On the hunt for snark

It is sly, knowing and often downright nasty. Politicians and celebrities are its prey. And it attacks, under the guise of wit, without proof or reason. David Denby goes on the hunt for snark, which is invading all modern discourse from gossip sites to newspapers.

From The Guardian:

ScreenHunter_09 Aug. 30 12.12 What is snark? Abuse in a public forum of a particular kind – personal, low, teasing, rug-pulling, finger-pointing, snide, obvious, and knowing.

How does snark work? Snark is hazing on the page. It prides itself on wit, but it's closer to a leg stuck out in a school corridor that sends some kid flying. It pretends to be all in fun, and anyone who's annoyed by it will be greeted with the retort, “How can you take this seriously? What's wrong with you?” – which has the doubly aggressive effect of putting the victim on the defensive. No one wants to argue with a joke, so this is shrewd as far as it goes. But some of these funsters are mean little toughs. Snark seizes on any vulnerability or weakness it can find – a slip of the tongue, a sentence not quite up to date, a bit of flab, an exposed boob, a blotch, a blemish, a wrinkle, an open fly, an open mouth, a closed mouth. It exploits – slyly, teasingly – race and gender prejudice. When there are no vulnerabilities, it makes them up. Snark razzes pomp, but it razzes certain kinds of strength, too – people who are unaffectedly serious. Snarky writers can't bear being outclassed by anyone, and snark becomes the vehicle of their resentment and contempt.

Actual comedy is hard work – harder than dying, according to the actor Sir Donald Wolfit, who remarkably announced this truth while lying on his deathbed. But snark, eschewing work, adopts the mere manner of wit, as if manner were enough.

How does snark operate these days? Let me count the ways.

More here.