Bradley-now-Chelsea Manning’s announcement last week marks the most recent turn in an already thrilling, no-one-would-buy-it-as-fiction narrative. Adding absurdity to absurdity, Zoe Mendelson rallied the emoji troops to tell the tale.

October 2009: Manning is sent to Iraq where, as an analyst, he has access to classified documents about the war. They reveal "incredible things, awful things...things that belonged in the public domain."

A question we all ask ourselves: How to depict Iraq in emoji?

November 2009: Manning makes contact with WikiLeaks, which had just exposed 570,000 pager messages from 9/11. Those first lines of dialogue are the U.S. candidly (literally in the case of China) trash-talking other nations.

April 2010: WikiLeaks posts "Collateral Murder," the video sent by Manning of Iraqi civilians being killed by a U.S. helicopter gunship. The video goes viral (eyeballs, eyeballs, eyeballs). Manning describes the "seemingly delightful bloodlust" of the military (the purple devil, if you will) as, "similar to a child torturing ants with a magnifying glass."

May 2010: Manning (bradass87) chats online with "gray hat" hacker Adrian Lamo, admitting that he's the source of the leaks. In a moment of emoji art imitating emoji life, he punctuates this line, "i cant believe what im confessing to you," with a frowny-teary face.

Soon after...Manning is arrested in Kuwait and later charged with (dripping faucet) leaking classified docs.

July 2010: WikiLeaks puts the Afghan and Iraq War Logs out into the world. "I [believed] the cables might be embarrassing," said Manning. "They represented very honest opinions and statements behind the backs of other nations."

March 2012: Manning's charges are updated to include "aiding the enemy," which translates here to him helping the only emoji of color that exists...and warrants the death penalty.

The UN, apparently spoken for by a bald man who resembles Wallace Shawn, says Manning was "subjected to cruel, inhuman, and degrading torture."

February 2013: Manning pleads guilty to leaking military information. He shows emoji relief in the confession. "I felt I had accomplished something that allowed me to have a clear conscience."

July 2013: Manning is cleared of "aiding the enemy." But he's found guilty of espionage (pretend Wallace Shawn emoji has left his UN job) and sentenced to 35 years in prison.

August 2013: "I am Chelsea Manning. I am female ... Given the way I've felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible."

Co.Design

Emoji Major No. 3: A Brief History Of Bradley/Chelsea Manning

This week, emoji master Zoe Mendelson rallies the troops to tell the tale of Mr./Ms. Manning, WikiLeaks to womanhood.

Physically wee 19-year-old computer hacking genius joins the army, becomes disillusioned by the reality he finds in his work as an analyst, facilitates the biggest leak of government documents in U.S. history, causes international scandal, suffers what the UN deems torture, writes a compelling 35-page guilty plea, builds a global army of supporters, narrowly escapes a death sentence, and then announces to the world he wishes to become a woman.

Bradley-now-Chelsea Manning’s announcement last week marks the most recent turn in an already thrilling, no-one-would-buy-it-as-fiction narrative, which, plus or minus, looks something like this:

Naturally, the outsize tale called out for tiny talent in the form of emoji, adding absurdity to absurdity. Though the fact that no military or even military-suggestive emoji exist--will someone please leak some?--meant Manning's story had to play out among the ranks of only small civilian characters. (Plus, perhaps pointing to a conspiracy theory, perhaps just due to limited casting options, note Bradley is played by the same emoji as Jesse in Emoji Major No. 1: Breaking Bad, Chelsea by the Skyler lady.)

My favorite part of this one was depicting the brutally honest diplomatic cables that Manning released, like a smug U.S. calling China a garbage can:

The Manning-based timeline below corresponds with the slide show above. Quotes from him when the male pronoun was correct come from either his guilty plea or his online chats with Adrian Lamo, the "gray hat" (no emoji for that either) hacker who eventually turned him in.

October 2009: Manning is sent to Iraq, where, as an analyst, he has access to classified documents about the war.

"bradass87: hypothetical question: if you had free reign over classified networks for long periods of time ... say, 8-9 months ... and you saw incredible things, awful things ... things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC ... what would you do?"

"The more I read the cables, the more I came to the conclusion that ... this type of information should become public."

November 2009: With an urge to distribute information, Manning makes contact with WikiLeaks, which had just published 570,000 pager messages from 9/11.

"I wanted the American public to know that not everyone in Iraq and Afghanistan were targets that needed to be neutralized, but rather people who were struggling to live in the pressure cooker environment of what we call asymmetric warfare."

April 5, 2010: WikiLeaks posts "Collateral Murder," a video sent by Manning of Iraqi civilians being killed by a U.S. helicopter gunship. The video goes viral.

"The most alarming aspect of the video to me ... was the seemingly delightful bloodlust the Aerial Weapons Team seemed to have ... For me, this seemed similar to a child torturing ants with a magnifying glass."

May 2010: Manning chats online to hacker Adrian Lamo, admitting that he's the source of the leaks. Lamo hands his transcripts over to the U.S. Department of Defense and Wired.com.

"(12:46:17 PM) Adrian: how long have you helped WIkiLeaks?

(12:49:09 PM) bradass87: since they released the 9/11 'pager messages'

(1:39:03 PM) bradass87: i cant believe what im confessing to you :'("

May 29, 2010: Manning is arrested in Kuwait and later charged with leaking classified information.

July 2010: WikiLeaks publishes the Afghan and Iraq War Logs and thousands of diplomatic cables, which become an immediate media phenomenon, global scandal, and embarrassment to the U.S. government.

"I believe that [the Iraq and Afghanistan War Logs] are two of the most significant documents of our time."

"I [believed] the cables might be embarrassing. They represented very honest opinions and statements behind the backs of other nations."

March 11, 2012: Manning's charges are updated to include ''aiding the enemy," which warrants the death penalty.

March 12, 2012: The UN says Manning was "subjected to cruel, inhuman, and degrading torture."

February 2, 2013: Manning pleads guilty to leaking military information.

"I felt this sense of relief by [WikiLeaks] having [the information]. I felt I had accomplished something that allowed me to have a clear conscience based on what I had seen and what I had read."

July 30, 2013: Manning is cleared of ''aiding the enemy'' but found guilty of espionage. He is sentenced to 35 years in prison.

August 22, 2013: Manning announces she wishes to be Chelsea Manning.

“I am Chelsea Manning. I am female ... Given the way I've felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible.”

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4 Comments

  • Nicole Killian

    Please use proper pronouns. This is completely unacceptable. And another thing that's unacceptable: approving comments on a transphobic article that also make jokes about rape. Good one.

  • Seth Johnson

    To say that I'm disappointed with Co.Design's transphobia in publishing this post is an understatement. I'd expect such willfully ignorant and cruel behavior from the likes of Rush Limbaugh or Matt Drudge, but from within the American creative community itself? Absolutely inexcusable -- to the point that an apology and/or a retraction is called for. At the very least, the sloppy post should be updated to use the proper pronouns. Since when did designers become schoolyard bullies?

    Ms. Mendelson and her editors would be wise to spend a few moments bringing themselves up to speed with how to properly and professionally write about transgendered issues and persons. Here are two good places to start, the first of which specifically addresses Private Chelsea Manning. 

    http://www.glaad.org/blog/repo...

    http://www.glaad.org/reference...

  • jlbarry

    It may be seen as cute and 'clever' to tell the tale using emoji but it is completely disrespectful of Fast Co. to publish this story where the pronoun 'he' is used inappropriately and where the announcement of Chelsea Manning's desire to start hormone therapy is referred to as adding "absurdity to absurdity".  How disparaging of transgender culture.  Chelsea Manning (not Bradley/Chelsea Manning) is not offering herself up for your snide entertainment.  Shame on you Fast Co. for falling headlong into the mainstream role of dominant/straight culture.  Where's the innovative, open-minded thinking in that?

  • JustSayIt123

    Clever and funny use of Emoji-onal Intelligence, Zoe!. This history could be even briefer, because many readers will probably not have the patience to absorb the message in all detail. I bet they will take one glance per page, trying to "get it" in one chunk, with maybe 1-2 stops for pondering. Will her gender reassignment and related support from Therapists happen next in prison? New Reality TV (virtual) Show: "Chelsea in the Middle". In the middle of what? In the middle of TheRapists? @Wicked_licks...