You’ve probably seen the emoticon, a stripped-down rendering of a half-smiling skeptic.
The symbol’s official name is shruggie (or, alternatively, smugshrug). In an appreciation published in The Awl in 2014, Kyle Chayka noted that it could be used to express nihilism or “bemused resignation,” and was even “a Zen-like tool to accept the chaos of universe.”
I’m seeing the shadow of a shruggie in a new generation of ads whose dominant feature is a copy-intensive combination of insolence and indifference. The ads are aimed at digital natives – people under 35 – yet appear in traditional non-digital media: print magazines, public transit. Their grim forerunner, now 18 months old, is the Fiverr campaign, which I wrote about last year, calling it “mean spirited”; the New Yorker’s Jia Tolentino went further and called it “dystopian.” The current crop is slightly less cynical but still snarky and smug with a hint of that existential shrug.