An article in Newsweek by Joe Veix on March 30th revealed the meaning of the strange floating businessman emoji and it turns out that this little-used character actually has its roots in ska! Turns out that the emoji has evolved from a version that Microsoft typography employee Vincent Connare created the character for a font in the early 1990s called Webdings, a relative of Wingdings–both fonts that utilized little pictures instead of letters and numbers.
Veix writes, “Webdings included 230 images, culled from when Microsoft’s ‘team of iconographers traveled the world asking site designers and users which symbols, icons and pictograms they thought would be most appropriate for a font of this kind.’ This included useful things like a disembodied eye . . . ” and it also included the levitating business man icon, which looked like this:Connare says that his character invention was inspired by, you guessed it, Walt Jabsco. “After deciding to incorporate Webdings in the browser, the Internet Explorer team and Connare’s manager, Simon Daniels, drew up a list of symbols to design, mostly stuff that might look good on a website in 1997. Connare went down the list, selecting the ones he was interested in. One option immediately stood out. ‘I had a Specials Japanese import LP, and I saw one of the keywords was “jump” so thought it would be good to make a jumping, pogoing man, he said. ‘The style of the 2 Tone guy was black on white, and it was graphic, so it was easy to make something like it into a font,'” wrote Veix.
This character, Walt Jabsco, is the creation of Jerry Dammers and was inspired by Peter Tosh on the cover of the Wailing Wailers album, and as my good friend and member of the killer Minneapolis ska band The Prizefighters Aaron Porter points out, the Wailing Wailers cover was inspired by a photo of Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions! So Walt Jabsco, and thus the levitating businessman emoji, is actually inspired by Fred Cash!
I have written before on the ska connection between The Impressions and Curtis Mayfield HERE so have a read, but in the meantime, here’s some more that I’ve written on Walt Jabsco and The Specials in this excerpt from my book, Ska: An Oral History:
“[Jerry] Dammers, an illustrator from his days at art school, designed a logo to go along with their new look [in order to better market the band, as suggested by their manager, Bernie Rhodes]. He drew dapper man in a suit and pork-pie hat, very similar to the rude boy look of the 1960s Jamaica, known as Walt Jabsco, a moniker he assigned from one of his own used bowling shirts. The illustration was based upon a photo of Peter Tosh that is the cover of the Wailing Wailers album. Walt Jabsco became the mascot for English ska.”
The levitating business man is also “pogoing,” according to the emoji originator. Pogoing also has an origin related to ska! Oh ska, is there anything you can’t inspire and create?!
This is an excerpt from my book, Ska: The Rhythm of Liberation, in yet another shameless plug!
“The skank during the British era was similar in many ways to its Jamaican predecessor, but it was also different because it combined elements of other musical genres and the frustrations of the dancers. Instead of merely swinging the arms back and forth, crossing them at times as they did in the 1960s in Jamaica, the British form of the skank incorporated balled-up fists, perhaps in response to the anger of post-punk times. The British skank also incorporated more verical bounce, probably integrated the pogo, the punk dance that may have been invented by Sid Vicious himself, whereas the Jamaican version often left the feet completely stationary.”
To read the Newsweek article in its entirety, click HERE.