A Scientific Look at the Thematic Scheme of Emoji Texts
by Kerensa Cadenas
Text A: Slut Shaming
An assortment of emoji used to guilt reader into seeing sender again after an extremely misguided sexual encounter. Reader does not ever respond.
Text B: Welcoming
Absolutely Fabulous-themed emoji to welcome soulmate best friend to smartphone technology.
Text C: One Direction
Pairing of emoji to simultaneously express lust over Harry Styles lookalike and disgust over his camouflage pants.
Ode to Emoji Diversity
or, What We Emoji About When We Can't Emoji About Beyonće
Ode to Wisdom Teeth Extraction
or, If You Want It Then You Should Have Put A Blend On it
Ode to Blizzard 2K13
or, Slush On Top/Crazy In Glove
*If you're in Chrome, you might not see anything above or to the right :'(
**We always make a point of Tumbling issue inspiration and ideas, but in the lead up to this issue, in particular, we gathered a pretty robust collection of emoji culture and history. Check it out. Nine months after this issue was released, we actually created a second Emoji issue, which was a special, printed version (that included men!) for the Emoji Art & Design Show. Read it here.
Seven Perspectives on the Emoji ( ＾◡＾)っ✂╰⋃╯
On emojicons.com/sadface it is known as the Lorena Bobbitt, named after the woman who cut off her husband's penis after years of enduring his physical, mental, and sexual abuse.
It has the following tags:
bring a bag of ice
don't mistreat women
A woman in her thirties is browsing the Internet. She sees the emoji, and it resurrects forgotten fantasies of gelding a teen boy. Driving hundreds of miles to meet a young buck who would let her take a hot knife to his manhood. She wonders why.
Ownership? The simple obscene urge to transgress? Retaliation for past crimes of his gender?
She spends three hours in Photoshop making castration porn with flawless boy band bodies as her source material. She turns the area around their crotch red. Their faces remain maniacally grinning and/or laid-back, giving the impression that the recent castration is ideal for them.
A man in his twenties is lost in thought as the emoji sits on his screen, reblogged into his Tumblr feed. It reminds him of a nagging decision that he finds impossible to make.
He straight up loves having his testicles rubberbanded until they turn purple, but that’s just the fringe of his real fixation. He reads a lot of erotic literature that gets him thinking about powerful men severing his genitalia and using his body afterwards. The ultimate objectification. There is something almost spiritual about removing pleasure from the equation.
He muses on the irony of jacking his dick to the thought of losing his dick.
Something would persist, he thinks—a clean warmth, a purity of desire.
Someone browsing anonymously from an Internet cafe sees the emoji and pauses in their browsing. Their face is inscrutable. They hear someone squeezing through the narrow gap of chairs and computer tables behind them and instantly close the tab. There is a five-second pause before they resume their activities.
Someone copy-pastes the Lorena Bobbitt into a text file of cool stuff seen online, then forgets about it. Months later their Internet goes out, forcing them to actually look at their own desktop instead of Firefox. They open the text file because it says "cool stuff.txt" and this description intrigues them.
They see: ( ^?^)?????
and wonder why they saved something like that. Their text editor wasn't equipped to read the special characters. Without the special characters, it's just a line of question marks and parentheses, a rudimentary emoji golem of soft clay, a tendriled goblin hiding amid swamp ferns.
A teenage girl laughs out loud when she sees it reblogged into her Tumblr timeline. She ♥s it but doesn't feel it fits into her Tumblr's aesthetic, so she leaves it at that.
A woman in her forties copies and pastes the penis component of the emoji until a row of penises is arrayed before the scissors.
She laughs at this suggestion of a penis-snipping assembly line. So cute, she thinks, so small and plump. What a cartoonish depiction of castration.
The doorbell rings. The pizza is here. The pizza is pepperoni and jalapenos.
She hits the enter key, sending the emoji to a friend over gchat. She gets up to answer the door.
An androgynous alien of unknown age drifting along an icy orbit around Earth plucks the emoji transmission out of the air and inspects it. What a peculiar depiction, it thinks. Blobby, consisting entirely of face. The lone limb seems to be extended at will like pseudopodia. What organism is this?
It has tools, so it must be sentient.
The alien is unaware of the human use of horizontal, sequential characters or the restrictions of typing out characters on a keyboard. The alien assumes the emoji is fairly representational and that the spacing is intentional.
Therefore, to the alien, this limb appears to be controlling the scissors but not directly touching them. Telekinesis?
And what is it directing the scissors toward?
A row of tanks? Is this a flanking maneuver by a giant? Or are they another life form with arms held high in the manner of worshipers, or perhaps anguish. Anguish makes sense. Unless the scissors are a gift and they are coming to receive the scissors.
The alien meditates for another one thousand years.
Text D: American Hero
Used to celebrate one-night stand with a hot Boston bro.
Text E: Wooing
Emoji as art to woo a potential romantic partner.
Text F: Love
After Text E works, a simple heart is used months later to express all the feelings.
#EmojiIRL: Digital Feelings Come To Life
by Ateqah Khaki
As someone who takes feelings—and expression of all kinds—very seriously, emoji has had a profound impact on the way that I communicate. Somehow these yellow orbs of expression help convey something that words alone can’t, adding a bit of color (literally and figuratively) to the relative flatness of most e-communications. Emoji help express complex emotions—sarcasm, irony, happiness, fear—in the same way that facial expressions or body language do in face-to-face communications.
And let’s face it: they’re just plain cute and fun.
With over a dozen characters involving a heart shape in some way, it’s no surprise that emoji come in handy especially when attempting to flirt in digital spaces. I recently found myself in such a situation, communicating with a man I had yet to meet in real life. When I found my feelings growing stronger, it was much less scary to send a heart-eyed emoji than to type out, “I think I like you.” My emoji expressions also left room for interpretation, in case the way that I felt online didn’t carry over to real life.
When it came time to meet in person, I thought it would be funny and charming to make a construction paper emoji mask of ol’ heart-eyes, which had become an oft-used expression of my growing feelings over the course of our weeks of virtual communication. Additionally, his reaction would reveal to me whether or not this guy could hang with my feelings. To make a long story short: he could.
Thoroughly amused by my own mask, intrigued by how digital technology influences our feelings, communication and culture, and now in possession of a lot of yellow construction paper, I made several more masks of my favorite emoji. I wanted to document them in the physical world as a way of juxtaposing that which we express in our digital lives against that which we experience offline (and also because I thought it would be fun and cute). I enlisted the help of a couple friends and made the conscious decision to document our expedition with my iPhone—in homage to the digital devices that we use to transmit these e-expressions.
Something curious happened when I began photographing my friends behind the emoji at various New York City landmarks: people started asking about the masks. It quickly became apparent that these expressions had relevance that stretched far beyond the screens where they’re transmitted.
The masks engaged those well versed in emoji and also those completely unaware of what exactly they were. Those who were familiar with the cheery yellow faces almost immediately gravitated toward a specific expression, often sharing that it was the one they used the most in their own emoji-filled conversations.
“These are perfect for flirting in the summer,” a woman named Stefany told us, just moments after we pulled out the all of the masks for the first time. Sitting in the park with her friend, Stefany relayed the best method for using the heart-eyed emoji mask:
After just a few hours of walking around with the masks, I realized that this project had morphed into something more than just fun and cute pictures around the city. Watching people’s reactions to the masks made me want to explore more of the ways that emoji—a language of digital emotion and expression—possess meaning beyond the screens where it is normally experienced.
And so I’ve begun to develop #emojiIRL, an exploration of human expression, language and social interaction on- and offline.
by Phoebe Connelly
Look back through my text messages for the middle of December 2012, and you'll find a section comprised largely of:
With conversations like:
First, we told a bartender. Then, the car rental guy who'd teased us about being on a honeymoon. The ticket checker at customs. Called: parents, siblings, best friends. Crashed a friend's dinner party with a bottle of cava. And then we started texting.
Within a 24-hour span, I used more s, s, and s than I had previously thought possible.
I'm beyond happy about my forthcoming union, and yet a part of me still isn't sure how to talk about it. I consider happiness of the long-term variety a saccharine, if pleasant, fiction.
I want to celebrate my engagement and plan my wedding like a giant party, but sharing the news has at times made me feel like an uncomfortably heteronormative 1950s housewife.
And so I use a lot of emoji to talk about it.
Emoji allow me an ironic space within the dreaded cheery sincerity of being engaged. I can emoji diamond rings; therefore, it is ok that yes, I have a diamond ring. I default to emoji, a safe argot, as a means of discussing a marriage I'm emotionally ready for, but still lack the language to describe.
Emoji needn't be casual, but usually are. Nor do they hold to one meaning.
has in the past month stood in for: James Bond, drunk, and "I'm bringing vodka." Through repeated use with friends and loved ones, emoji take on a significance particular to the history of the two conversing. But they never lose their own easy, basic meanings.
Sometimes a is just a diamond, and sometimes it means, "I'm going to wife him."
There's a Saturday Night Live sketch titled "Bein' Quirky with Zooey Deschanel." Deschanel is played by one of the regular cast as an even more exaggerated version of her character on the Fox sitcom New Girl. Fake Deschanel plays the ukulele and makes up songs about yarn. Deschanel herself plays child-actor turned fashion mogul Mary Kate Olsen—complete with shabby-chic oversized clothing and an enormous Starbucks cup. Deschanel sits quietly during most of the sketch, pausing to deliver devastating one-liners like, "You can draw inspiration from past generations ... I've adopted the posture and gait of my ninety-year-old grandmother." Emoji are the Zooey Deschanel of communication devices: sweet, but not without an edge.
I've watched with interest as others in my social feed have used emoji to discuss marriage. Emily Gould used them to describe the size of a friend's ring to her mother.
“Emoji make it easier to talk about anything, I think!” Gould wrote me. “They're part of the sort of arms race of communication styling that led me to feel that sometimes only one exclamation point seems unenthusiastic or even downright sarcastic.”
Elizabeth Spiridakis (or White Lightning, as you likely know her from the web) diagrammed the story of engagement underneath her Instagrammed ring-shot. “I love emoji!” she wrote when I asked if I could use the photo for this piece. “I might even sneak them into our save the date.”
Curious, I went back in my feeds to see the emoji we'd used for my friend Kate's wedding:
There was a notable lack of
I am fascinated too by the idea that I'm using shorthand that might seem incomprehensible to future generations. Or, even better, will exist but with an entirely different set of connotations or social acceptability. But then again, I expect that the way I go about marriage will some day seem just as dated. Let emoji be the poufy, champagne-colored satin bridesmaid dresses of my wedding. With every , I am mocking my own participation in a ceremony that I believe in with all my .
Overwhelming fear, suprised probably pale afterwords, scare tactics.
iEmoji old name: About to scream, depressed
Unicode note: Shocking (like Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”)
Softbank: 表情(ひえ～) 「表情(hie～)」U+E107
—iEmoji.com’s description of “Face Screaming in Fear”
Face Screaming in Fear
Watercolor and text by Samantha Meier
It is unclear to me who invented the screaming face emoji, by which I mean I can’t find it easily via Google. But then, it seems like any deep understanding of emoji would require access to a historian of Japanese digital culture and do those even exist or speak English (probably). It seems as though the scream emoji was meant to be active; the Unicode page suggests as much. The animated face does not appear to be screaming, in fact, so much as shouting, calling out for something or someone:
(though also exists)
Being an incredibly famous painting, Edvard Munch’s The Scream, on the other hand, is all over Google and of course has its own Wikipedia page. The Scream, or Der Shrei der Natur, is actually a four-part composition, all the panels the same. Peter Aspden at the Financial Times explains:
‘The Scream’ is one of the most disturbing images to come out of the history of modern art. It depicts a moment of psychic calamity, of shattered nerves. Munch intended, when he first created the image in 1893, to record ‘the modern life of the soul’; and what a fraught, anxiety-ridden vision it was. For decades his distorted vision was regarded as an eccentric by-way of expressionism, laden with Nordic gloom and unnecessary cosmic pessimism.
And what a fraught, anxiety-ridden vision of the soul it is.
I’ve been hearing about the decline of the soul before I owned a phone capable of sending or receiving emoji. Many are convinced that texting will destroy conversation; that our hyper-connection—if that is really what one can call constant Facebook updates or the much-hyped communicative capacity of 140 character sentences #unclear—has created the ultimate in bowling alone. Young people these days. Young people those days.
But clearly the goal of a text message (and thus, by extension, of emoji) is to communicate something to someone or else to waste your precious data. But to what relational use can you put Face Screaming in Fear? Here are some ideas, per the iEmoji.com description:
You warn your friend, lover, family member, co-worker, or casual acquaintance—whose last name is still missing in their contact information because you think it begins with a “K” but you’re not sure and you already have another friend with the same first name so better to leave it blank so you remember which one is which—about something. Avoid this restaurant. I don’t care what Yelp tells you. Listen to my text message. Ignore your apps. Don’t date that person. It’ll end badly. Don’t take that job. Look at this face.
"suprised probably pale afterwords"
You got in a fight. You didn’t mean to. Now you’re texting your best friend, worried, to confirm that Yes, I was right, I have every right to feel this way, you were wrong and I was right. But you’re pretty sure you’re not right. You’re pretty sure you fucked up. You are still self-righteous and angry and hurt and shaky and trying to reset. Look at this face.
You looked at your résumé today. You remembered that your stepfather has malignant cells in his prostate. You haven’t paid your credit card bill yet. Look at this face.
"About to scream, depressed"
Just text me back. Please. Look at this face.