It’s now cool to use ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ on the Senate floor

Politicians make a grab at humor with new emoji.

Matt Gibbons, Quartz
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Matt Gibbons, Quartz
July 31, 2015, 8:11 a.m.

Grand­stand­ing is a tried and true polit­ic­al tac­tic on the U.S. Sen­ate floor — usu­ally in­volving stale jokes made by stiff politi­cians who want to ap­pear re­lat­able. But as the pace of pop cul­ture has ac­cel­er­ated, so too have politi­cians’ des­per­ate at­tempts to keep their hu­mor cur­rent. Case in point: On Ju­ly 30, Demo­crat­ic Sen­at­or Shel­don White­house took a shot at the Re­pub­lic­an plan for cli­mate change (or the lack there­of) by flash­ing the ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ emoji in one of his floor charts.

Of course, in ref­er­en­cing ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, known as the “shrug­gie” or the “smug shrug,” the sen­at­or re­vealed that he’s ac­tu­ally be­hind the curve. The smug shrug, an emoji that in­cor­por­ates the “╯” from the Ja­pan­ese katakana al­pha­bet, went vir­al in Eng­lish back in 2010, after rap­per Kanye West brashly in­ter­rup­ted Taylor Swift at the MTV Video Mu­sic Awards to cham­pi­on Bey­on­cé in­stead and in de­fense offered a quick little shrug. Tweeters seized on the emoji to com­mu­nic­ate the mes­sage be­hind West’s body lan­guage. Its ap­plic­a­tion to count­less on­line situ­ations grew ex­po­nen­tially from there.

Even if the surge in pop­ular­ity of ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ is dated, White­house at least be­ne­fits from the fact that it’s still widely used, be­cause the sen­ti­ment still res­on­ates deeply with people on­line. As The Awl aptly ex­plained in a lengthy his­tory of the emoji, it “tran­scends the In­ter­net and per­haps lan­guage it­self, echo­ing in­co­her­ent ex­pres­sions of sub­lime rage or ter­ror, like the un­trans­lat­able key­board smash, ‘asd­fasldk­vh­jasd.’” As one ed­it­or put it to The Awl, “It’s like, the de­fault In­ter­net feel­ing.”

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