Of Snark And Malice

David Denby’s new book, Snark, puts me in mind of what seems to be a genuine disconnect between my generation and the previous ones.  And so, as my post’s title suggests, I feel I must distinguish between the two for this poor, misguided fellow:

Snark is inherently not malicious; rather, it is simply the opposite of reverence.  Just as apathy is more aptly the opposite of love than hate, snark is my generation’s answer to chronic disappointment in prominent figures.  I realize that we are not the first generation that was made aware that its heroes were people too, but I’m willing to wager one million dollars that we’re the first to know our leader fucked some fat chick with a cigar under his desk.  This has been the generation of full disclosure, in which the 24-hour news cycle has uncovered and reported on more disgusting, disturbing behavior from leaders than ever before.

Let me put it in language our more-aged Mr. Denby can understand: I know you probably watched the Vietnam “Police Action” on TV (he’s a film critic for The New Yorker, so I figure his being an ex-hippie is a safe bet).  Seeing the bodies fall in Vietnam on the television was moving, I’m sure.  It communicated in full-color visuals that the consequences of fighting for theoretical principles can be brutally real.  That was its moral.  Broadcasting the Watergate hearings also had a moral, a sort of updated and more cynical Washingtonian-cherry-tree cautionary tale against lying.  Good morals, right?

Let’s now take a look at the messages my generation has received.  The Iran Contra hearings were a joke.  They proved to us that, if you blatantly lie about nefarious dealings, you might have to wait 15 years to be a massively rich, well-respected radio personality (oh, Ollie, I will never understand how you slithered out from under that).  Follow that with Ken Starr, stained dresses, and Larry Flynt’s revenge.  We now have a fairly steady stream of disgusting pedophiles, closet cases, and deviants, all of whose sexploits are fully broadcast by real journalists, and not just the bloggers Denby credits with destroying civilization.  And what are the moral lessons we learn from these tales of glory-holing pederasts? That public figures are hypocritical, lying scumbags. Period. What causes more harm, really?  On the one hand you have a corner of the “internets” goofily postulating that Palin’s son, Trig, is actually her grandson; on the other, you have a CNN “Top Story” detailing Ted Haggard yankin’ it in front of one of his young, male parishioners.

See what I did there, Denby, my man?  I used a snarky phrase to describe Haggard’s higly disturbing sex crime.  Why?  It’s my generation’s defense mechanism, a way to distance ourselves from the horrors we hear on a daily basis about people who should command respect.  obamaWhy do we a-hole bloggers refer to Obama as Princess Sparkle Pony, Hopey the Unicorn King, and the like?  So we won’t be too heartbroken when–and I just can’t emphasize this enough–you and your colleagues uncover some undoubtedly horrible, shadowy activity in which he engages (feltching, perhaps?).

Long story short (too late): This snarky mess is of your own making.  It’s disrespectful, yes, but not with the intention of actually hurting the party against whom it’s directed.  Rather, the motive is self-preservation, and, as any lawyer will tell you, motive’s a pretty big deal when it comes to proving the commission of thought crimes.

(See what I did there again?  I likened your charge to an Orwellian attempt at thought control!)

Long story even shorter:

Sarcasm (read Malice) implies a derision explicitly intended to hurt or offend someone.

Sardonicism (read Snark) implies a cynical derision expressed either verbally or facially with no necessary intent to offend or cause emotional distress.

Of course, that’s according to an evil word-geek blog, so maybe it’s just mean-spirited crap.


2 Responses to “Of Snark And Malice”

  1. 1 Your Pal in Thailand
    September 25, 2009 at 01:41

    Two points:

    (1) I need to spend a lot more time on your blog. It. rocks.

    (2) What these guys don’t get is that no generation since them has had any innocence to lose. The Oliver Stones of the world who go on about how Vietnam and the Kennedy assassination and Watergate changed them never consider that that’s the whole fucking point: they were CHANGED. By going from Einsenhower sunshine to Kent State, they got a CLASSIC, LOSS-OF-INNOCENCE STORY ARC to shape their collective lives. They lived a BILDUNGSROMAN, a word that is not written in all caps nearly often enough.

    And good for them. In fact, I envy them. But, envy don’t make it so, and the reality is that we were whelped in the crapper: my first political memories are of writing an essay on whether Nixon should be impeached (yes, I said, because he was a liar, a position that hasn’t evolved much since then), and trying to understand how we could *possibly* support South Vietnam when, as I knew to a moral certainty, “Souths” were bad guys when it came to civil wars (ditto on the lack of evolution).

    This fundamental shift in generational circumstances is particularly difficult for them grasp, I think, because (a) they got to enjoy (or at least act like they enjoyed) a collective narrative, while we have lived fractured and monadic lives, with idiosyncratic private sensibilities predominating over common public virtues, (b) their narrative is, as noted, archetypal in its arc, such that conceiving of lives as non-linear narratives is per se a challenge, and (c) their rooted-in-the-50’s sense of entitlement has lead them to valorize their national narrative as The National Narrative to the point of sociological solipsism: the contemporary expression of contemporary sensibilities responding to contemporary events leaves them befuddled and more than a little put-out.

    It’s 7:30 am, and I’ve been up since 4, so apologies if this post is a bit befuddling itself.

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