The cultured class is always talking about how the culture is going to hell. If you examine the work of novelists, filmmakers, magazine writers, philosophers, the long-dead ones and the ones who just yesterday booked an NPR interview, you’ll find a few common complaints: commerce is more ruthless than ever, advertising is getting untenably intrusive, people are being atomized by the latest technologies, their tastes growing coarser and their attention spans shrinking. The air is filling with particulates, and it is getting harder and harder to breathe.
Anyway, Inter announced a new badge design on Tuesday. It maintains the same basic shape as the old one while stripping away most of its character. The pool of gold at the center is gone, the letters no longer climb over one another like buildings in a city skyline. It’s an interlocking “I” and “M” inside two circles, one white and one black. The distinctive slightly greenish blue Inter have been using since the 1930s has been replaced by what internal memos probably describe as a vibrant electric blue or deep cobalt. Fans know it as the gentrification gray of the sports world, most recently employed in the futuristic reboot of your Los Angeles Rams, an NFL franchise that doubled in value by relocating to a city that has greeted them with broad indifference.
If this new look seems to strip away some of Inter’s ineffable Inter-ness, that is sort of the point. The same thing happened with Juventus a few years back, when they ditched their oblong striped badge for a stylized “J.” Design firms, and the executives at the companies that commission their work, make everything with digital platforms in mind these days, which breeds ultra-clean iconography that can be blown up or shrunk down to any size. That means fewer lines and colors, with a preference for hues that be used as a background. (You’ll notice that in Inter’s announcement video, that numbing electric blue fills the entire screen.)
It only makes sense that as design parameters narrow, products begin to look quite similar to each other. So Inter end up with what’s quickly becoming legible as Generic Soccer Badge. The suits don’t mind this at all. Remember when every burgeoning tech company’s logo was a lower-case letter in a box? The implication was we’re like Facebook, we’re like Tumblr. Inter’s rebrand rhymes with Juve’s because Juve are the biggest club in the country, and a fully international entity. If you live in a big city, whether in Japan or America or Brazil, you’ve probably seen someone walking around in a black and white-striped Ronaldo jersey. That is how the type of people who run Juventus—who run any soccer club of a certain size—understand success. Inter execs would love to be Juve with a slightly different coat of paint, so imitating their aesthetics is a safe choice. It’s definitely not going to hurt the bottom line. Even if your diehards look at the badge you’ve given them and feel like they’re now rooting for a weapons manufacturer or a wealth management app, they’re not going to stop supporting the club.
What’s happening at Inter is happening all over the sport. Manchester City, Atlético Madrid, Caen, Lille, West Ham, et al. Some new badges and kits and color schemes are better than others and some old badges and kits and color schemes were pretty lousy in the first place, but everything smells strongly of disinfectant and money. A few months ago, the Spanish national federation dropped a design by Joan Bleeping Miró and just put “RFEF” inside a circle. American sports, given our society’s peculiar mental illnesses, arrived in this place well before Europe did. We used to have cartoon animals dunking basketballs and digging into the batter’s box and at some point in the 90s decided that sports team logos needed to look like they were trying to sell you a Mountain Dew before sliding frictionlessly into an era dominated by inoffensive blues and reds, smooth shapes and circular wordmarks.
The English, Germans, Spanish, and Italians have been better stewards of their own history. This is partially because most soccer clubs aren't like American sports franchises, or at least they weren’t at their inception. Many of them started as—and some nominally still are—fan-owned enterprises. They weren’t set up to hawk apparel and naming rights. But much of that ethos has evaporated, at highest levels. You can’t claim with a straight face that Barcelona FC are a humble group of Catalan soccer-lovers. You can’t claim it at all about Manchester United or Liverpool, who are owned by American businessmen. These are corporations now, same as the New York Knicks and Dallas Cowboys, same as Nike or Pfizer. And corporations exist to make money. The iconography clubs are rolling out these days doesn’t have more than a vaguely expressed interest in the past, doesn’t communicate a sense of place or evoke a shared institutional memory because no one in charge cares about those things. A modern badge is a corporation’s face. It signifies and it sells. You slap it on a shirt or an iPhone case and flog the hell out of it.
I won’t tell you anything new. This is a symptom of a culture in decline, a nigh fully capitalized existence where nothing is pure and everything is for profit. There’s not much to be done about it, at least not anything that you or I can control. We might find some meager empowerment in critique, but this is more satisfying than it is effective. Inter aren’t going to change their minds. But here is something you get for not being a ghoul, an indication that everyone involved in this process was checked out, mumbling sure, sure, great into their mid-afternoon gin fizzes. It’s pretty funny. That bold, provocative “M” bisected by that elegant “I”? If you look at it for more than a second, let your eyes drift out of focus and snap back to attention, you can see what it spells: TIT.