Monday, January 12, 2009

Snark - A Defense

Film Critic David Denby's new book Snark has been getting quite a bit of press. In the book, Denby laments the rise of a snarky society and blames, of course, the internets.

Adam Sternbergh, a New York Magazine critic, points out how Denby, and those like him, seem to misunderstand the uses of snark:

When no one—from politicians to pundits—says what he actually means, irony becomes a logical self-inoculation. Similarly, snark, irony’s brat, flourishes in an age of doublespeak and idiocy that’s too rarely called out elsewhere. Snark is not a honk of blasé detachment; it’s a clarion call of frustrated outrage.

Take this small example from Denby’s book: In pining for the tough-talking wit of Rosalind Russell and her ilk, he writes, “Whatever its miseries, the country in the thirties and forties was at peace with itself spiritually: We were all in the same boat.” Now, you could calmly point out Denby’s lazy generalization as he reimagines a time of widespread inequality as an idyllic epoch of snappy-pattered togetherness. Or you could respond, “Denby, you dumbass, not only were we not all in the same boat, we weren’t even at the same water fountains.” Sometimes the snarky response is the correct response.


BradKellyFilms said...

Sadly, a snark is dead on arrival. I fear it will never inspire heartfelt change. Only more snark.

The Civil Rights movement and integration could not have soared on the wings of snark. And the ones being snarky were the racists hurling insults in Tuscaloosa, et al.

Scott Walters said...

In other words, you could actually say something intelligent and mature, or you could resort to adolescent pissiness. Which is a snarky comment. Denby is right -- it IS the internet. *L* Actually, it is the nature of the short form that leads to snarkiness. And entire 'sphere of epigrams.

Art said...

Mmmm. I'm not so sure, Scott.

If we look at the example Sternbergh provides, Denby's statement (while certainly free of snark,) is not intelligent or mature. Sternberg, if I read him correctly, is saying that in a world where ignorance and small mindedness can so easily be reinforced by standing in the guise of reasoned, calm, civil, discourse, snark can often serve to clear the air.

Snark can serve to bring the discussion back down to reality when self-righteousness of ideology has inflated one or both sides of a discussion.

And please don't get me wrong, I'm not for trollish, ignorant commentary.

Scott Walters said...

Snark is a starting point -- an appetizer preceding a full meal. Unfortunately, we are coming to think that if we eat enough snack we don't have to ever have a full meal. I think it is significant that only one letter separates "snark" from "snack."

Art said...

I agree on that. Snark cannot encompass the entirety of an argument.

And, as Brad said above, it certainly can't carry the weight of a profound movment on its shoulders.

But every writer, (indeed, every thinker) who wants to enter the fray well-equipped, should probably have some snark in their quiver, no?