Snark: It's Mean, It's Personal, and It's Ruining Our Conversation

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9781400161607: Snark: It's Mean, It's Personal, and It's Ruining Our Conversation
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From a New York Times bestselling author comes an argument against snark---the nasty combination of snide and sarcasm---with lessons on how to live without it by thinking and debating with true wit and intelligence.

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About the Author:

David Denby is a longtime film critic for "The New Yorker"; prior to that he was film critic for "New York" Magazine. He lives in New York City.

William Dufris have extensive experience on stage and screen.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Ï»¿

THE FIRST FIT
The Republic of Snark

In which the author lays out the terrain of his momentous subject, defines the nature of snark, and distinguishes among high, medium, and low versions of the unfortunate practice.

This is an essay about a strain of nasty, knowing abuse spreading like pinkeye through the national conversation -- a tone of snarking insult provoked and encouraged by the new hybrid world of print, television, radio, and the Internet. It's an essay about style and also, I suppose, grace. Anyone who speaks of grace -- so spiritual a word -- in connection with our raucous culture risks sounding like a genteel idiot, so I had better say right away that I'm all in favor of nasty comedy, incessant profanity, trash talk, any kind of satire, and certain kinds of invective. It's the bad kind of invective -- low, teasing, snide, condescending, knowing; in brief, snark -- that I hate.

Perhaps a few contrasts will make the difference clear. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert can be rough. Like all entertainers, they trust laughs more than anything else, and they wait for some public person to slip a stirrup and fall. "We're carrion birds," says Stewart, a man capable of describing Karl Rove as having a head like a lump of unbaked bread dough. But the Stewart/Colbert claws are sharpened in a special way. Even when pecking at a victim's tender spots, they also manage to defend civic virtue four times a week. When Stephen Colbert, a liberal, wraps himself in the flag and bullies his guests in the manner of right-wing TV host Bill O'Reilly, he is practicing irony, the most powerful of all satiric weapons. Attacking the Bush administration, Colbert and Stewart were always trying to say, This is not the way a national government should behave. Snark, by contrast, has zero interest in civic virtue or anything else except the power to ridicule. When the comic Penn Jillette said on MSNBC in May 2008, that "Obama did great in February, and that's because that was Black History Month. And now Hillary's doing much better 'cause it's White Bitch Month, right?" he was not, putting it mildly, practicing irony or satire. The remark was bonehead insult, but insult of a special sort. It spoke to a knowing audience -- to white people irritated by black history as a celebration, and to men who assume an ambitious woman can safely be called a bitch. The layer of knowingness, in this case, was an appeal to cranky ill will and prejudice. Jillette's joke was snark. A question I found as a comment on a right-wing blog -- "Is Obama a fat-lipped nigger -- or what?" -- is simple racist junk. But a student named Adam LaDuca, formerly president of the Pennsylvania Federation of College Republicans, wrote on his Facebook page that Obama was "nothing more than a dumbass with a pair of lips so large he could float half of Cuba to the shores of Miami (and probably would)." That remark, in its excruciating "humor" and its layer of knowing reference, is tin-plated snark (and also racist junk).

Snark is not the same as hate speech, which is abuse directed at groups. Hate speech slashes and burns, and hopes to incite, but without much attempt at humor. Some legal scholars -- most notably, Jeremy Waldron, of New York University -- have argued that the United States, a tumultuous, multiethnic country with many vulnerable minorities, should consider banning hate speech by law, as some countries in Europe have done. But that is not my concern here; the legal issues lie far beyond the range of this essay, and, in any case, I am against censorship in any form, on the usual ground that it will choke legitimate critical speech as well as vicious rant. I will hunt the snark but leave hate speech alone. I will also ignore the legions of anguished, lost people on Web sites and the social networking site Facebook who are convinced that, say, Barack Obama is the Antichrist ("Buraq was the name of Muhammad's horse!"), and who fly about wildly, like bats trapped in a country living room, looking for a way to release fear. Madness and paranoia are not the same as snark.

Nor am I talking about the elaborately sadistic young sports known on the Internet as "trolls." These are technically enabled young men, part hackers, part stalkers, who pull such pranks as teasing the parents of a child who has committed suicide or sending flashing lights onto a Web site for epileptics. The lights may cause seizures. Fun! The trolls have a merry time screwing people up. What they do violates existing statutes, and if federal and state authorities had the energy and resources to pursue them, the trolls could probably be prosecuted for harassment. So far they have gone largely unpunished, but I leave them to the cops and prosecutors. Finally, I will bypass the issue of political correctness, which, rightly or wrongly, is a way of protecting groups against calumny and lesser slights. Political correctness actually shares one leading characteristic with snark -- it refuses true political engagement, the job of getting at the truth of things. All too often, PC tries to rein in humor that might brush against a truth. What I'm doing here -- hunting the snark -- is a way of preserving humor. Those of us who are against snark want to humble the lame, the snide, and the lazy -- and promote the true wits.

Snark attacks individuals, not groups, though it may appeal to a group mentality, depositing a little bit more toxin into already poisoned waters. Snark is a teasing, rug-pulling form of insult that attempts to steal someone's mojo, erase her cool, annihilate her effectiveness, and it appeals to a knowing audience that shares the contempt of the snarker and therefore understands whatever references he makes. It's all jeer and josh, a form of bullying that, except at its highest levels, beggars the soul of humor. In the 2000 presidential campaign, Maureen Dowd of the New York Times had Al Gore "so feminized and diversified and ecologically correct, he's practically lactating" in one column and buffing his pecs and ridging his abs in another column. Which was it? Effeminate or macho? Snark will get you any way it can, fore and aft, and to hell with consistency. In a media society, snark is an easy way of seeming smart. When Harvard professor Samantha Power resigned from Obama's campaign on March 7, 2008, after calling Hillary Clinton "a monster," Michael Goldfarb's comment, on the blog of the conservative magazine the Weekly Standard, was "Tell us something we don't know." Power's remark is a plain insult; Goldfarb's, with its cozy "we," which adds a twist of in€‘group knowingness, is snark. Snark doesn't create a new image, a new idea. It's parasitic, referential, insinuating.

Of course, snark is just words, and if you look at it one piece at a time, it seems of piddling importance. But it's annoying as hell, the most dreadful style going, and ultimately debilitating. A future America in which too many people sound mean and silly, like small yapping dogs tied to a post; in which we insult one another merrily in a kind of endless zany brouhaha; in which the lowest, most insinuating and insulting side threatens to win national political campaigns -- this America will leave everyone, including the snarkers, in a foul mood once the laughs die out. At the moment, there are snarky vice presidential campaigns (Sarah Palin's mean-girl assault on Barack Obama as "someone who sees America as imperfect enough to pal around with terrorists who targeted their own country...This is not a man who sees America like you and I see America."); snark-influenced crafts (advertising); an enormous, commercially flourishing snark industry (celebrity culture); snarky news-and-commentary cable TV shows, left and right; and snark words, such as whiny and whiner, which are often used to cut the ground under anyone with a legitimate complaint. Senator John McCain, displaying some creative flair in his attacks on Barack Obama on October 15, 2008, added a snarky visual effect (perhaps a first in a presidential debate) to ordinary sarcasm, by holding up his fingers for air quotes around the word health in a discussion on abortion: "Here again is the eloquence of Senator Obama -- the 'health' of the mother. You know, that's been stretched by the pro-abortion movement in America to mean almost anything." By using air quotes (was he channeling the late Chris Farley?), McCain was sending a sportive signal to pro-lifers -- that's the snarky part -- but also suggesting, perhaps unconsciously, that the heath of the mother was somehow irrelevant to the matter of abortion. At the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, snark sounds like the seethe and snarl of an unhappy and ferociously divided country, a country releasing its resentment in rancid jokes. It's a verbal bridge to nowhere. I've been accused of writing some myself.

--

The practice has often been mislabeled. Snark is not the same thing, for instance, as irreverence or spoof. I've heard the morally outraged satirist Lenny Bruce described as a pioneer of snark, which is absurd. Bruce, in his way, was as serious as the prophet Jeremiah. David Letterman the ironist is snarky; Jay Leno, a straight joke teller, is not. Don Rickles takes on hecklers and insults his audience, but his act is a formal structure whose unvarying rules are known in advance. If he weren't vicious, people wouldn't go to hear him. What he does isn't snark; it's a harmless, self-contained ritual performed by a cobra with a ribbon tied around its head.

The platonic ideal of snark is something like this: Two girls are sitting in a high school cafeteria putting down a third, who's sitting on the other side of the room. What's peculiar about this event is that the girl on the other side of the room is their best friend. In that scenario, snark is abusive or sarcastic speech that operates like poisoned arrows within a closed space. Its intention is to offer solidarity between two or more parties and to exclude someone from the sam...

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Book Description Tantor Media, Inc, United States, 2009. CD-Audio. Condition: New. Unabridged edition. Language: English . Brand New. What is snark? You recognize it when you see it-a tone of teasing, snide, undermining abuse, nasty and knowing, that is spreading like pinkeye through the media and threatening to take over how Americans converse with each other and what they can count on as true. Snark attempts to steal someone s mojo, erase her cool, annihilate her effectiveness. 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. In this highly entertaining book, Denby traces the history of snark through the ages, starting with its invention as personal insult in the drinking clubs of ancient Athens, tracking its development all the way to the age of the Internet, where it has become the sole purpose and style of many media, political, and celebrity Web sites. Snark releases the anguish of the dispossessed, envious, and frightened; it flows when a dying class of the powerful struggles to keep the barbarians outside the gates, or, alternately, when those outsiders want to take over the halls of the powerful and expel the office-holders. Snark was behind the London-based magazine Private Eye, launched amid the dying embers of the British empire in 1961; it was also central to the career-hungry, New York-based magazine Spy. It has flourished over the years in the works of everyone from the startling Roman poet Juvenal to Alexander Pope to Tom Wolfe to a million commenters snarling at other people behind handles. Thanks to the grand dame of snark, it has a prominent place twice a week on the opinion page of the New York Times. 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. Seller Inventory # AAC9781400161607

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Book Description Tantor Media, Inc, United States, 2009. CD-Audio. Condition: New. Unabridged edition. Language: English . Brand New. What is snark? You recognize it when you see it-a tone of teasing, snide, undermining abuse, nasty and knowing, that is spreading like pinkeye through the media and threatening to take over how Americans converse with each other and what they can count on as true. Snark attempts to steal someone s mojo, erase her cool, annihilate her effectiveness. 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. In this highly entertaining book, Denby traces the history of snark through the ages, starting with its invention as personal insult in the drinking clubs of ancient Athens, tracking its development all the way to the age of the Internet, where it has become the sole purpose and style of many media, political, and celebrity Web sites. Snark releases the anguish of the dispossessed, envious, and frightened; it flows when a dying class of the powerful struggles to keep the barbarians outside the gates, or, alternately, when those outsiders want to take over the halls of the powerful and expel the office-holders. Snark was behind the London-based magazine Private Eye, launched amid the dying embers of the British empire in 1961; it was also central to the career-hungry, New York-based magazine Spy. It has flourished over the years in the works of everyone from the startling Roman poet Juvenal to Alexander Pope to Tom Wolfe to a million commenters snarling at other people behind handles. Thanks to the grand dame of snark, it has a prominent place twice a week on the opinion page of the New York Times. 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. Seller Inventory # AAC9781400161607

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Book Description Tantor Media Inc. No binding. Condition: New. Dimensions: 7.5in. x 5.3in. x 0.6in.What is snark You recognize it when you see ita tone of teasing, snide, undermining abuse, nasty and knowing, that is spreading like pinkeye through the media and threatening to take over how Americans converse with each other and what they can count on as true. Snark attempts to steal someones mojo, erase her cool, annihilate her effectiveness. In this sharp and witty polemic, New Yorker critic and bestselling author David Denby takes on the snarkers, naming the nine principles of snarkthe 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. In this highly entertaining book, Denby traces the history of snark through the ages, starting with its invention as personal insult in the drinking clubs of ancient Athens, tracking its development all the way to the age of the Internet, where it has become the sole purpose and style of many media, political, and celebrity Web sites. Snark releases the anguish of the dispossessed, envious, and frightened; it flows when a dying class of the powerful struggles to keep the barbarians outside the gates, or, alternately, when those outsiders want to take over the halls of the powerful and expel the office-holders. Snark was behind the London-based magazine Private Eye, launched amid the dying embers of the British empire in 1961; it was also central to the career-hungry, New Yorkbased magazine Spy. It has flourished over the years in the works of everyone from the startling Roman poet Juvenal to Alexander Pope to Tom Wolfe to a million commenters snarling at other people behind handles. Thanks to the grand dame of snark, it has a prominent place twice a week on the opinion page of the New York Times. 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. This item ships from multiple locations. Your book may arrive from Roseburg,OR, La Vergne,TN. MP3 CD. Seller Inventory # 9781400161607

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