RIP crying laughing emoji, forever in our hearts and long-defunct group chats. An article published on CNN earlier this week officially deemed the emoji as over, rejected by a more sophisticated Gen Z audience. The cry laugh is too brash and obvious for the digitally native younger generation, who prefer to assign their own subtle meanings to emoji, the article reported.
While it’s true that it does not appeal to everyone’s tastes, the discrediting of this Unicode standard is not entirely called for. You might not be likely to see it in the average TikTok comment, but it has made its mark on both the way we communicate and how we do that through memes.
The cry laugh has been under the spotlight for almost as long as it has existed. Its exaggerated mirth makes it the perfect catch-all reaction to anything funny, requiring less effort than typing “lol” or “lmao” but conveying more emotive approval than either. When Apple revealed it to be their most popularly used emoji in 2017, they were revealing knowledge that basically everyone already knew. Two years before that, the Oxford Dictionary even proclaimed it the word of the year.
Its strongest spiritual predecessor is the XD face, whose guffaw fast became relegated to the embarrassment of So Random culture once emoji began to take over as the dominant form of expression. Unlike its scene-kid ancestor, cry laugh has been subject to the discourse machine more than once — whether it is being championed for its multipurpose use or being slammed as a callous way of discrediting those we disagree with.
Providing the essential function of abbreviating an abbreviation, it is necessary that the cry laugh is found a suitable replacement. CNN suggests it is substituted with the “skull” or “loudly crying face,” i.e. “I’m dead” or “I’m crying.” It follows a longstanding trend where it’s no longer enough to simply exaggerate the emotions we’re actually having: We’ve got to transform them into something outlandish to display the correct amount of insider knowledge to anyone who might see us use it.
This commitment to high drama has been influenced by the way in which emojis have been memeified through various edits and mashups over time. The cry laugh has played a part in this history as well. It has conveyed a reaction that mixes humor with despair in the LOLsob, offering many a more polite way to react to unwelcome news on their workplace’s Slack channel. On top of that, it has contributed to the nightmare that is the Open Eye Crying Laughing Emoji, whose extreme appearance may be as close as we’ll get to an emoticon representation of a mental breakdown.
The popularity of cursed emojis has further emphasized the shift towards more elaborate and less self-explanatory forms of expression. Adding to the insight provided by the already colorful world of basic emoji, they have given us everything from pure existential angst to the ridicule of the classic fuckboi. As emojis have become more meaningful, the cry laugh has been exposed as lacking the depth many desire from them. However, this hasn’t stopped their influence.
Combination emojis may have become their own mini memes, but the cry laugh emoji has further distinguished itself as an essential part of several meme genres without much extra editing. Its reputation as the normie emoji of choice has made it a popular feature of ironic memes, who use its shallow and occasionally insensitive reputation to accentuate their commentary (or their ridiculousness).
It became an important part of the deep-fried trend when it was at its peak — alongside other copypasta-ready classics like the “100” and “OK” hand sign. These might not have been serious go-to emojis for many memers, but as they were so easily recognizable they made a solid base for exploring the potential of surreal cringe.
As well as this, the cry laugh plays a supporting role in the consistently popular Facebook status and Instagram text post memes, whose personal anecdotes and punchlines are always enhanced by a liberal sprinkling of emoji. Their mission to re-embrace what may have formerly been considered cringe contrasts its usage with that of ironic formats, suggesting that the cry laugh serving its intended purpose is not always that much of a bad thing. That said, when expressing amusement, this genre does have a slight preference for the Rolling On The Floor Laughing emoji. It’s a nod to its commitment to the local mindset that values how intricate a more generic social media presence can be.
Representing changing preferences, there has been a drop in usage of the emoji in all these formats — although it still makes an appearance when the sarcasm is especially heavy-handed. In its place, there has been an uptake in its Zoomer-approved substitutes, suggesting the fickle world of edgy memes may not allow them to remain clout-friendly for long. Complicated as its usage can be, there will always be a need for a “lol” equivalent. Its signifiers on the other hand are always going to be at the mercy of trendsetting, based upon the make-up of the most influential social groups.
While the cry laugh emoji may have fallen out of favor, it is unlikely to leave our Unicode keyboard any time soon. The range of emoji available to us is becoming ever more diverse, with iPhones alone getting 217 new types in the latest iOS update.
Reinterpretations and rapid changes in their social acceptability, therefore, come as an unavoidable part of how we communicate. For all we know, the world’s most iconic modern emoticon might be due for a revival in a few years’ time. It’s just important that we bring back XD first.
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