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BONUS: a smiley face not smiling April 20, 2012

Posted by Samuel Snoek-Brown in Art, Clothing & Accessories, Smiley, Web smileys.
Tags: , , , , , , ,

This is not a political blog. But the smiley face is so useful a symbol that occasionally it creeps into politics, usually in cartoons. That was the case when I posted about the censorship of Mark Twain, and it was the case this past week, when political cartoonist Mike Luckovich included a smiley in his cartoon “Haves and Have Nots.”

Or, he almost included a smiley.

The first panel from the cartoon "Haves and Have Nots" by Mike Luckovich, from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 11 April 2012.*

Look closely at the t-shirt the man on the left is wearing. Recognize that half-circle of yellow and those two black dots? Seems this guy is wearing a smiley face shirt!

But where’s the smile?

Seems the guy’s arm is hiding it. And that’s probably not an accident: this family doesn’t seem very happy with this stack of tax forms on their kitchen table. But then, why put a smiley face on this guy’s shirt in the first place? Luckovich could have put anything on that shirt — a satirical mock-up of a corporate logo, a random drawing, nonsense words — or he could have put nothing on the shirt at all. Why go for the smiley and then hide the smile behind this guy’s arm?

I think Luckovich does that intentionally, to put the idea of happiness in our heads and then steal it away from us, so we can see just how unhappy this family is. But then, he could have gone for broke and shown us a frowny face instead, right? I don’t think so. For one thing, I think that would have been too obvious, too in-your-face. But more importantly, I think he doesn’t want to tell us this family is inherently unhappy, which a frowny shirt would imply (who would buy a frowny shirt but someone who’s already frowning?); rather, he wants to suggest that this family is inherently happy, or has the potential to be happy. Notice that the arm obscuring the smile is the same arm resting atop the tax forms, and that hand is holding the pen needed to fill out those forms. So it seems to me that the only thing interfering with that family’s inherent happiness is the fact that they “have to pay taxes.”

I’ve wondered before how often the smiley gets used to make a political point (in that case, it was regarding censorship), but now I’m also curious how often the smiley gets hidden to make a political point. Less often, I’d imagine, but it seems a subject worth researching.

Any happy readers happen to be librarians or pop culture scholars? Give us some answers, gang! 🙂

* (Because this isn’t a political blog, I’m only showing the relevant panel from the cartoon. But if you want to get political, you can check out the whole cartoon at the website for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where this cartoon first appeared on April 11. Just make sure you leave your political comments there, for Mike to see, instead of here.)



1. Music Passion- Comes Love – allaboutlemon - April 24, 2012

[…] BONUS: a smiley face not smiling (unclesmiley.wordpress.com) […]

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