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Tap light January 31, 2011

Posted by Samuel Snoek-Brown in Decor.
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Tap light. From my personal collection.

Two world-dominating fads in one:  The smiley face and the tap light!  The smiley has been around a lot longer, of course, and it has still managed to outlive the tap light (seriously, these things are all but useless), but I love having this.  Even without batteries or a bulb, I want to keep this thing around just to press the huge smiley button.  You know the Staples “Easy” button?  This thing is like a happy button.

Press on!

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Keychain coin pouch January 27, 2011

Posted by Samuel Snoek-Brown in Car.
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Do these things ever work?  It’s just a slit in soft rubber–the coins fall out so easily!  For a while, I actually used this as a kind of meta-keychain:  I had a separate set of keys for work stuff, and I tucked them inside this keychain pouch.  Otherwise, I just used it as a kind of stress-reliever, kneading the oval like a ball.  I love the shape, though–you don’t often see the traditional round smiley stretched wide into an oval.

Sidewalk graffito, with mushroom January 24, 2011

Posted by Samuel Snoek-Brown in Food, Public art, signs, & graffiti.
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Sidewalk graffiti, with mushroom. Photo taken in Boerne, TX, July 2010.

This is a pretty impressive chalk mushroom–and, apparently, a happy one–but the coolest thing for me is the design on the mushroom cap:  Look closely, and you can almost see a second smiley face in the spots and underside of the cap.

Tennis ball January 20, 2011

Posted by Samuel Snoek-Brown in Toys.
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Tennis ball. From my personal collection.

I am not an athlete.  Not even a little bit.  But I do like watching tennis.  And this week is the first week of the Australian Open!

I wonder if putting smiley faces on all ITF-approved tennis balls would help improve sportsman-like conduct on the court.  Worth a shot, yes?

Good luck to all the players in the tournament!  (I’m rooting for Nadal, as usual.)

BONUS: Reader-submitted snow smiley January 18, 2011

Posted by Samuel Snoek-Brown in Public art, signs, & graffiti, Reader submission.
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Smiley face in the snow. Submitted by Roy Rogers.

Long-time family friend Roy Rogers (that’s his real name!), sent me this photo from Colorado last week. I am absolutely positive I made similar snow smileys when I lived in Wisconsin, but I can’t seem to find any photos of them! So thanks, Roy–here in balmy Abu Dhabi, this “cool” guy made my day!

Bank pen January 17, 2011

Posted by Samuel Snoek-Brown in Office.
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Bank pen. From my personal collection.

Like most businesses (I’m looking at you, Wal*mart), banks like their customers to be happy, so the smiley face is a common marketing logo.  You see it everywhere–on signage (“Come on in–we’re friendly people!”), on price tags (“Smile!  This price isn’t so bad–honest!”), on sales advertisements (“But wait–this price is even better!”), and so on.  In the case of banks, the smiley face turns up frequently on promotional giveaways like this pen.  This one is from a local bank we used when we lived in Wisconsin.  And, marketing tricks aside, we actually were quite happy with that bank.*  Truth in advertising!  Who knew?


Soapbox moment: I’m a strong advocate of banking locally.  Have been for years, but I’ve gotten more vocal about it since the recent collapse of so many giant financial institutions and the havoc such collapse has wrecked on the world’s economy.  Smaller, local banks tend to take fewer risks in their investments, and when they use your money in loans to other customers, it tends to go toward the local community more than into the pockets of already rich people in some huge city far away.  Basically, I support the George Baileys of the world a lot more readily than I do the Mr. Potters.  Something to think about.

The smiley face as censor? January 16, 2011

Posted by Samuel Snoek-Brown in Smiley, Web smileys.
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Cartoon by R.J. Matson, printed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, shared online at Politicalcartoons.com

For the record, I am a writer and an academic in the humanities.  So I think it should go without saying that I stand firmly against the decision to remove the “n word” from Mark Twain‘s work.  I agree that it is an offensive word (which is why I don’t use it here), but I also believe that Twain’s use of that word points to the offense rather than celebrates it, and I believe that removing it from Twain’s novel damages the cultural and historical significance of that text so much as to render it not merely “harmless,” but pointless.

Which is why I love the satire in this political cartoon.

But why use the smiley face as a representative of censorship?  I get that the gist here is to suggest that the editor of the forthcoming censored edition has, shall we say, a much happier view of Twain’s world or even our own than Twain would himself have endorsed.  Or perhaps it’s suggesting that the editor is trying to ram false happiness down our throats through the replacement of the offensive word with the (inaccurate!) word “slave.”  Or maybe, as I often do in texts and online comments, the smiley face is simply a signal for us all to relax, because this is just a joke, folks.

Whatever the case, this issue isn’t the first to use the smiley face as a kind of censor bar.  I’ve seen the sticker or the graphic used to cover genitals (because they don’t look at all like pasties), pop up to obscure cursing lips on TV and movies (because we wouldn’t want the lip-readers to giggle), and so on.  Back in 1998, Todd Gitlin wrote an editorial on censorship in the LA Times and titled it “The New Censorship: Controversy in a ‘Smiley Face’ Culture.”

But where did we first get the idea to use the smiley in this capacity?  It’s been around for less than fifty years, so finding out can’t be that hard.  I’ll keep digging, gang, but in the meantime, if you have any good tips, chime in with a comment!

The New Censorship: Controversy in a ‘Smiley Face’ Culture

Sidewalk graffito, Amsterdam January 13, 2011

Posted by Samuel Snoek-Brown in Public art, signs, & graffiti, Travel.
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Sidewalk graffiti. Photo taken in Amsterdam, April 2010.

We found this happy grouping on the sidewalk in the Jordaan, a quiet but trendy neighborhood in Western Amsterdam.  We see a lot of smiley faces on our travels, actually–graffiti is fairly common, and one of the most common and most universal graffiti is the smiley face, which never fails to amuse me.  This little cluster is unusual, though–so many smileys in one place!  And square smileys at that.

For the record, I prefer chalk graffiti.  I love good street art, and when graffiti is accepted as a kind of public mural, it doesn’t much matter what medium people create in.  But when painted or inked graffiti is uninvited, it can be destructive.  Chalk, however, is fun to draw with and easy to wash away, which makes it fun for everyone, so if you’re looking to decorate your world with public smileys, consider chalk first!

Buttons January 10, 2011

Posted by Samuel Snoek-Brown in Clothing & Accessories.
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Buttons. From my personal collection.

If you followed the links in the post back on World Smile Day, you might recognize these as the original smiley face design drawn by Harvey Ball back in 1963.  We’ve seen a lot of variations of the smiley face on this blog so far, and there are plenty more to come, but this classic image still seems special, I think.  There’s a certain loopy, honest feeling to those lopsided eyes and that extra-wide, dimpled grin, isn’t there?

I don’t know how I wound up with two of them, but here they are, a happy pair.

Caricature January 6, 2011

Posted by Samuel Snoek-Brown in Art.
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Caricature. Drawn in Sharpie by Jennifer Snoek-Brown.

A long, long time ago–we were both still in undergrad, which would make this, oh, at least a dozen years back–my wife and I were sitting around one afternoon, studying or reading or something, when she suddenly snapped up a sheet of paper (or maybe it was a napkin) and started doodling.  Jennifer loves drawing faces, and she has a knock for doing both cartoons and simple, evocative portraits in just a few smooth lines.  On this day, way back when, she doodled me, and I loved the drawing so much it’s become her default sketch of me.

When you draw a caricature–or indeed any quick, sketchy portrait–your job is to focus on just a few key features and emphasize them.  The idea is to capture not the whole person but the essence of the person.  Or so the experts (Scott McCloud, Will Eisner, my wife) tell me.  In this sketch, Jennifer chose as my “essential” features my hair, my nose, and my smiling eyes–this last because, really, I’m smiling a lot more often than I’m not.

Which is why I’m adding it to the collection.  Consider it a version of Cheeseman, all grown up.