EM OJ I
A S PEC IAL PR I NT ED ITI O N O F WO MANZI N E
Table of Contents LIZA NELSON ALAN HANSON
LINDSEY WEBER CLIVE THOMPSON
Pound It Plans For New Emoji To Explain The Brute Force Attack W/ Which You Penetrated My Blue-Glow Heart Q&A with Julia Heffernan, GroupMe’s Emoji Designer The Prehistory of Emoji
Emojified: R. Kelly’s Trapped in the Closet, Chapters 1, 2, & 4
JENNA WORTHAM ADAM MILNER LINDSEY WEBER
Emoji: the Very Bearable Lightness of Meaning Images from Emoji Expression Tests, 2013 Our Emotional Mad Libs
The Unbearable Whiteness of Emoji
EDITOR CO-EDITORS LAYOUT & COVER
Emoji Math (throughout)
Mercedes Kraus Lindsey Weber & Jenna Wortham Mercedes Kraus
Pound It , 2013 LIZA NELSON
SPEAKING IN PICTURE-LETTERS Emoji can be “the Mad Libs of human emotion” or “an everevolving communal form of cryptography,” our contributors write. Even though they come from a long history of “witty pictographic language,” emoji don’t always help us express our most powerful emotions. They are reflections of us, even as we find ourselves making faces that we learned from these picture-letters (the literal translation from Japanese). One particularly dark reflection, though, is that emoji have so far defined a very narrow definition of culture, one that is mostly white and heterosexual. Around the Internet, people have requested new, more diverse emoji, hinting at the increased, ongoing struggles of those seeking representation. Maybe the blue, non-anthropomorphic emoji of GroupMe are on the right track to visualizing humans without the stereotypes found in other emoji sets. Regardless, we will continue to translate our favorite songs and movies into transmittable pictographs, to use our favorite emoji (mine’s the ghost in the Gmail set) as often as possible, and to create puzzles and nuanced replies to text messages from our moms or our crushes. This zine’s rad exploration of emoji is owed to its contributors and to the steering committee of the Emoji Art & Design Show (for which this special edition was created), especially my co-editors, Lindsey Weber and Jenna Wortham, without whom this zine would not be nearly as excellent, and maybe wouldn’t have come together at all. This is actually the second Emoji issue of Womanzine; you can read the first, and other of our issues, online at toosexyandweird.com.
MERCEDES KRAUS, EDITOR
Plans For New Emoji To Explain The Brute Force Attack W/ Which You Penetrated My Blue-Glow Heart ALAN HANSON
Sub-section A: there are over sixty representations of the human face in the emoji ideograms not one of which accurately describes my slack-to-surprise gone-bananas face explosion when I think of you this one comes close but messy me really should be an emoji of my elevator stomach racing up my throat in pre-puke with in my gut my ears bleeding saccharine and such. Sub-section B: when you were here and I was fucking sand in L.A. no form of travel was truly adequate emoji, imagined, nor real and I would venture to say invisible brainwaves! maybe synaptic electricity! how our grass blades could tangle in soils separated by three-thousand suck-hard miles like most unanswered questions of astral love the vapors are best explained by
Sub-section C: however, all previous conundrums so simply remedied even my unending dendrolatry is easily explained but you! escaping all pictographing like a so gone into cortex or spinal fluid if only there were emoji to represent the shape of daylight or the eyeball’s religious machination maybe even one for the unexplored ocean or how music notes pair and build like evolution in nature, like us. Sub-section 0: O, how I’ll spend these silly days thinking of all things without succinct representations and how no amount of tiny pictures or even German words come close but I can text you so you know when I get home I’m gonna lick your nose.
Soon We Will Have a Twerking Emoji LINDSEY WEBER Only a few people in the world know what it’s like to create emoji, and Julia Heffernan is one of them. As the mind behind GroupMe’s ever-evolving sets of emoji, the freelance illustrator takes inspiration from seemingly everywhere to craft anything from a fish taco to a rack of beer pong cups . What’s it like to take the world’s emotions and attempt to summarize them in one small image? Julia and I met over GroupMe to chat s, s and s.
Lindsey: Hi Julia! Let’s chat emoji. Julia: Hi! OK! L: Do you just design emoji at GroupMe? Or do you do other sorts of design? J: So far I only do emoji for GroupMe, but who knows what the future will hold! L: That’s so fun. What’s your design background? How did you get the gig? J: I studied illustration in college and have always done paintings and stuff on the side, but until recently, I didn’t really make money doing it. I worked in startups doing support for a while and then got the gig at GroupMe working on support. Last March, we did a Hack Week, and all the developers got to work on fun/cool projects for the app, and I got jealous just sitting there answering support emails. So I said I wanted to take a day and draw emojis for the app, and luckily everyone was into the idea. L: That’s genius. What inspired you to go for emoji? J: I’ve always loved using Apple’s. A couple of my friends and I only communicate in emoji. L: Which is your favorite, and which is your fav GroupMe emoji? J: Hm, I really like and my favorite Group one is probably
this guy: (He’s in a life vest.) He was the first one we tried putting like a whole outfit on. L: He has no arms! J: It’s tough swimming with no arms. L: Do you find yourself subconsciously perhaps filling in gaps in the Apple emoji in your own work? J: We try not to overlap too much with their stuff—some are just perfect, like L: But certainly some emotions are universal! J: Yeah, there is def a lot of overlap with the emotional faces, so we decided to do blue faces instead of yellow to make them unique. L: To that end, what do you look to for inspiration? J: Actually, I usually just have Photobooth open on my computer and make faces at myself. L: Do you ever take suggestions from community members? J: We actually have a whole pack coming out soon that is all requests from our users. L: What kinds of things are they clamoring for? J: Recently, it was this guy: ... We had a regular turkey and a Twitter user was like, “Hey can we get a ‘deal with it’ turkey?,” so we stuck some sunglasses on him. L: Every emoji could use glasses, to be real. J: Makes things way cooler! The most requested emoji was actually a volleyball, but I think a volleyball team got together and sent us all requests for that. After that, it’s probably the middle finger. L: Yes, that is a big one people do need! Have you guys dipped into the land of sponsored emoji yet? J: Not yet! L: Do you see that being a thing? J: Seems like a good way to make money!
L: Right! Although I wonder if people would actually use branded emoji ... Like, “Kleenex” if they needed to cry. But then again, we have the cry face! How do you see the future of emoji? J: Hm, that’s a tough one. I think the future of emoji is just more people using them. Like, my dad uses them now that I am drawing them. They don’t just have to be for tween girls anymore. Just a fun new way to communicate feelings/ emotions/jokes! I’d like there to just be more of them so you are never at a loss. And they’re more fun than the standard emoticon : ) ... Even though that is a very nice smile. L: Can we also talk about this one? beautiful. J: Ha! My WiFi [name] is (thong butt).
Because it is
L: I had a feeling you had a special place for it in your heart. J: That is a very, very special one. There isn’t a butt in Apple emoji. I use the peach, generally. We thought after we did the speedo guy it would be funny if he just turned around and had a thong on. And it only really works because we have the front facing speedo next to it! L: Have you seen people using emoji you’ve made in ways you haven’t intended? For example, I use it to mean, “I’m dead from laughing.” J: Well, we don’t often see how people are using them unless they share it on Twitter, but one thing I really like is that people will use the transliterations [representing words in the characters of another alphabet, i.e. created using Greek letters for fraternities and sororities] to talk about the emoji they use in the group chat, and those transliterations have become an added joke. In my groups, I think it is funny when people decide they identify with a
specific character. In my family group, refers to my baby niece because she drools a lot. It seems like people try to make stories with our emoji, which is nice because we definitely think about that when we are choosing the ones to draw. L: That’s great! I think all emoji “meanings” should be hidden. Why limit yourself? J: Definitely! They are yours to use. L: Does emoji ever inspire YOUR emotions? Sometimes I make faces that I realize are me imitating emoji. It’s weird. J: Ha! Yeah, sometimes I try to make the faces. When I draw the food ones I get really hungry. The Thanksgiving pack was particularly tough; I just wanted to eat mashed potatoes all day. L: Is there a particular emoji you’re working on right now? J: A twerking one. It’s tough, but it MUST work. It’s a lot of action to get into an 80 x 80 pixel square! L: Oh man, that is dangerous. J: I know, but so relative to our culture now, for better or worse. It was one of the top requests! L: I guess people will reappropriate it, so it can live FOREVER. J: Maybe it will get Miley to use GroupMe… dare to dream. L: I think you have a chance.
See more of Julia’s work at juliaheffernan.com.
The Prehistory of Emoji CLIVE THOMPSON
In 1865, if you met someone at a party and wanted to get them alone for a romantic interlude, you had an interesting social option: you could hand them a calling card with a curious mix of pictures and words. Printed as a sort of verbal puzzle, these cards required some decoding. One of them, for example, began with the word “MAY,” followed by a picture of an eye, the letter “C,” the letter “U,” a house, the word “MY,” and a deer. Put together, the message leapt out: May I see you home, my dear? It was a rebus puzzle. The name comes from the Latin for “not by words but by things,” or Non verbis, sed rebus, and kids today still encounter them in puzzle books. The rebus, it turns out, is the deep historic ancestor of the emoji— “picture letter” in Japanese—and proves that our modern delight in witty pictographic language isn’t so modern at all. We’ve been doing this for millennia. Indeed, some of humanity’s first writing ever was done, arguably, in this style. Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs were often arranged in a rebus format, with pictures producing the parts of a word that, assembled, turned into a full message. One well-known statue of the third Egyptian pharaoh composed his name using three pictures: Horus,
the sun god (“Ra”) with a child (“Mes”) who holds a piece of sedge in his left hand (“Su”). All together, that produces “Ramessu,” or as we know him today, Ramses. Even after we developed alphabets and no longer wrote solely in pictograms, the idea of doodling pictures as stand-ins for words never went away. Leonardo da Vinci scribbled plenty of rebus, and the sixteenth-century Italian writer Giulio Cesare Croce composed an entire poem out of rebus. Lewis Carroll wrote letters composed of rebus imagery, and the 1796 Heiroglyphick Bible presented the Christian text studded with pictures (“Designed Chiefly To familiarize tender Age, in a pleasing and diverting Manner, with early Ideas of the Holy Scriptures,” as its subtitle explained). What was the allure of rebus? Well, they’re funny, which is why they were often used for comic effect. In 1778, King George sent a delegation to Philadelphia in the desperate hope that he could talk his way out of the American revolution; in turn, London printers mocked him with a gorgeous, full-color rebus political letter (they spelled the newfangled country’s name thusly: “Amer,” followed by an eye, followed by “k”). Rebus were also popular because they rewarded cunning: as the linguist David Crystal argues, they actually require a lot of cognitive effort, so they assume a level of playfulness on both the part of the writer and the reader. It’s an inside joke. This shared exclusivity may also be why the uninitiated have always found rebus—and now emoji—so annoying. As the English scholar Michael J. Preston wrote in 1982, “The rebus is often acknowledged by a statement of disdain, unless, of course, one knows a rebus or two and can respond in kind.” Other critics have complained that rebus are the product of a shallow, silly mind. Pictures are for kids; text is for adults. As William Camden sniffed in 1605, rebus writers “lackt wit to expresse their conceit in speech; did use to depaint it out (as it were) in pictures.” Of course, after its heyday at the end of the European renaissance, the rebus became a rare beast, encountered mostly just in puzzle-books or cartoons, and modern
tools for everyday communication—from movable type to the typewriter—made it difficult to incorporate pictograms. The Gutenberg revolution created a boom in textual literacy, though at the cost of the wit that thrived in illuminated manuscripts. But many authors in this new, text-heavy world still longed to use the occasional pictogram. In a 1969 New York Times interview, Vladimir Nabokov said, “I often think there should exist a special typographical sign for a smile—some sort of concave mark, a supine round bracket.” The smiley, in other words. These days, we have a lot more than smileys at our disposal. Once our digital tools arrived, their slithy screens capable of blending text with pictures, emoji were born. The rebus came roaring back.
Emoji Mandala NOLAN DEMPSEY
A small gift printed on canvas to liven up my motherâ€™s room during a month-long hospitalization, this mandala uses vibrant emoji as modular blocks to form a collaged illustration. It is loosely inspired by traditional Tibetan healing mandalas, which are said to transmit positive energies.
Emojified: R. Kelly’s Trapped in the Closet , Chapters 1, 2, & 4 ZOE MENDELSON
The Great Lord Kells’ masterpiece hip-hop opera Trapped in the Closet is my favorite piece of art ever created in any medium. It walks that incredibly thin line between serious and joking so well that most people really can’t make the call. That’s sheer genius. I love the absurdity in it, the drama in his voice as he sings, “I cloooosed my mouth and
swallowed spit.” Emoji are absurd, too (because their set of symbols is so random), and I figured, why not translate the absurd into the absurd? Everything about the pairing seemed well-suited—from the characters’ high-running emotions to the involvement of a cop to the significance of cherries. Trapped in the Closet begged for emojification.
The translation should be read both as an image and as a text—at times it requires translation left to right, and at others it presents the story as an image.
Emoji: the Very Bearable Lightness of Meaning JENNA WORTHAM
My all-time favorite emoji is the perfectly cooked, pankocrusted prawn with its tail still attached, a lightly breaded c-curl of mystery. It’s not the most practical emoji, and if anything, it’s very likely that you rarely have a reason to use it in conversation. A swirl of soft-serve ice cream, a flexed bicep, a storm cloud, or even the clinking beer mugs are much more useful at transmitting meaning than a lonely piece of fried shrimp. But it’s become my favorite because of its complex vagueness, which makes it more evocative and interesting than its straightforward companions— simply because it makes absolutely no sense. A text with a trophy emoji, a laughing cat, or even a baby bottle is easier to decipher and more effective at conveying a specific mood or idea. But tempura shrimp? What, even, is that? Does it symbolize hunger? A trip to the fish market? A particularly brutal sunburn? The possibilities are maddeningly endless, which somehow gives way to a pleasurable labyrinth of possibility. Emoji have become an ever-evolving communal form of cryptography that change depending on who we are talking to and when. To me, the shrimp is strangely soothing, stoic. Embryonic, almost. It reminds me of the way I feel when I’m salty, in a prickly ball of funk that requires a couch, a fetal position, a bottle of wine and Netflix—in that exact order—and that’s how I use it to communicate a foul mood to one friend. With another, however, it only comes up in conversation about Mariah Carey. Something about her complexion and the way she’s always stuffed into a tubeish dress works as a proxy for a tiny cartoon image of a fried shrimp, and now its incredibly hard to imagine her
any other way. Other people have told me they use it as a shriveled peen, an exclamation point, or a quirky filler—an expressive way to be present when there’s nothing else to say at all, a virtual patting of the seat next to you to let someone else know that you are there, you are present, available. In this way, the appeal of the shrimp—and all emoji, quite honestly—lies in its ambiguity and its power to become a changeling in conversations. We use these tiny images to open a dialog or to end one, or we combine them to form sentences, complicated pictograms that decorate all our digital communications. And so, they remain universal, a communal lexicon that we have adopted to humanize our interactions, which now almost always seem to happen on a screen, in boxes, and chat windows. With little to go on except a small economy of hastily tapped-out words, emoji can warm up exchanges that otherwise might feel stifled and stiff, bloodless or confusing. How do you text a feeling of anger, frustration, or of love? Emoji, like all images, allow us to project our own emotions, reactions, and interactions, and perhaps make it even easier to receive and process them. Emoji don’t necessary make communicating any clearer: I used to love employing the fist bump emoji to mean “power” and “strength to you, sister” until several people, including my sister, asked me why I wanted to punch them. But even those mix-ups add a much-needed element of joy to the tedium of digital communication, which never has a clear end or beginning but just runs constantly like a lazy river or an extended, half-distracted chat over brunch.
Images from Emoji Expression Tests, 2013 ADAM MILNER
Our Emotional Mad Libs LINDSEY WEBER
In person, itâ€™s not unusual to be completely speechless: youâ€™re there. Either your eyes are wide or your smile is. Expression without words is naturalâ€”easier, even. Expressing yourself via text can be a total pain in the ass, and to have these small images to do some of the emoting for us? A godsend. Just as the childrenâ€™s game Mad Libs (which, I guess, is not actually childâ€™s play if youâ€™re busy filling the blanks with copious swear words like I once did), emoji fill gaps between the growingly meaningless LOLs and OMGs. There are just so many ways we LOL! And the opposite of that, too. No one wants to hear about the boring details of your dentist appointment; fill in with emoji instead. Do you have a cavity? (â€œđ&#x;‘Žâ€?) Or did you properly floss this time? ( ) Those thumbs do the trick. Meanwhile, perfectly expresses the human joy of leaving a dentistâ€™s office without brand new fillings. We often lean on emoji because itâ€™s not always easy to find the right words. As meaningless â€œHappy Birthday!â€?s forever flood Facebook walls, the greeting itself becomes less valuable with every passing moment. How do you tell someone that youâ€™re happy theyâ€™re a year olderâ€”especially when you really mean it? â€œItâ€™s a baby!â€? â€œCongrats on that new apartment!â€? â€œIâ€™m thrilled that your favorite sports team winning the big game!â€? â€œYouâ€™ve discovered that aliens are among us? Cool!â€? (Okay, the last one really deserves 100s more excited emojis and maybe a few questions marks, too.) Thatâ€™s just the beginnerâ€™s manual. Though emoji continue to change, adapt, and develop new quirksâ€”like any languageâ€”for now, some â€œrulesâ€? have emerged, or at least subtle customs. With them, thereâ€™s some recommended etiquette that youâ€™re advised to followâ€”from those who have been there, texted that. While emoji usage should
be free-flowing and without limitations, a few guidelines can’t hurt? Katie Heaney has sent (and received!) her fair share of emoji, and here is her crash course, which we’ll call Emoji 102. (Emoji 101 is adding the emoji keyboard. Or, if you’re one of those mythical Android users, figuring out which texting app has an emoji plugin.)
Emoji 102 KATIE HEANEY
If your MOM texts you an emoji... ...YOU should respond with emoji. Emoji are made for teens and moms; the rest of us are usually just emulating one of the two. My mom likes to send me these crazy, animated, off-brand emoji frogs. They are insane. Use this as an opportunity to reply with otherwiseneglected options: . It doesn’t really have to make sense. Moms love emoji simply for being emoji; this is an attitude we should all aspire to.
If your BOSS texts you an emoji... ...YOU should not respond with emoji. Never, not ever. (Well, unless you’re both in your twenties and are friends and work for the Internet. But otherwise!) Listen: we are living in an age in which regular-level
emotions have become acceptable at the professional level, and perhaps we’ll get there with emoji, too. But you won’t be the person to do it. It’s too risky, and too flirty, and too easy to take it too far. Ignore the or the or the .
If your GIRLFRIEND / BOYFRIEND send you an emoji... ...YOU should do what you want! Emoji aren’t for everyone! But let me tell you, finding little emoji about which you and your cute sig. other can have inside jokes, and finding pet emoji you can use for one another: these are some of the simplest joys of texting today. And if you know the person you’re dating loves them, it’s in your best interest to treat emoji with (at least) acceptance. Let them in.
If your CRUSH texts you an emoji... ...YOU should feel loved, lusted after, even blessed. This person liiiiiiikes yooooouuu. I mean, I think! If it’s one of the following, which shall henceforth be considered Sexy Emoji, you are mere moments away from true love, probably:
The thing is, any emoji can actually be Sexy Emoji. Consider the context, but think of emoji as, like, a sexy dance move. You can’t use it ALL the time or people will think you’re crazy and a little inappropriate.
Mustache, 2013 LIZA NELSON
The Unbearable Whiteness of Emoji ROXANE GAY
Beneath the bright smiling faces and clapping hands and pink tubes of lipstick, emoji are composed of computer code—strings of data that should be immune to human bias—zeroes and ones, nothing more, nothing less. And yet. Emoji are still very much a product of the world we live in, one in which there is a very specific, dominant aesthetic that reflects a white reality, not a culturally diverse reality or the world most people live in. Emoji originated in Japan, and yet most of the symbols don’t even reflect a Japanese reality. The reach of whiteness as the cultural norm knows no bounds. This is the extent of emoji diversity (though to call this an “extent” is something of a stretch):
I’m not sure what’s going on with these little figures—the faces interchangeable, each tiny head donning a hat that communicates some arbitrary ethnic difference. I suppose we should be grateful for this paltry offering, these caricatures really, that blandly acknowledge the existence of people of color. It’s a shame, though, that even popular culture rising out of technology (this supposedly forward-thinking medium) is no different from that to which we have become accustomed.
It’s easy to dismiss the lack of diversity in emoji as a triviality. Without a doubt there are far graver issues to address, and that list is long. Still, we shouldn’t be dismissive. We shouldn’t turn a blind eye to yet another realm of popular culture where diversity is completely ignored. We especially shouldn’t dismiss how even among the scraps people of color have been offered, there are none for black people. As a black woman, I can’t send my best friend, or anyone else, a thumbs up made by a brown hand that looks like mine. I can’t send an emoji of a black woman applying lipstick or a black couple holding hands. I’m not alone in my disappointment. All people of color are denied this opportunity, this one small thing that is a painful echo of a much larger and longstanding problem—the erasure of people of color from the culture we consume. A picture is worth a thousand words. The absence of diversity in emoji though, speaks volumes more than that. The unspoken message is that emoji are not meant to reflect a black reality or the reality of any person of color, because our realities simply don’t matter enough.