In Defense of the Eggplant

After the cucumber and the banana, there is a new phallic fruit in town. The eggplant emoji, also known as aubergine, was added to the official Unicode 6.0 emoji set in 2010. The flourishing ‘dictionary’ of 1.851 ideograms depicts a broad range of small digital icons to boost text messages and is gradually evolving into a parallel visual language of its own, where suggested meanings are up for grabs.

Emoji became available in 1999 in Japan with the aim to popularize pagers among teenagers. Nearly a decade before the launch of the Apple App Store, designer Shigetaka Kurita was working on his original lexicon of characters while simultaneously developing i-mode, which became the world’s first leading mobile Internet platform. This resulted in a set of 176 pictographic images that laid the foundation for emoji today. To put this in context, in 2015, for the first time ever, the Oxford Dictionaries declared the so-called Face with Tears of Joy emoji ‘word’ of the year.

Emoji became a vital part of our daily conversations, but there is a character in particular that stood out ever since its release, the solanum melongena. The eggplant symbol portrays a long, slender, oblong species of the Japanese eggplant, which is considered a token of luck when appearing during Hatsuyume, the first dream of the New Year. Unfortunately, the humble concept behind the fruit had turned into a dark fantasy, as the purple nightshade was crudely adopted into sexually loaded emoji-lingo. Millennials – mainly based in the US – are using the symbol to represent male genitalia or as carnal innuendo, raising concerns towards non-consensual communication.

A recent study investigated the emoji use per country. The report found that along a chicken leg, a skull, and lipstick, the eggplant scored highest in the US. While there are different ways to interpret emoji meanings, we can never ensure the fruit is solely being sent for exchanging recipes. So, how did US millennials become so obsessed with the phallic fruit?

Before Emoji (BE), sex education in the US was taught under the pretense of botany. Since the 1950s (or 49 BE) the reproduction of plants was carefully taught, hoping the students would comprehend the metaphor. Since the 1980s (or 19 BE) the banana and the cucumber were introduced to the educational program, these phallic stand-ins were supposed to teach adolescents how to work a prophylactic. However, at the present moment sex education is lacking. Even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provided guidelines for teaching students about sex, the curriculum is far worse in reality. Resulting in a society that assigns specific meanings to digital icons.

Due to the carnal usage of the pictogram under the hashtag #eggplantfriday, this has led to Instagram banning the icon from its search algorithm. According to CNN: “A spokesman for Instagram said the eggplant emoji was made unsearchable because it was ‘consistently associated’ with photos or videos that violate the social network’s community standards.” Internet users around the world responded with the hashtag #freetheeggplant, modeled after the #freethenipple campaign that advocated gender equality.

Now that the aubergine had turned into a political weapon and gained cult status being the forbidden fruit of the web, all we can do is to defend its status and wait for the next phallic fruit to come around.

Sources: Know Your Meme, EmojipediaUnicode, The Verge

This article is part of the Forbidden Fruit series and was originally published on Next Nature Network.

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