but the formatting retains the most important detail, i.e. McSWEENEYS. As far as I know this has always been the largest piece of text in the website header. The design is the same as the first cover to the journal, drawing on this cannibalised Victorian aesthetic they have developed. The website actually resembles the form of the journal quite strongly, and it’s interesting that while the journal has experimented with form a lot, the website has remained static. The identity of ‘McSweeney’s’ possibly has a cross-platform existence, then. It is not just the journal, nor is it just the website.

There are other interesting things to say about typography but for now that’d just be an elaboration of the cannibalisation of Victorian aesthetics, in a way. Which is something I need to do more research on, but I have some nice ideas about the semiotics of periodicals that will be good for starting this.

There is a classic (ugh, bad word) example of the ‘typical’ (is that what I mean when I said classic a second ago? Repetitive language use, redundant language use?) style of McSweeney’s humour. The phrase ‘a riddle wrapped in a mystery wrapped in bacon’ mixes a clichéd expression with something from the discourse of menus to create a funny. We expect ‘a riddle wrapped in a mystery wrapped in an enigma’ (or ‘inside an enigma’; there is usually elegant ariation of wrapped/inside), but this expectation is confounded by ‘wrapped in bacon’, usually seen on restaurant menus or cookbooks, e.g. ‘haggis-stuffed chicken wrapped in bacon’ (very tasty!). On second thoughts, this isn’t ‘classic’ McSweeney’s humour; rather it’s one of the several styles of humour that are employed by writers, that recur in McSweeney’s texts. Have to be careful about being too general with my language, and be more precise. The previous sentence is more along the lines of what I want to be writing. There is a different ‘Timothy McSweeney is…’ piece put at the top of the website header at irregular intervals (is it regular? Does this matter?).

OK, wrote a bit more than I expected to on the title, and there’s more I could talk about, but useful to just start rambling about this. Will come back and do more of the image tomorrow. Baby steps.

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2 Responses

  1. Tommy Ogden says:

    The McSweeney’s website is charming. I always wonder, on visiting, if there’s a content system behind it, or if the front page really is a static page someone adds the red and black dots to each day. Either way, I’m glad that there’s still some places on the web to remind us what it used to look like before ubiquitous flash video and design convergence. It even gets away with centre-aligned text. Just checking archive.org, it hasn’t changed much since 1999! –http://web.archive.org/web/19990125090827/http://mcsweeneys.net/

    Also, ‘Resting comfortably at home.’ Timothy McSweeney’s own version of Twitter/Facebook status nearly a decade ago, updating a .gif!

    I’d like to know what the logo typeface is; can’t find it on a quick search.

  2. looceefir says:

    It’s Garamond 3, and they use it on pretty much every single printed piece they do. They say it’s because it looks good in so many varieties: wide kerning, all caps, small caps, italicised, etc.

    Thanks for the archive.org link, I must be more industrious about finding these things myself!

    I’ve been thinking about the ‘status update’ concept, and will probably incorporate it in some fashion when I write about the website in my research. I love the McSweeney’s website, might have a go at knocking together some alternative ‘updates’ at some point. I read an article making the point that if you’re presenting humour content then the most appropriate design aesthetic is going to be unobtrusive, to let the content speak for itself. Might consider things like Goon Show audio packaging, Monty Python, but then when does illustration bleed into design, as happens a lot with McSweeney’s? Hm.

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