Emoji Diversity and Self-Censorship

As the Overwritten audience may already be aware, I have made a commitment to read NBC News as often as possible while the Biden Administration is in power. My purpose is to understand how this particular media apparatus differs from CNN, which I examined extensively in the Trumpish Age. More specifically, I am interested in its propagandistic function: how, exactly, is it attempting to manipulate and misinform its readers? After three months of research, I am most impressed by the abundance of identitarian agitprop produced by this network. Certainly, the other mainstream outlets engage in plenty of race-baiting and pseudo-feminist virtue-signaling, but NBC News has entire divisions of its website dedicated to creating such inflammatory content on a daily basis. For example, there is a section of the website titled NBC Out, which covers controversy pertaining to LGBT issues. If you want to become angry about anti-LGBT legislation or sentiment, then all you have to do is turn to the appropriate subpage on NBC News and you can be outraged all day long.


Predictably, there is also a space titled NBC BLK, which addresses controversy pertaining to black Americans. On Thursday, the fifteenth of April, this subpage published an article written by Cynthia Silva, who alleges that the “majority of emoji users want more inclusive representation”. It appears that the Adobe corporation conducted a survey of “seven thousand global emoji users” and discovered that fifty-four percent of users “felt their identity was not reflected in the current library of emojis”. This is undoubtedly true, but in a sense unintended by the participants of this survey, because emojis do not “reflect identity”. Emojis are actually the antithesis of identity: they are computer-generated icons developed en masse by corporate programmers who want to make their useless product more addicting and simultaneously more appealing to the masses. The notion that one should seek identity, culture, or anything of value in something as frivolous as an emoji is patently absurd.

So, too, is the article that Silva has written. She writes with a deeply unbecoming absence of self-awareness, perpetually unaware of how silly the subject matter is. When reading a ridiculous piece such as hers, our instinct is to compare it to something one might find in the Onion or Babylon Bee, and it is telling that this comparison has become a cliché in the postmodern world. The mass media is passing off so much laughable material on a daily basis that it very frequently resembles a parody. In this regard, one cannot say that the mass media has really become fundamentally worse in the past six years, as it was always ridiculous enough to inspire satires like the Onion and Babylon Bee. If anything has changed, then it is the seriousness with which the media insists upon itself and its intolerance for well-deserved mockery.

Consider this article about emojis, which probably was the subject of several satirical stories within the last decade. In sullying it as an unintended joke—which it undeniably is—we are running a very serious risk of incurring the wrath of the propagandists who produced it in the first place. Our disagreement can be deliberately misinterpreted as bigoted expressions, and certainly as privilege: if we don’t understand why the diversification of emojis deserves serious attention and concern, then we must be pampered, decadent, and decidedly out of touch with the legitimate needs and worries of . . . Well, I’m not entirely sure of whom. Those who believe that emoji diversification is important, I suppose.

The illusion of importance and seriousness that accompanies Silva’s article is the only important and serious element to this imaginary issue. It is telling, and not at all in a good way, that we have become this heavily manipulated, influenced, and programmed that we might pause to wonder if there is something of substance in what Silva has written. She could not have written something so inane a decade ago, and she certainly couldn’t have written it with such solemnity—not without becoming the laughingstock that she deserves to be. At no point in her article does she even attempt to reach out to those who might smirk at something so strange: she assumes that her readers have already bought into the postmodern racial narratives so completely that they would accept this phony controversy as a legitimate issue with no questions asked.

We should be very frightened by this, as it casts doubt upon our ability to maintain our intellectual independence in an increasingly compulsory culture. In responding to Silva’s piece, I frequently stopped writing to ask myself if I was going too far or if I was being insensitive, enough though one cannot conceivably go far enough in dismantling an article as foolish as hers. As for the notion of insensitivity, one could make a rather humorless argument that her article is insensitive, as it reduces legitimate racial bias and tension to a superficial, bourgeois curiosity—which is precisely the point. NBC BLK is not intended for people who are serious about solving the problems on which it reports. It is intended for unserious people who take a cursory, misguided, self-righteous interest in popular, fashionable subjects. We must respect this difference if we are to advance while we still have the opportunity.

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