The Daily Heller: The Healing Power of That Ubiquitous Smiley Face

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As old man Winter rears its frosty head and COVID promises an unwelcome return, we need something pleasantly distracting to look forward to. Enter former rave DJ DB Burkeman and artist Rich Browd, with their crowdfunded new book in which they explore happiness incarnate through an interpretive homage to the ubiquitous smiley face.

The Sm;)e Book will celebrate the smiley's healing impact on Hollywood, graphic design, alternative and indie music, skateboarding, graffiti culture, high and low fashion, and fine art. It will showcase a flock of smileys created by Alex Da Corte, Alex Fuller, Alex Trochut, Alfie Steiner, Alicia McCarthy, Anthony Sarcone, Aurel Schmidt, Banksy, Carlos Valencia, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Chris Alborano, Cody Hudson, Curtis Kulig, DB Burkeman, Derek Gardner, Destroy All Monsters, Eric Elms, Erik Foss, Greg Bogin, Imbue, Invader, James Cauty, James Joyce, Jeremy Deller, Katsu, Mark Flood, Matthew Nichols, Misaki Kawai, Norman Cook (aka Fatboy Slim), Patrick Rocha, Paul Insect + BÄST, Paul Weston, Philip Gerald, Rachel Maclean, Richard Prince, Rich Browd, Rob Pruitt, Ron English, Sadie Benning, Sayre Gomez, Skullphone, Tyrrell Winston, Yung Jake, 1UP Crew and many other prominent fine artists, graphic designers and pop culture figures.

"The smiley iconography has spanned nearly 60 years, beginning in 1963 when Harvey Ball was tasked with a simple graphic design job to boost employee morale at an insurance company," write Burkeman and Browd on their Kickstarter campaign. "It has since taken on multiple lives and appropriations across a diverse range of mediums, including Hollywood cinema, graphic design, alternative and indie music, skateboarding, graffiti culture, high and low fashion, and even fine art. It has woven and winked itself into the zeitgeist and cultural fabric of our physical and digital universe."

When I heard about the campaign to publish this book at the start of the new year—"intended for anyone who appreciates this iconic image of joy"—I once again broke my rule of not promoting social campaigns. I believe that the world could, as Burkeman and Browd put it, "use a few more smiles right now."

Brurkeman offers some more thoughts on smiley to my questions below.

Why did the two of you select the smiley face as your focus—or shall we say, obsession?

The two of us come to the smiley from very different places, but have deep connections to it.

(I’ll defer to our intro for more in-depth backgrounds.)

I am aware of advertising man Harvey Ball's origin story as being a morale builder for The State Mutual Life Assurance Company in Worchester, Mass. But the first smiley I saw was in the early '60s, associated with the WMCA Good Guys radio AM station. Was that an offshoot or a coincidence?

No one seems clear on whether this was influenced by Ball, or coincidence. It seems the icon was just beginning to pop up in several uses around that time, even TV shows.

Is smiley genetically bound in some way to heart?It triggers an instinctive emotional response in people, so maybe there is some genetic tie there ;)

How long did it take to find these examples?

Rich and I began talking about our love for the smiley over five years ago, and I formally suggested we work on a book together over three years ago. However, we’ve been subconsciously collecting all of our lives.

Why do you think smiley in all its iterations seems to be the most popular emoji?

Probably because it is the simplest way to communicate human emotion.

Do you have an outcome you'd like to see from such a gaggle of smiley faces?

As well as our desire to share these amazing artists’ works with new eyes, our goal for the book is simply to give people a little joy in these fucked up times. #fuck2020.