It’s the end of the world as we know it and we feel… melty


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Year-end cultural comment is usually reserved for revelatory television shows or important books or transcendent albums.

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Year-end cultural comment is usually reserved for revelatory television shows or important books or transcendent albums.

I’m not here to talk about any of that. I’m here to talk about emojis, those delightful hieroglyphics of modern communication. And no emoji captures the spirit of 2022 quite like the melting-face emoji.

Approved in late 2021, the melting-face emoji — along with a bunch of other new additions, including the smiley-with-welled-eyes emoji, the saluting emoji, and the peeking-through-fingers emoji — officially came out in 2022 and promptly became, by far and away, the most-used emoji among my friend group.

Tellingly, absolutely no one uses it to comment on the weather. No, the melting-face emoji has uses far greater.

I am an avid emoji user. I love emojis the way boomer moms love emojis: unabashedly and without irony. There is, in my phone, a whole palette of facial expressions I can use to convey tone and mood and, let’s be honest, replace entire sentences (I’m tired).

In the notoriously tricky field of text-based communications, I find emojis more useful than that self-conscious little “lol” we’ve all started tacking onto the ends of sentences to blunt any potential sharp tonal edges.

The melting face is the emoji I’ve been waiting for. There are variations of it depending on what platform you’re using it on — some look like a melting candle or, weirdly, a little octopus.

Apple’s version is the best version. It looks like a dropped scoop of ice cream liquefying on hot pavement, or a sunshine-yellow egg yolk slowly frying in a pan, as its smile dissolves into a puddle.

It is the face of happiness warped by harsh conditions. It is the face of “this is fine, everything’s fine” when the world is on fire. It is perfect.

The melting-face emoji is pictorial shorthand for so many acutely 2022 sensations, namely existential dread, burnout, the crushing exhaustion of living through a late-pandemic new normal, climate anxiety and the psychological weight of it all.

But the true power of the melting-face emoji is in its versatility. It has replaced the upside-down smiley face for me, conveying embarrassment or annoyance about all little inconveniences that conspire to ruin your day — especially the ones fully out of your control.

While the upside-down smiley face has a topsy-turvy quality that says “I am surrounded by incompetence,” the melting face does it one better by conveying that sensation of dissolution, of simply… melting away.

After all, it’s not our faces that are melting in the face of stress, pressure, annoyance, embarrassment, dread, exhaustion and being in proverbial kitchens that are much too hot, online and off. Rather, it’s our sunny dispositions, our good moods, our positive outlooks, our brave faces.

To that end, there’s something plucky about the melting-face emoji, too. There’s resolution in its dissolution. It’s melting, not yet melted. And somehow, it’s still smiling.

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and author of the newsletter, NEXT, a weekly look towards a post-pandemic future.

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