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In Defense of Snark

So how exactly does this steaming helping of schlocky snark add to the discussion?

– Commenter Casso

Casso, how does whatever-you-said not add to the discussion?

I stand by the words of writer J.G. Ballard, best-known for his novel Crash:

We live in a world ruled by fictions of every kind—mass merchandising, advertising, politics conducted as a branch of advertising, the instant translation of science and technology into popular imagery, the increasing blurring and intermingling of identities within the realm of consumer goods, the preempting of any free or original imaginative response to experience by the television screen. We live inside an enormous novel. For the writer in particular it is less and less necessary for him to invent the fictional content of his novel. The fiction is already there. The writer’s task is to invent the reality.

Snark (Combination of “snide” and “remark”. Sarcastic comment.) is a method of creating reality, a reality that suits me better than what’s presented to me, even if that reality is dark and pessimistic.

Yes, I creatively rewrote Packer’s piece which, admit it, was complete bullshit – his article was full of fear and ignorance that you could smell from a mile away.

Don’t even get me started on the unfair jabs he made at David Carr – I was coming to the defense of a journalist I admire.

If you call my writing snarky, perhaps you should refer back to Packer’s original piece and reevaluate your definition of snark.

I like to think that I was providing a service for people who trust Packer based on his reputation and generally stellar writing. Some readers may know nothing about Twitter and will now judge it unfairly, based on Packer’s ignorant assessment of it. I was providing a counterpoint for the unenlightened.

Snark, because it can be so abrasive and eye-catching, is a language that people understand – it elicits emotion. I was translating Packer’s piece for an audience that might not understand it.

In the comments on my post, Casso and Boom (snarkers themselves) hide behind nicknames.

I’m not afraid to speak my mind and attach my name to my strongly-held opinions.

Snark v. satire

According to Wikipedia, “In satire, human or individual vices, follies, abuses, or shortcomings are held up to censure by means of ridicule, derision, burlesque, irony, or other methods, ideally with the intent to bring about improvement. Although satire is usually meant to be funny, the purpose of satire is not primarily humour in itself so much as an attack on something of which the author strongly disapproves, using the weapon of wit.”

I believe snark is different because it calls out just one human folly: the use of bullshit in writing and speech.

Now, I COULD get all philosophical here and say that truth is subjective, that there is no absolute truth, and that bullshit is relative.

However, in today’s media landscape, facts are regularly manipulated and spun.

To counter “bullshit” constructively, without snark, you could provide a detailed summary of facts that support your argument.

Or, you can bring attention to its absurdity by mocking it, exaggerating it, or creatively reconstructing it. Snark.

Snark v. bullying

On February 5, Alison Hendre contributed a piece to The New York Times Complaint Box about mean-spirited comments on a high school sports blog.

This kind of snark, which I think is more accurately referred to as “bullying”, stems from boredom rather than an actual desire to change anything. She cites some comments:

“What? He’s no longer averaging 25 points per game?”

“Why does that no-talent bum start every game?”

In response to Hendre: have you ever sat in the bleachers at a Yankees game? Sports fans heckle and prod – that’s just what they do. I understand the comments are a bit harsh for a high school sports blog but realize that these people have sad little lives and nothing better to do than make pointless comments.

The problem with snark on sites like Gawker is that the commenters are just trying to “one-up” each other. On Gawker, commenters are actually encouraged to generate the most ridiculous comments possible – they receive gold stars and virtual pats on the back for great comments. Therefore, they are just writing things for shock value. Leaving comments on Gawker is just another form of bullying.

As for the people that lurk on Gawker all day long, waiting for approval? Just feel sorry for them and ignore them too.

Snark v. respect

In a way, written snark engages in direct conversation with the original writer. Realize that, if I respond to someone, it means that I respect them enough to care.

If I thought Packer was a completely bad/worthless writer, I wouldn’t be wasting my time by engaging in a dialogue with him.

For example, yesterday I realy wanted to engage with this piece about government-funded media. Though I generally disagree with the concept, I was interested in what writer David Swanson had to say.

However, I read his first paragraph about 10 times, didn’t know what the hell he was trying to say, and moved along my merry way.

Listen, I realize that George Packer is a very accomplished writer. However, just because someone is accomplished doesn’t mean he is omnipotent.

I was angry and wanted to express myself. And I did because I could. Because this is America, and we, as Americans, have certain freedoms.

I only snark because I care and because I seriously mistrust anyone who tries to write about something he doesn’t understand. I believe my choice to rewrite his piece, rather than write about it, only further emphasized my distrust of his language.

(Photo by cogdogblog)

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