Why does media and film love the smiley so much?
The smiley: (a creepily emotive yellow ball with a wide smile and two black bottomless pits for eyes) is an emoticon- a simple icon expressing an emotion- in this case happiness.
The rise of a media icon?
This ball of joy- literally- was sketched first by an American artist Harvey Ross Ball (his last name, some would say is ironic). He made the drawing for an insurance company in Massachusetts- the State Mutual Life Assurance Company. He completed the drawing in 10 minutes and was paid $45 for his ingeniously deceptive art which embodied minimalism. The drawing wasn't trademarked by its creator or the company. Like anything which is a part of culture, this emoticon was further made popular with its surprisingly widespread use and portrayal. In 1964, Mick Jagger- the lead singer of Rolling Stones, was spotted wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned with a smiley. These sweatshirts were distributed by a New York radio station WMCA supporting a DJ program that touted their ‘Good Guys’ in 1962.
It was used by a French journalist Franklin Loufrani in 1971 in the French newspaper France-Soir. it was later trademarked by him and given the globally recognized name, Smiley. Next it was taken up by the Spain brothers- Bernard and Murray- where they used it as a logo with their motivational slogan- "have a nice day." They produced 50 million badges by 1972 capitalizing on the fact that America had still to recover from the Vietnam War. It was used in the American magazine "Mad". The May 1972 edition of the magazine depicted a number of smiley faces with Alfred E. Neuman's identifiable features appearing within one of them, a real precursor to the modern day Emoje that reigns social media.
In the punk rock atmosphere of the mid-1970s the smiley was used by yet another band-Talking Heads. The cover of their song Psycho Killer is that of a headless man wearing a white shirt with a contorted smiley face.
Stardom comes with a price...
The smiley has also appeared in a number of movies. In some cases the smiley seems to have been used in a manner which is incongruous with its appearance. For example, one of the posters of Dave Gibbon's Watchmen (2009) shows one of its characters, the Comedian, with a smiley face badge. By Gibbons' own admission he included the smiley in order to add a "splash of bright silly color to the big hulking dark character:. The smiley face made it seem "like the real world imposing itself on a cartoon".
In No Country for Old Men (2007) In a somewhat hidden scene, we can see that a bunch of smiley faces lurk in the background. In the movie Fight Club (1999) we can see an ominous fiery (literally) smiley face on the face of a building. The smiley face has however also been used with less menacing contexts. In the movie Forrest Gump (1994) the titular character accidentally creates a smiley face on his t-shirt. In these movies there seems to be a disturbing juxtaposition of the smiley face that comes within the realm of violence. Again this pattern is repeated with “At the Devil's Door" where the smiley face comes to signify something as menacing as selling one's soul to the devil. In this scene the smiley face becomes a way to comment on the character of the hero- the simplicity of the smiley face reflects the childlike simplicity of the hero.
There was a movie released in 2007 starring Anna Farris titled Smiley Face. The cover features a happily smiling Farris curled around a floating smiley. unlike its disturbing use in movies previously here the smiley face seems to promote what it should- true uncaring happiness in the from of a ditzy and constantly stoned actress (played also by Anna Farris).