by Guy Walker
When Apple released that they were going to replace their real-life looking pistol emoji with a squirt gun, there were a few hours of nervous unsteady control amongst the avenues of Downtown LA. The dreary overgrown intersections between Chicago gang outfits stopped as well, not because it was the Parade of Nations at the Olympics and it’d be the appropriate gesture of solidarity to do here in Chicago, but because their mutual communicative devices had changed, their metonymically pixelated hieroglyphs had been translated into something else, something either mockingly childish or terribly magniloquent, and it was done so overnight. For a moment, the mutes, the schizophrenics, the retards, the gun enthusiasts, and the gun control advocates were all the same, all floundering in the tepid shit-ridden swamps of language, unsure whether they would sing the poems of Whitman or belch a bit of hell.
The Walmarts and mega shopping malls uniformly hushed, everyone frozen in place as to not disturb any temperamental idiot with a gun and the wrong set of emojis who could be pushed over the edge. A man with a round hunched neck and soiled polo shirt froze with his hand shoved in the discount bra bin at Sears, his eyes nervously and silently scanning the rows of empty clothing racks. A six-hundred pound woman with a Trump-Pence nightgown used as a t-shirt who was once galloping through the soda aisles on her scooter-made-for-handicapped-people, stopped and tried to camouflage herself amongst the American themed sugar cookies. A stock-boy who was stacking cans of Campbell soup, wondering what is the difference between him and Andy Warhol, stopped and waited expectantly with everyone else for the effects of replacing the pistol emoji with a squirt gun.
To confirm their worst, most exigent fears, it was the children who stormed and terrorized the public. Great herds of kindergarteners simultaneously broke out of their classrooms and flooded their playgrounds, shooting their super-soakers into the air, all just to celebrate the warrantless expansion of their prepubescent lexicon. A five-year-old with half-inch thick reading glasses was trampled in the sandbox, water balloons that looked like hand grenades splashing all around him. Boys drew six-pacs on their stomachs and Hitler mustaches with markers, and spoke only in quotes from Napoleon in Animal Farm. A young teacher assistant fell to her knees in agony, but was completely silent in doing so, and began frantically pressing the crying emoji on her smartphone, not sending messages to anyone, just haphazardly scrolling multi-page compositions of tears. Two of the kids began swinging on the monkey bars at the same time, cackling under a torrent of rain bullets, and one of the teachers tried to communicate that two at a time was not allowed. She pressed the two finger emoji, then the monkey face emoji, then the red circle with a line through it, then held the iPhone screen up to the boys. “Peace, Monkey. No Way!” they read. “Yeah! That’s Right, No More Peace! No More Glossy Apples! Just Penis! Poop! Butts! And More Bad Words!” they screamed with rotten humor, firing their water pistols into the teacher’s face. She responded expectantly, with an Instagram selfie ending in a series of hashtags: #tgif #newemojiday #boysareweird #iminlovewithkanyewest.
But the hazy tautology of our spectrum of possible communicative symbols did have some positive net effect. Action movies suddenly turned into animated sandbox dramas, and young inept children and politically correct adult virgins went to see them, stuffing sugar-free cotton candy into their smacking esurient mouths. God turned out to be a naked comedian who only made jokes about Teletubbies, Jarool, and Princess Diana, as he chewed tobacco and spit casually onto the glistening bald heads in the audience. Down on skid row, a skinhead touched his own chest with a sentimental caress, and where there was once a massive opaque swastika was now a tattoo of a unicorn rubbing himself with a bushel of orchids. The skinhead smiled to himself, cupped his mug with both hands and sipped his steaming chamomile tea. All women became men. All men became women. White people stained their skin with floor stain in order to look black, and they took to the streets, chanting “Black Lives Matter! It’s Pretty to be Fatter!” for 72-hour shifts, before finally collapsing onto waterbeds filled with distilled fluoride-free water. Caitlyn Jenner transitioned into a human fetus, then a Venus Flytrap, because, in her words, “fetuses are like amorphous sexless heroes, but flytraps are enigmas of bloody heavens.” She petitioned the public that she shouldn’t be forced to eat flies, and went on a hunger strike and eventually died. Hippies bought suits from Saks Fifth Avenue and began hating gays because they didn’t know what to do with themselves. Overnight, the whole emoji-speaking world flipped—peace became war, and war became peace—and everything stayed the same.
Words have always evolved and transformed their meaning into strange agglutinative forms. “Nice” to used mean silly and foolish. “Awful” used to mean “worthy of awe.” “Naughty” meant being poor or needy. In the story of Jesus’ conception, the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew “almah,” or young woman, translated it into the Greek “parthenos,” meaning virgin. This single mistranslation led to countless generations of zealous followers to synch up their private tingly areas, to deny themselves untold libidinal splendor. It is expected to have a few embellishments along the tortuous banal profession of storytelling and translations—a bit of exaggeration here and there, a few less loaves and fishes, a few more people in the crowd, year by year, until miracles are made.
When Plato defined humans as “featherless bipeds,” Diogenes brought a plucked chicken into his classroom, retorting “Behold! I’ve brought you a man!” Plato then expanded his definition to be a “featherless biped with broad flat nails.” To Einstein, “god” meant the sum total of the laws of physics. But to an Islamic extremist it means the disperser of martyrdom, the ghostly gallant king that will grant you 72 virgins. But 72 isn’t 72. It means “a lot,” “a bunch,” “a fuck ton,” whatever your most lyrical paeanic way is to put it. And the Quran never said it would grant a martyr many virgins. The original word that the Quran used means “raisins.” You’ll get a sack of raisins if you honor god’s word and kill a gang of French people drinking champagne. It’s because the ephemeral capricious nature of our words and their definitions are too easily manipulated to our desired meanings, to meanings that could serve us very well to believe. It’s easy to believe the virgin definitions, both in the story of the birth of Jesus and the gift of martyrdom, because they grant us an advantage, they grant us the awe and wonder that we so desperately crave on this ransacked polluted desert, to liven up these dreary hungover routines that leave us hunched over night after night wondering when all this hapless confusion will end. Someone was the first to grunt the word for ‘food’, ‘rock’, ‘sky’, ‘god’, ‘fart’’, egodystonicity’, ‘symparanekromenoi’, and the rest of us agree that these are the words and their respective meanings, from chimps plucking and eating the lice from each other’s heads to hairless pink men hurling themselves in a metal tube towards other planets, we croaked and coughed our way towards collective progress.
And emojis will unwittingly shove us towards the next glorious frontier.
Last year, Oxford Dictionaries named the laughing-crying emoji, or the ‘Face with Tears of Joy,’ the word of the year. And naturally, parents and prudish types will wince at the seemingly accelerated degeneration of human language, and point to the Yeats and the Eliots and the natural prose on the common man from the past, but their sordid complaints are wrong and have no strength against the impenetrable momentum of the human lexicon. These assorted hieroglyphs are the cute articulate paeans of modern man, something Hegel and Wittgenstein would have envied, because of the economy of language is dealt in a single image. Ever since Webster’s Second Edition Dictionary, words have been defined according to how they are being used on the street, in the cafés, amongst the silly gaggles of girls and their daily banter. There is no fixed meaning to anything anymore.
According to the Global Language Monitor, there are over a million words in the English language. Teenagers today speak an average of 800 words a day. But, if we are lucky, emojis can potentially reduce this even further, to just a handful of muted voguish symbols, to a squirt gun and a smiley face, to praying hands and an eggplant, to an alien head and a thumbs up, and together we can rid the world of violence, misery, color, and all meaning. We can finally return to where we came from, and point to things and grunt, and throw our feces from up high in trees. Together we can be free.