Passing Bite Society

Why the ‘namaste’ emoji is the perfect symbol for our morally bankrupt privileged classes

Emojis — a language unto themselves.

Emojis — a language unto themselves.   | Photo Credit: Getty Images/ iStock

Over the last 20 years, I’ve learnt to live with emojis, but only just. I hated them at first sight itself — what were these children’s cartoon blobs doing on my phone? Then, oh horror, they were even on my computer and in every other digital environment.

As phones got smarter and more complicated, their emoji packets became increasingly elaborate. Try as I did, I could not get rid of the array of emojis from my keyboard, the fifteen kinds of smiles, the seven kinds of manic laughter, the three kinds of fury, the two kinds of sheepish faces, the three gears of smugness — they would all pop up each time I tried to type a message.

Watered down

No matter how hard I tried to stick to the classic means of conveying emotions and opinion through text, other friends, especially those younger than me, kept inserting this emo-junk in the middle or at the end of perfectly good sentences. Upon receiving one of these mini-monstrosities, I would find my temper rising and people would see me snarling quietly at my phone — ‘Yes, god, I know you are joking, how could you not be, given the tone and content of the words you’ve typed? I’m not an idiot!’ or ‘Yes, I get it that you’re sad, you don’t need to stress this further with a cartoon face with tears! Can’t you see, it cheapens and waters down your emotion?’

Time, tide and technology wait for no man. Neither do global trends. At first, I began to use the emojis ironically, just as people sometimes deliberately use ‘bad’ English to make fun of some incorrect but prevalent use. I found myself typing the ‘smiley face’ or ‘laughing out loud face’ with the keyboard; then these began to get automatically converted to full-blown emojis. Against my will, despite my best efforts, I had been pushed into joining the herd. As Emojese developed as a language, the icons expanded from their role as emphasisers — I began to get messages with words, and the thoughts and feelings they indicated, entirely replaced by these infantile icons.

Brand logo

By now, people my age, that is, above 40, had also begun to make gratuitous-promiscuous use of the damn things, a bit like someone dyeing their peppery hair jet black or wearing trendy clothes that are too tight. Whatever opinion I carried in my obsolete sailing-ship of a mind, I had to respond, I had to be in dialogue with these fools, my friends and associates. With all the enthusiasm of an entrenched monolinguist forced to learn a new language, I too began to sow my hitherto pristine prose messages with contorted smileys, funny objects, cute piles of excrement, and crude pictograms of human actions. I did it with resentment, with no little shame at my capitulation, and mostly without flair or elan.

But even a weak and over-tolerant person has their limits. Of late, I’ve found one particular emoji driving me further up the wall than any emoji has previously done. Maybe it’s COVID-19, maybe it’s the lockdown coming on and off like a loose bulb, maybe things get mentally distilled during a crisis that has no end in sight. Or, maybe it’s that people are currently using this ghastly squigule far more than before. The namaste is one of our most typical gestures. The joining of palms/ folding of hands, deployed in prayer, supplication, greeting or gratitude might have come to us from the Urals or Uluru several millennia ago, but we’ve made it our own, taken it to levels of sophistication that are uniquely sub-continental, given it back to the world with added grace, beauty and subtlety.

But now, every time one of us desis uses the ghastly folded-hands emoji, it’s a two-handed blow against all this. Seeing it infecting every second message on social media grates on the sensibility for it’s often the messaging equivalent of mindlessly hitting your car horn or, worse, obliviously scratching your armpits or some other bodily conjunction. The emoji itself, no matter what the skin colour of the hands, is horrible, as though two police batons are having an arranged marriage; worse, people are using the thing in all sorts of ways, as the laziest of thank yous, as a passive-aggressive emphasiser, as a marker of false humility, often coupled with the extremely arrogant use of the word ‘humble’, as superficial and fake proof of piety, and so on.

This folded hands symbol is the perfect brand logo for our morally bankrupt ‘middle’ and ‘upper’ classes. It proudly flaunts our hypocrisy — we don’t give a single airborne bodily emission for anybody else, we are the most selfish, pompous, self-adoring privileged class on the planet, but our timorous notions of propriety don’t allow us to use the other, far more candid emoji involving the hand, and so we resort to this one.

The writer is a filmmaker and columnist.

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Printable version | Aug 13, 2020 8:01:47 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/why-the-namaste-emoji-is-the-perfect-symbol-for-our-morally-bankrupt-privileged-classes/article32183056.ece

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