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 ¯\_(ãƒ„)_/¯ emoji in one of his floor charts.
Of course, in referencing ¯\_(ãƒ„)_/¯, 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 “â•¯” 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 ¯\_(ãƒ„)_/¯ 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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