This week, the United Kingdom begins the process of leaving the European Union, nearly one year after the foreboding Brexit vote, and John Oliver's Brexit segment on Last Week Tonight tackled the complex emotions Brits are feeling with a universally understood language: emojis. On Wednesday, the UK initiates Article 50 of the EU Treaty, which sets into motion the two-year process by which the country will formally exit the European Union in March of 2019. Theresa May gave an ominous speech about it to Parliament, while Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, responded to the letter which the UK must send requesting withdrawal from the EU as though he had just gotten dumped.
Much like Donald Trump's election in the United States, the Brexit vote came to pass when the xenophobic fears of white nationalists in the UK's rural areas beat out the welcoming attitudes of its more progressive and diverse urban areas. In an effort to reveal just how divided the British public really is over beginning the withdrawal process, the BBC gathered a "jury" of Brits and asked them to describe their feelings — unhappy, happy, or worried/confused — using giant paddle emojis. Much like the actual vote results, which came out to 52 percent in favor of leaving and 48 percent in favor of staying, the emoji paddles were split down the middle: four people were happy, three were worried, and one was unhappy.
"I know that looks stupid, but honestly, British people are so emotionally repressed, emojis are actually the best way to get a coherent sentiment out of us," Oliver joked. "It's pretty much that or baking competitions." And, as a British person who understands that it's sometimes easier to communicate big feelings using tiny text pictures rather than words, he added an emoji essay of his own to the segment. Said Oliver:
Like many British people, I'm really struggling to find the words for how difficult and depressing the next two years are going to be, so if I might try in emoji form: Europe is feeling crying kitty cat at the moment, while Nigel Farage has a full throbbing eggplant, and I personally am hovering between crying face and handgun, because it seems our best case scenario is to just pray emoji that this does not turn into a flaming pile of shit.
Honestly, it seems like only a matter of time until Emoji Literature finds its way into college course catalogs, so we might as well start using them to unpack devastating political elections now.