Roger Ebert mused last week on the snark epidemic, a trend I’ve been meaning to tackle myself for some months now. Naturally, he expressed his disdain far more eloquently than I dare dream, but I’ve an awful lot of squat to fill, so I’ll posit nonetheless.
First, of course, the mea culpa. I myself have indulged in snark, backstroked in those scummy, chummy waters. In fact, one could say my previous (and ancient!) entry is snark ’neath a slapdash lacquer, shiny-dull and mean—mean being the operative word, which can be, when applied correctly, snark’s more effective, cut-to-the-bone cousin. An occasional dis is refreshing, cleansing in its poison-tipped thrust.
But still, there’s something pungent about the art in the Internet Age. Supporters enjoy invoking—i.e., aligning themselves with—the legendary Dorothy Parker as a deft practitioner and pioneer of the form (her withering “Tonstant Weader fwowed up” rejection of A.A. Milne’s cutesy The House at Pooh Corner always comes to mind), but neither Mrs. Parker nor her vicious circle of Jazz Baby LOLcats were prone to eviscerating cultural flotsam as “gay”—or, rather, its Prohibition-era equivalent, since “gay” had a different meaning then. And I may have to consult my portable DP, but I’m pretty sure she openly raved about stuff too. (She also didn’t enjoy the happiest of lives.) The problem with snark is when it becomes your primary prism, transforming what was once skewering appraisal into a dull, numb, chickenshit pose. You become Troy Dyer 1.0 in Reality Bites, an intransigent couch-throne speck with an acidic perspective on everything and an apparent passion for nothing.
That it’s become so prevalent, such the dominant tone of online discourse, is tiresome. Last year I was hired to contribute content for a startup launched by people I dearly love, but I had to swallow hard when they asked me to jam virtually everything through a filter of cool irreverence, which, admittedly, is my raison d’etre, but not always applicable. I mean, why should I bag even ever-so-gently on something I, perhaps, say, I dunno, enjoy? What’s so wrong with expressing sincere and unabashed like? Why I gotta adopt a detached, superior stance, fuse my byline to such venom-drip as “Top 10 Slug-Coozed Celebri-Skanks of All Time” or “Why We Irrationally Despise This Pretty-Boy Shitbrick”?
Perhaps it’s just an issue of volume. Or age. At 36 I’ve mostly lost that constant thirst for crimson, though I enjoy the occasional pint—or brown-bagged 40. I’d rather focus what little animosity I have these days on matters more immediate and substantive than award ceremonies or celebrities that get my dander up. That kinda snark I’ve never abided; it’s a purse-swat in a powder room. When I wild-swipe with anger, I wanna Pollock walls with your metaphorical viscera. I won’t mock your fashion sense, cook your garbage into yummy gossip sugarplums, or call you schoolyard names. I’m coming to hurt you.
Otherwise, if I’m not so driven a scrivener, I curl up with a Cameron Crowe movie—any; I like ’em all—and remind myself there are still people in this world who earnestly feel to their cores. It’s like a bath, really, dissolving that reptilian coat. To complete the amnesia I drown in a heart-leapt mix, where you can declare love without reprisal, where effusion is not subject to scorn. Crowe’s movies always propel me to music; the day I saw Elizabethtown (great despite its critical reputation; I could write an entire entry on the significance of Orlando Bloom’s ring tone) I left the theater and headed right to the record store, where I bought a Richard Swift collection strictly for the reckless adventure and lost myself in “Beautifulheart.” How could anyone feel snarky after this?