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Illustration: Brittany Holloway-Brown
Illustration: Brittany Holloway-Brown

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The Goth Emoji That Let Me Express My Dark, Digital Soul

The truth is, most emoji are just too cheery for me

When a girlfriend sent me a group email that began, "We're starting a collective, constructive, and uplifting exchange. Please send an encouraging quote or verse to the person below," I knew there was only one way to respond: with a goth emoji.


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My sweet, well-meaning friend. She's a yoga teacher with a dark sense of humor. Last summer we took a yoga paddleboarding lesson on the Manahawkin Bay in South Jersey. Our one moment away from our families and husbands, from schlepping plastic sand toys and washing sandy towels — and then the rain started. In shavasana, the raindrops pelted our eyes and the light waves splashed at our feet. "Just set me on fire and send me out to sea," I said dryly, and soon "I want a Viking funeral" became our summer mantra.

No longer do I have to choose between a smiling pile of poo or a crying yellow face.

But in this email my friend was looking for true sunshine and light and I crushed her enthusiasm with a Siouxsie Sioux emoji, drawn in black and white, her eyes circled with heavy eyeliner, and her jet black hair spiked four inches into the air. Her expression was monotone, as though she were saying, I don't know what you mean by "inspirational."

"C'mon" my friend said. "Inspiration can be found anywhere." And she responded with her own illustrative expression —€” a picture of Johnny Cash sticking up his middle finger.

The Siouxsie Sioux emoji came from my newly installed Goth Emoji keyboard. Goth Emoji launched in January and is populated with drawings by Lisen Haglund, a Stockholm-based artist whose Instagram is filled with more of her gorgeous, moody, black-and-white drawings. The Goth Emoji keyboard works like any other emoji keyboard. Instead of having to choose between a smiling pile of poo or a crying yellow face, the Goth Emoji app offers images of Morrissey, The Cure's Robert Smith, Christina Ricci as Tuesday Addams slurping from a bottle of poison, Fairuza Balk's character in The Craft, and Thora Birch as Enid from Ghost World.

I first embraced goth as a senior in high school. By then, Morrissey, The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Sugarcubes, and Joy Division —€” all part of an alternative '80s music culture — were fixtures in my life. Watching goth grandmother Winona Ryder's portrayals of Lydia Deetz in Beetlejuice (with her famous line, "I myself am strange and unusual") and dark teenager Veronica Sawyer in Heathers, I happily embraced a Stygian side that has never really disappeared. I may not be particularly goth-like on the outside, but the mentality has stuck with me ever since.

So I'm thrilled to have Goth Emoji in my life. In addition to an assortment of dark characters, it also features your standard collection of demon-inspired idolatry, such as witchy brooms, black hearts, vampire mouths, Wiccan symbols, and black-bubble captions with white calligraphy that read "hate," "black," and "pain." (Sadly, it lacks a Deetz emoji.)

The Morrissey emoji outperforms the growing heart emoji any day of the week.

Recently I sent a friend who was fighting with her husband the Moz emoji instead of the growing heart emoji, which is my standard I know things are rough right now, I'm thinking of you emoji. But the Morrissey emoji — with Moz leaning his sweet chin into his hand, his puppy-dog eyes filled with sorrow and concern, his outlook bleak, yet caring —€” outperforms the growing heart emoji any day of the week, because at a certain age you stop comforting friends with a positive outlook. You no longer say "Everything is going to be okay," because you know it may not be.

Referencing Moz reminds us both of a time in our lives when things were easier, especially when it came to men. If your heart was broken, you listened to the Smiths song, "I Know It's Over," and that was it. Isn't it strange how simplistic teenaged heartbreak feels compared to marriage? Sending a Morrissey emoji to a friend in her mid-forties with marital problems might be a teenage-goth thing to do: It doesn't actually solve any problems. But it'll humor her and offer communal misery. It says, Let's weep in sorrow together. Because we all want to stand on our own. And leave on our own. And go home. And cry and want to die.

In 2014, when emojis were just becoming mainstream, culture writer Adam Sternbergh took to the pages of New York Magazine to explain the importance of their ubiquitous presence. "They have proved to be well suited to the kind of emotional heavy lifting for which written language is often clumsy or awkward or problematic," he wrote, "especially when it's relayed on tiny screens, tapped out in real time, using our thumbs." Only a year and a half later, Goth Emoji is burgeoning just as a host of other emoji apps are flooding the digital world.

There's Monica Lewinsky's collaboration with Vodaphone, the #BeStrong emoji app meant to "combat cyber-bullying and promote compassion," Versace's emoji app, a re-embodying of its Medusa logo, and of course, the Kim Kardashian emoji. There's also Bitmoji, cartoon avatars that you can design to look like yourself, which have crept into most of my family members' texts. A few months ago, I was annoyed with my mother and sent her a Bitmoji of me wearing a pair of black, New Wave sunglasses, my mouth in a flat, uninterested expression. The words "Deal With It" over my head. She retaliated with  Bitmoji of herself with one hand up, the other hand on her hip, with the words "Oh, please," in purple. The innocence of the cartoons diffused our disagreement: How irritated could I be at a primitive Bitmoji of my mother giving me the hand?

Until now, no single emoji has captured my dark, moody moments.

I might have found a bit of gloomy comfort in Bitmoji, but the truth is, most emoji are too fucking happy. It's impossible for them not to be; they are, after all, emoticons that originated from a smiley face. Which is also Sternbergh's argument: "Emoji that ­exist — while very useful for conveying excitement, happiness, bemusement, befuddlement, and even love —€” are not very good at conveying anger, derision, or hate." So in some ways, Goth Emoji is the antithesis of your typical emoji. Until now, no single emoji has captured those dark moody moments, or just darker elements of my personality.

If my husband texts me to say that his train is delayed and won't be home to help get the kids to bed, I respond with the Wiccan princess emoji, her eyes closed, lighting a cigarette with a crescent moon tattoo on her forehead. "Does this mean you're mad at me?" he writes back, but I let him decode it on his own. Because I'm casting a spell on him (and on his train). This is the beautiful nature of all emoji, that they are cryptic, that they have multiple meanings. Your run-of-the-mill emoji are like tame little daffodils compared to Goth Emoji. Even the worst emoji can't convey the same angst and pain.

I think of all the years I've been deprived of the Goth Emoji, the gloomy symbolism I could have used instead of pathetic words. Like the time I was at a town picnic and a man asked me if I had just come back from a funeral because I was wearing all black. I had a quick comeback ("No, I'm just all goth all the time"), but I now fantasize about flashing the Goth Emoji middle finger, with its black, triangle-shaped, vampiric nail, at him. Or I think about how easy it would have been to send the Marla Singer emoji —€” Helena Bonham Carter's chain-smoking Fight Club character —€” to friends during the days I lived in San Francisco and couldn't handle all of the it's-a-sunny-day-let's-go-hiking requests. Finally, the digital world has found a way to match the expression of my dark heart.


Hayley Krischer has written for the New York Times, Buzzfeed, The Hairpin, Talking Points Memo, Salon, and more. She lives in New Jersey.

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