Today Amazon delivered my copy of Snark — "It’s Mean, It’s Personal, and It’s Ruining Our Conversation"
Oh dear. I thought this book would be celebrating my beloved state of mind, but nooo….
In this sharp and witty polemic, New Yorker critic and bestselling author David Denby takes on the snarkers, naming the nine principles of snark — the standard techniques its practitioners use to poison their arrows. Snarkers like to think they are deploying wit, but mostly they are exposing the seethe and snarl of an unhappy country, releasing bad feeling but little laughter…. Denby has fun snarking the snarkers, expelling the bums and promoting the true wits, but he is also making a serious point: the Internet has put snark on steroids. In politics, snark means the lowest, most insinuating and insulting side can win. For the young, a savage piece of gossip could ruin a reputation and possibly a future career. And for all of us, snark just sucks the humor out of life. Denby defends the right of any of us to be cruel, but shows us how the real pros pull it off. Snark, he says, is for the amateurs.
I might have to pull out my snark about Snark.
In which the reader sharply disagrees with the direction of the book and decides snark is still a fun word and way to be.
I come away at the end of this small back rather disappointed. The message is confusing, and feels more like being condescending from another direction, like being at the kids table of some Woody Allen movie where all these self-loving intellectual urbanites banter over obscure issues for 9 hours over coffee.
The bits on history were worthy in terms of learning some bits, especially on the original story by Lewis Carroll called The Hunting of the Snark: An Agony in Eight Fits — that warns of the most dangerous form of snark, the mysterious Boojum.
There is speculation on the origin of the word being a simple crossing of “snail” and “shark”, but it has such a nice ring to it. Since hearing it from some source I don;t recall, I’ve taken it to be a spunk sarcastic attitude, ultra cynical with edge, extra Tabasco in the Bloody Mary or more fire for the hot salsa, an attitude I’ve been honing since childhood and that found home in this blog. I relished examples of snark found in web pages, catalogs, etc, of standing out from the drab dullness of every day life.
Denby’s take is it is much more mean spirited and serves no other end but to hurt, or to use group talk to single out individuals from a crowd of know-alls. He aims to distinguish it from satire, yet hios book lays it on pretty strongly to the ones he identifies as snarkers, including a whole chapter on New York Times writer Maureen Dowd. A movie reviewer charged by Denby as a “snarkist” is described (objectively?) as:
There’s tons of junk around at any point, and Queenan has spent his years banging around in the sub-basement of movie culture, kicking empty beer cans against the wall, emerging to ridicule hapless pictures that no one took seriously in the first place.”
That reads like snark shooting at snark.
The author seems intent on looking down his nose at something… is that me? He sums up the “Conscious of a Snarker”:
Snark is like a schoolyard taunt without the schoolyard. It wants to get in your face without presenting a face of it’s own.
and i do agree that the form practiced under anonymity of comments to news stories, blogs, and the worst pit, YouTube comments, are a level to which I don’t aspire. You pick up early a scent of disdain the writer (I smell newsprint on his tweed jacket) has for the internet.
But it’s not a total loss. I have found myself questioning some things I write digging more at to the message; am I trying to lash out vindictively or is there a point? Denby does somewhere state that the antidote to snark is not :”gentleness” citing his examples of finer forms practices as artful insult or satire. However, I found his line of difference so vague as to not be even discernable.
Despite the literary put downs, I am proud to wear my snark badge.
“For the snark is a Boojum, you see” – and Boojum it stays, book notwithstanding.