Cover Story – Issue 30 – I Get So Emoticon, Baby


Emoticons: a conflation of emotion and icons? It seems too simple, doesn’t it? To describe the complexity of twenty-first century living by use of little round, usually yellow images representing mood and emotional state in response to experience of life by complex individuals, seems very much an oversimplification? Yes, we know the referents have their context, one of easy, quickly rendered and understood, short hand intimations of simple, easily interpreted feelings in, usually, a kind of public environment, but as a signifier of our approach to language use, these little yellow pills can act as a sedative, a pain-numbing, almost anaesthetic which makes emotional life seem easy but also, like repetitive, mechanistic work, dulls our senses. We not only give our self over to generic, universally simplistic expressions of who we are but we also begin to consider our very identity with an over simplification of how we can use language to describe our self and others as vital signs of life. Here the conflation of two words can be seen as emoti (emotion) and cons (negative signs and attributes), better to describe how making life easy, convenient, for whom and to what purpose: living longer (posited as political language of certainty)  should cause us to recognise more time for contemplation of what it is to be a live human being, rather than seeking time saving devices that present our self and experience of others in short hand. There’s dark irony in us using emoticons to simplify our emotions, at a time when public communications, such as advertising are allowing themselves asterisks, daggers and infinitesimal and effectively illegible smallprint, to acknowledge complexity (and disclaimers to avoid lawful challenges) while presenting infantile imagery and music in qualifying the language of consumerism. Even such visually and aurally rendered presentation of life at its optimal potential, requires language in words to underwrite the infantile dream of success and harmony with the material world and one another within it.

But emoticons, like advertising, are getting ever more sophisticated, given the increase in the little yellow pills, covering apparently more emotional states and with greater developed referents in communicating through image-language. This still begs the question about language in terms of word usage, lexical subtleties that can convey so much, and be vital and entertaining as well as very expressive and communicative of subjectivity. With the growth of emoticon usage and the attendant spilling outside of the original context of telephony communication, as advertising and generic terminology of by now empty phrases and cliched referents show, do we still need such modes of communication as words  and language in the old style? After all, a picture paints a thousand words! We all, intuitively know this to be a monumental and mostly unhelpful cliche – comparable to ‘you’ve got to be (happy)’ as a response to rational anxiety and concern for the nature of existence – especially when we see some pictures that evoke only one, maybe two words, usually why and wherefore. What this ‘picture’ becomes is one of mass identity, even in the act of supposed individual expression, a crowd mentality that speaks in a language of dismal conformity. This is existentially the conformity we were made afraid of, in bogeyman stories of mass sameness, the kind displayed in dismal authoritarian dictatorships (loosely and inaccurately inferring and trashing socialism in its many forms) in recent history. The current display, performance, mass, one controlling voice language shows signs of an inculcation of values in communication that submerge, subvert authentic individuality in all but extremists. Even though, it appears some of these destructive individuals are themselves losing their identity to a mass voice, a desperately negative, emoticon expressing an internalised generic dissatisfaction with the world, meaning their only expression of themselves is a real, material destruction of others and themselves. They are speaking their own obituary in a dismal communication of a love of death, informed by narratives of over-simplification of existence that too often refer to symbols that clumsily communicate death as an extreme answer to the questions speaking of life.

If we live a dialectic wherein our authentic individual self is ‘won over’, persuaded, seduced into accepting death as the solution to life, and destruction of self by group mentality that depends on something like faith, whether it’s religion and/or economic science, life, or more like death, becomes a simple language of ‘with us or against us’ imperative informing all communication of behaviour and attitude towards words and language. This condition creates a simple language of gross conformity that can, even by default without needing to justify itself, define individuality and its lexicon as dissident and by implication negative even when this dissidence is more positive in terms of expressing life and self.  Just look at how the word ‘unproductive’ has become a comfortable modern language referent that is effectively an ideational emoticon that creates a uniformity of behaviour that ignores individuality and evaluates ‘dissident’ voices merely asking questions of the universal value tautologically acquired by the agents and agencies of corporatism and consumerism. The fact that in political and intellectual argument, such a wretchedly over-simplified term of marginalisation and invalidation of sometimes genuine, sophisticated and sometimes helpful diverse language, such as ‘socialist’ is used with too simplistic effectiveness. Ironically, the term ‘fascist’ is being over-used yet more frighteningly, provoking less fear and anxiety in us, despite the lessons of ‘faith-like’ conformity and acceptance of flawed moral and ethical narratives speaking of death when claiming to speak of life.

It we used an emoticon such as…(see page 3), we’d possibly be able to express our self as deluded, cruelly myopic, economically astute and populist, and communicate so much in such an easily heard and read language, so clearly, visually identified, “because life’s too complicated and power brokers want our lives to be easier.”

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