THE LANGUAGE OF PROTEST 2 – the art(s) of subversion

Demonstration against UK visit by Donald Trump, Cambridge, 2017

The juxtaposition of image and text in public protest has a long history. My previous post focused on demonstrators’ placards and on the ingenious visual displays staged by Led by Donkeys on hoardings and projections.

Here I offer the first sequence in a purely visual chronology, showing some famous and some lesser-known examples of subversion (whether overtly political or overtly absurdist) for public consumption…

Image result for john heartfieldAnti-Nazi photomontage by ‘John Heartfield’ (Helmut Herzfeld) 1936

Notting Hill, Westbourne Park and Grand Union Canal,  London, 1970s, photos by Roger Perry

Image result for jenny holzer

Image result for jenny holzer

Image result for jenny holzer

Conceptual artworks by US artist Jenny Holzer

funny-vandalism-creative-street-art-25

Image result for witty graffiti in public places

Image result for witty graffiti in public places

funny-vandalism-creative-street-art-7

Anonymous graffiti, vandalism and alterations

Image result for graffiti motorway flyover

Image result for graffiti motorway flyover

Image result for anti gentrification graffiti

Anti-gentrification messages, East London

Image result for political protest ploughed into landscape

Image result for political protest ploughed into landscape

Protest as land art

A reminder from 2006 of the collision of political comment and anti-capitalist, anti-consumer sentiment, (from my book Shoot the Puppy)…

A further (very well-chosen by Lyn McKelvie in 1996) selection of examples of photomontage, subvertising and ad-jamming follows here:

And Yet It Moves by John Heartfield
And Yet It Moves by John Heartfield
Rationalization Is On The March by John Heartfield
Rationalization Is On The March by John Heartfield
Creative print ads target plastic pollution | Advertising | Creative Bloq
Creative print ads target plastic pollution
wwf rechauffement climatique glace monde fond
Powerful Environmental Ads
Creative print ads target plastic pollution | Advertising | Creative Bloq
Creative print ads target plastic pollution…
1991
1996

Here, from Flashbak, are Richard Davis’ striking photos of Manchester in the 1980s and 90s, showing slogans and graffiti in their settings, alongside the people of Hulme:

Richard Davis’s Brilliant Photos of Hulme – 1980s and 1990s

For more examples of magazine texts, leaflets, posters and placards, see

Bamn (By Any Means Necessary): Outlaw Manifestos & Ephemera, 1965-1970 by Peter Stanstill and David Zane Mairowitz, Autonomedia 1999

And finally…or rather, we hope, not finally…

Image result for slogans on motorways

(IN)EFFECTIVE INVECTIVE – the language of protest

During the Vietnam War, every respectable artist in this country was against the war. It was like a laser beam. We were all aimed in the same direction. The power of this weapon turns out to be that of a custard pie dropped from a stepladder six feet high.” -Kurt Vonnegut

Image result for Led by Donkeys white cliffs today

This morning, 31 January 2020, official date of the UK’s departure from the EU, the agitprop group Led by Donkeys projected on to the white cliffs of Dover a message from the UK to its European neighbours…

The group had been active since the Brexit referendum, erecting billboards across the UK replaying the messages of pro-Brexit and populist politicians. Led by Donkeys scores precisely because it doesn’t employ wit or wordplay, or Banksy’s admittedly striking  visual epigrams, but simply replicates and reminds us of the messages it thinks we should beware of…

Image result for led by donkeys

In the UK the recent language of protest, on placards in particular or in graffiti, has tended to employ irony, sarcasm, flippancy, facetiousness, to get its messages across by way of puns and cultural allusions…

Anti Brexit Signs

Invective, banter and wit are mainstays of the British national conversation, irreverence and unseriousness is a default, obligatory style of private and public discourse…

Anti Brexit Signs

The signing and symbology featuring in public demonstrations, and the debates taking place in public spaces is social media IRL; the slogans and quips on display are Twitter come to the streets…

Image result for lots of funny placards demonstrators

The tactics used by Led by Donkeys rather recalls the media manipulations advocated and practised by activists in the 1960s. By way of detournement the Situationists pioneered the hijacking of the multimodal spectacle projected – or inflicted – by capitalism, appropriating and reworking words and images and turning it against its creators…

…and in later anti-capitalist subversions employing the strategies known as culture-jamming, ad-jamming, ad-busting or subvertising

Image result for if this car were a woman

The street protestors’ placards, for all their wit, wisdom and wrath, have been dismissed by some as self-indulgent, harmless venting and ultimately ineffective. The rightists’ dismissals are perhaps to be expected…

https://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2019/03/dont-be-fooled-by-the-twee-placards-at-the-peoples-vote-march/

https://www.spiked-online.com/2019/03/25/the-reactionaries-are-on-the-march/

But slightly less predictable is disapproval from the Greens…

http://bright-green.org/2017/08/22/ive-had-enough-of-your-witty-placards/

graffiti saying 'words do not mean anything today'

All these protest styles and strategies are part of a rich and complex tradition which I have only touched upon in this short post. I will shortly add some, hopefully more detailed and more profound observations on the subject on this site, together with a visual history which I hope to incorporate in an upcoming broadcast…

Votes for Women

 

Today’s projection by Led by Donkeys differs from their static hoardings in using an original filmed recording of war veterans, and in adding a poignant final message in what looks like a heartfelt personal coda…

Image result for Led by donkeys our star

It does however appropriate a pro-Brexit trope, as well as an iconic setting, substituting real warriors for Brexiteer nostalgia and for what the left derides as ‘airfix patriotism’ -the false memories and imaginary heroism of those who cannot remember or have never studied the real British past.

EMOJI – one or two thoughts, and a source list

 

Image result for emoji evolution

 

I have been asked by students and colleagues to write, very belatedly perhaps, about emoji. While searching for something novel and meaningful to say about the phenomenon, and looking for a stance to adopt in the (sometimes tedious) ‘is/are emoji a language?’ debate, I thought I would share  some first thoughts and a list of references (a personal selection from the mass of material recently published), to provide a shortcut for anyone else studying the subject…

AN EMOJI TIMELINE

1964 – the smiley face 😊 symbol invented by Harvey Ross Ball

1982 – (11.44am, September 19) Scott Fahlman of Carnegie Mellon University in the USA posts the first emoticon:  : – )

1989 – Internet acronyms (such as LOL, LMAO, WTF), having appeared on message-boards and in chatrooms since the mid-80s, spread rapidly across the anglosphere via text-messaging and email

1991 – the Unicode Consortium is founded to develop universal standards for Internet text-processing

1998Shigetaka Kurita invents emoji (= ‘picture’ + ‘character’) with 176 examples

2010 – Unicode adopt emoji, add hundreds more 😈

2015 – Unicode 8.0 releases new emoji range with skin tones,

2017 – Facebook processes 6bn messages containing emoji

2018  – 2823 emoji have been approved so far

 

HOW DO EMOJI FUNCTION?

They insert punctuating ‘mood-breaks’ into conventional sentences😠 in a sort of ‘bimodal codeswitching’

They are to written communication what nonverbal cues – paralinguistic ‘phatic-communion’ (70% of emotion in real-life interactions is communicated nonverbally)– are to spoken communication, occupying the ‘space between word and gesture’, enabling ‘visual small-talk’

They are ‘tone-markers’, introducing irony, sarcasm and emotion/’emotivity’ to otherwise impoverished digital texts😍

They are ‘gestural’, functioning similarly to two categories of physical gesture: ’emblematic’ which, like a thumbs-up or middle finger, are symbolic and culturally specific, and ‘illustrative’ which imitate real objects or movements

They (like graffiti, memes, GIFs), exploit an inherent human need for ‘visuality’, along with a more recent requirement for empathy, cultural allusion, humour and positive play😎 to create a new hybrid or multimodal digital literacy

 

 DO EMOJI HAVE ANY LASTING SIGNIFICANCE?

Can a hybrid transnational code help to change consciousness?

Do emoji reinforce (hyper)individualism and the establishing of hyperlocal communities of practice/microniches/meganiches?

Or could emoji move us further towards a collective global intelligence, a ‘virtual communal brain’?

Are emoji ‘hegemonic’ in that they reinforce the priorities and power-relationships of consumer capitalism (they have after all already been appropriated by/commodified for marketing, advertising and manufacturing)?

Or are they ‘antihegemonic’/subversive in that they disrupt😈 traditional discourse, empower individuals and new collectivities?

Image result for protest emoji

One of the best histories and overviews of the subject was provided by WIRED magazine earlier this year:

https://www.wired.com/story/guide-emoji/

View at Medium.com

Dictionary.com now have a guide to possible meanings and uses of the most important emoji (click on each): 

https://www.dictionary.com/e/list/emoji/1/

…I’m intrigued by the ‘instabilities’ in emoji meaning and the fact that ’emoji dialects’ have been discerned:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3196583/Can-decipher-emoji-messages-Translators-11-regions-misunderstand-universal-symbols-hilarious-results.html

…and by such insights as these, from a feminist perspective, from Debbie Cameron:

https://debuk.wordpress.com/2017/09/10/are-women-over-emojinal/

…here’s a curiosity, on ‘professional emoji whisperer’ Rachael Tatman:

https://www.seattlemet.com/articles/2017/12/19/meet-rachael-tatman-professional-emoji-whisperer

…from 2018, the first article so far, in the Telegraph, to focus on the committee that chooses new emoji:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/the-filter/controversial-characters-secretive-committee-choose-new-emojis/

…brands are using emoji on Twitter:

https://business.twitter.com/en/blog/creative-roundup-examples-of-brands-using-emojis-in-their-twitte.html?utm_medium=organic&utm_source=twitter

From February 2019, an unusually negative view on how emoji have mutated, by Ian Bogost:

https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2019/02/how-new-emoji-are-changing-pictorial-language/582400/

I’m eagerly awaiting the publication of this title by Philip Seargeant, due in July 2019:

https://www.cambridge.org/gb/academic/subjects/languages-linguistics/sociolinguistics/emoji-revolution-how-technology-shaping-future-communication?format=PB

Philip, with whom I have worked, is part of the team which has designed a course in emoji which is offered – free – by the Open University:

https://www.open.edu/openlearn/languages/brief-history-communication-hieroglyphics-emojis/content-section-0?intro=1

 

…any new thoughts on emoji interpretation, or additional links would be gratefully received! Here are the remaining links from the past year:

https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2019/10/03/emojis-in-scholarly-communication-%f0%9f%94%a5-or-%f0%9f%92%a9/

 

http://ounews.co/arts-social-sciences/art-literature-music/what-emoji-can-teach-us-about-human-civilization/?utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=SocialSignIn&utm_source=Twitter

 

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/25/books/review/wordplay-emoji-slang-puns-language.html?emc=edit_tnt_20170825&nlid=67701160&tntemail0=y

 

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_tTXLuZHYf4&t=4s

 

 

http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2015/11/emoji-language/?__prclt=S8d1uceQ

 

 

https://www.languagemagazine.com/emojis-and-the-language-of-the-internet/

 

 

https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-merperson-comes-to-emoji-1495808225

 

 

https://stronglang.wordpress.com/2017/03/14/the-whimsical-world-of-emoji-swearing/

 

 

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/films/0/emoji-taking-world/

 

 

https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/tes-talks-vyvyan-evans

 

 

https://theconversation.com/why-decisions-on-emoji-design-should-be-made-more-inclusive-80912?utm_campaign=Echobox&utm_medium=Social&utm_source=Twitter#link_time=1500025713

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/audio/2017/jun/23/emoji-dr-vyvyan-evans-language-tech-podcast?CMP=share_btn_tw

 

 

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-4545752/The-different-factors-influence-emoji-choice.html

 

 

https://phys.org/news/2017-05-linguistic-emojis.html

 

 

 http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-04-07/how-emojis-can-help-children-learn-and-communicate/8425482?pfmredir=sm

 

 

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/14/fashion/grindr-gay-emoji-gaymoji-digital.html?_r=0

 

 

http://www.nowherethis.org/story/emoji-linguistics/

 

 

https://theconversation.com/signs-of-our-times-why-emoji-can-be-even-more-powerful-than-words-50893

 

 

https://rightsinfo.org/emoji-global-language-cultures-left/

 

 

emoji pillows

 

…in 2018, at long last, we gingers were validated:

https://www.yahoo.com/news/redheads-most-triumphant-reactions-getting-160249172.html?soc_src=hl-viewer&soc_trk=fb

…and here’s more on the 12.0 release upcoming in 2019:

https://www.standard.co.uk/tech/new-emojis-2019-how-to-use-a4061471.html

The latest, on emoji as gesture, from internet linguist Gretchen McCulloch:

https://theconversation.com/emoji-arent-ruining-language-theyre-a-natural-substitute-for-gesture-118689

 

A footnote. US language specialist Ben Zimmer‘s son claims that this, the suspension railway, is the least used emoji:

🚟