😊 is a versatile tool of written language
The basic smile emoticon :) or emoji 😊 is a versatile tool for this kind of contextualization. It can soften other kinds of harsh statements: making a demand into a softer request, or a seeming insult into softer teasing. As psychologist Monica Ann Riordan points out, saying an insult plus a smiley doesn't mean smiling while insulting someone, or being happy about how terrible someone is: the smiley changes the intention behind the whole insult into a joke. A smiley can even indicate outright rejection, in a polite sort of way. Journalist Mary H.K. Choi did a series of interviews with a diverse cross-section of American teenagers about how they use technology and emoji for a 2016 article in Wired. One teen explained that he would exchange various heart emoji while flirting," but the worst emoji for a girl to send back was the smiley face—"Yeah, that's the 'Thank you, but I'm not interested."'
When I design online ads for American Apparel, I almost always look for an angle that will provoke. Outrage, self-righteousness, and titillation all work equally well. Naturally, the sexy ones are probably those you remember most, but the formula worked for all types of images. Photos of kids dressed up like adults, dogs wearing clothes, ad copy that didn’t make any sense—all high-valence, viral images. If I could generate a reaction, I could propel the ad from being something I had to pay for people to see (by buying ad inventory) to something people would gladly post on the front page of their highly trafficked websites.
But entertainment has the merit not only of being better suited to helping sell goods; it is an effective vehicle for hidden ideological messages. Furthermore, in a system of high and growing inequality, entertainment is the contemporary equivalent of the Roman “games of the circus” that diverts the public from politics and generates a political apathy that is helpful to preservation of the status quo.