When I first saw the bitmoji/emoji posters my students were creating for this exhibit, I was still trying to plug their designs into the old aesthetic paradigm. Did the skillful juxtaposition of shape and color guide the eye visually throughout the picture plane? Was the designer’s originality obvious and clear? Did sharp four or five-word Bi-lines extend the visual meaning with ironic depth?
But that old aesthetic paradigm was giving me trouble. Afterall most of these posters weren’t trying to be beautiful, and they rejected originality as a matter of course. Maybe Marcel Duchamp’s famous Dada toilet in the Louvre was the source of this industrial-click-bait? Or Breton’s Surrealist Manifesto from 1924? Then I remembered the big Andy Warhol retrospective I’d seen in San Francisco the previous summer. Warhol knew that endlessly repeating Marilyn or Mao with none-too-carefully-thought-out color was trivial, and that Marilyn and Mao were trivial, and that we were all trivial enough to be drawn in by the spectacle. The commercial was so deeply Brillo’d into us, Campbell’s soup’d into us, that there could be no thought of separating a pure self from the commercial morass.
And that’s the feeling I was getting from these Bitmoji posters—far from being something the designers avoided, the trivial was a fundamental part of their design. With no more effort than a mouse-click, we universalize our image—manga-style. We’re real, yet we’re not real. We care deeply, yet we don’t care at all. Once inside the Bitmoji App, we all click on the same few primal emotions—rage, love, anxiety, pain. And we all swipe in the same floating hearts and broken hearts; puppy dogs and kitty cats; rainbows, lightning bolts, and dark clouds overhead. We all have big drops of sweat roll down of faces when we’re anxious! We all clasp our hands resolutely to our heart when we’re in love!
There is something touching in this universal app-titude we have for the same few common traits. And in the midst of our collective Covid-19 crisis, these Bitmoji posters—whatever else they are—may help us remember that we all share a collective human fate.
Program for Writing & Rhetoric