Friday, December 06, 2013

The Stunting of the Snark

Tom Scocca:

The sin of snark is rudeness, the anti-snarkers say. Snark is mean. And meanness and rudeness are the worst misdeeds in the world.

It's a long article. The gist of it seems to be the contrast between the supposed polar opposites of snark and smarm, and apparently, while smarm is a tactic of the powerful and privileged, snark is the righteous weapon of the powerless who punch up against injustice and phoniness. Well, whatever. As far as I'm concerned, you fight shit with more shit, and everything just stinks all the more. Anyway, my issue with snark as popularly practiced isn't rudeness or meanness per se, it's that it often reeks of vacuous rudeness and meanness. As is so often the case with people who, rightly or wrongly, see themselves as marginalized and powerless, even a sip of a sensation of power — which snark cheaply provides — goes right to their head, and they proceed to make complete asses of themselves.

Snark relies on the illusion of symbolic capture — there's a superficial symmetry, a neatness and tidiness in the way a snarky remark appears to cut straight to the heart of the matter while disdaining actual engagement. Many of Oscar Wilde's famous quips had that quality about them — symmetry without substance. As with diacope, I suspect well-crafted snark has a similarly subliminal pull to it that helps us overlook its hollowness.


Also, part two:

Freddie DeBoer, contributor to The New Inquiry, lost his muffin in its entirety; unable to confine himself to writing one zillion comments on the article itself, he wrote a blog post about it too. DeBoer claims that smarm vs. snark is "yet another cultural competition, elites like Scocca leveraging their cultural status to try to enforce their own take." Cool kids, blah blah.

That's pretty much what I meant about symbolic capture — "Oh, him. He's just a loudmouth know-it-all who thinks everything in life is analogous to a high-school cafeteria. *Eyeroll*." Acknowledgement without engagement, yet still posing as knowingness. Once that unspoken signal has been shared, there's no allowable way to defend yourself against snarky dismissal. You talk too much. You argue too passionately. You're too earnest, too boring. Whatever.