Two eyes and a mouth. The image is so conspicuous that it soon becomes a symbol. The smiley is, like the wheel and the ability to build arches, an example of insights and expressions that are so apparent that sooner or later they appear where there are people, a meme in the original sense of the word. A happy smiley has been found on a nearly 4,000-year-old Turkish amphora.
Having been something that appeared here and there, the smiley became more common very recently. In 2006, the data text system Unicode included the pictograms created a few years earlier in Japan, where they were named emoji. For the first time we got a universal language, and it was one we used primarily to express emotions – otherwise hopelessly difficult to communicate in text messages.
Whether basic emotions exist is disputed. Those who argue they do refer to a limited number, somewhere between five and ten. The facial expressions subjects can identify relatively easily are those that express conditions linked to survival. Anger and joy, surprise, sadness. Other things cannot be captured as unambiguously. Longing, envy, boredom, frustration, contentment – what does it look like? Emoji have, like all languages, grown and been renegotiated. The meaning has become more nuanced, and more cryptic. But the clear smiley figures are still among the most used.
In religious ceremonies and rites, masks play a central role. On stage, they have signaled emotional states and personalities, the essence of the character.