Typography and lettering can convey far more than the words or phrases they spell out. In the case of ‘Chop Suey’ letters, however, what’s conveyed is a lazy and often offensively applied attempt to filter down an entire culture to its calligraphic core in order to infuse western language with an otherness. Writing systems and cultures are broken down into parts, reconfigured, and wedged together to form the characters of the western alphabet.
The names of these typefaces are often as lazy as the designs themselves: Sayonara, Bagel, Circumcision, Karate, Mandarin. The list goes on. Kerning is largely absent and disjointed, chunks and shapes meet at awkward angles, nothing like the often elegant scripts they purport to mimic. A walk through the international foods aisle in most US grocery stores will likely uncover dozens of examples, describing any number of cultures. These typefaces, alphabetic collages of cheap stereotypes, have no other aim than to announce–as simply and quickly as possible–“we are Other.”
The clumsily constructed letters are used questionably by some outside the cultures they imitate, but also by the They abound in ethnic enclaves, (Other)towns within western cities, where they’re used to appeal to an audience that might be swayed by the promise of an authentically ethnic experience, misread through typography.
Regardless of author, these types reflect the Orientalist ideas introduced by Edward Said. They are “a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority” over Others.