No More Laugh-Cry Face for Gen Z

Mocking the previous generation is practically a rite of passage for the younger generation. We’ve all done it, typically when we make fun of our parents for their lack of sophistication with technology or taste in music.

Gen Z has already started with millennials, coming for everything from the side part to skinny jeans. Instead of going for the obvious stuff, however, Gen Z is being innovative in their approach – they’re coming for the laugh-cry face emoji.

TikTok and the Laugh-Cry Emoji

A viral TikTok recently listed all the things that millennials should be embarrassed about, including the aforementioned side parts and skinny jeans (not, oddly, the avocado toast that’s the target of the older generations). The laugh-cry emoji was included in that, and millennials are offended.

Millennials responded by defending their hairstyles, fashion, and emojis. This tension has been growing since the “Ok Boomer” days when the world realized that Gen Z is no longer 12 years old and unaware of anything going on around them.

Millennials were used to being the target of the previous generation and enjoying a heyday of Instagram and “ruining everything.”[1]

Then Gen Z entered the scene with opinions and TikTok, creating their own culture and showing millennials how uncool they are. With that comes internet lingo and trends, meaning new emojis and acronyms are in, and old ones are out.

But perhaps it’s something deeper – we haven’t had “laugh-until-you-cry” times in a while. After making it through the pandemic and dealing with the subsequent recession, Gen Z has some challenges ahead, and these people are creating their own internet subculture surrounding them.

Gen Z is Ironic

It’s possible that Gen Z is just trying to distance themselves from the literal (boring) manner in which millennials communicate online. Older generations use emojis in a literal way while younger generations are more ironic and nuanced.

For example, a millennial may use a pregnant emoji to say someone is pregnant. Gen Z may use it to suggest someone is attractive, the logic being that they’re so good looking that they can make someone pregnant with just a look.

So, what’s Gen Z using instead of the laugh-cry emoji? A skull or coffin symbol, which is intended to communicate that the joke is so funny that they died of laughter.

That’s another reason the laugh-cry emoji isn’t cutting it for the newest generation – it’s too literal and obvious. In fact, the emoji’s official name is “face with tears of joy.”

Another possibility is that the emoji is just worn out and tired. Like other emojis or acronyms, when we use them too much, it comes across as insincere. We’ve experienced this with LOL (laugh out loud).

Also, having ironic meanings behind emojis also serves as a kind of exclusivity – if only they understand the emoji’s meaning, it’s like a secret language.

They’ve also resurrected the earliest – and most literal – forms of laughter online: lol (laugh out loud) and lmfao (laughing my f***ing a** off) to communicate that something’s REALLY funny (without any irony). If only they knew about AOL instant messaging and texting before full keyboards.

Influencers and the Laugh-Cry Emoji

You may be wondering why any adult cares about an emoji either way – it’s a fair question. Emojis are meant to emphasize content and communicate emotion quickly. One could argue that as long as the message is understood, any emoji is acceptable.

On TikTok, emojis have a lot of inspirational power. Major fashion TikTokers participated in the #emojioutfitchallenge, which asked followers to create unique outfits based on specific emojis. The challenge was wildly popular and has around 113 million views.

The cancellation of the laugh-cry emoji, like the skinny jeans and side part before it, arose because of a viral video on TikTok. Just like that, an open letter to millennials about all the things they do that are “uncool” defined a generation and may or may not have canceled a bunch of trends.

But millennials are in their 30s and 40s, shopping for retinol, worried about student loans and utility bills, and having kids. They’re going to use the emoji if they want to, even if just as a touch of nostalgia for a time when all they had to worry about was internet trends in communication.

The laugh-cry emoji isn’t canceled – it’s just an artifact of the previous generation.