Sunday, January 25, 2009

Vicious Snarkfest annoys critic, who tries to profit from the trend. But 'snot so snarky!

"New Yorker critic rails at web malice," tsks the Guardian in London. One doubts that the old school hacks just can't hack it. All this ersatz brouhaha appears to have been concocted mostly to promote Denby's latest slim volume, shown above in all its snot green glory (photographed by cogdogblog, the cur.) Snark's not a mythical critter as in the 'Hunting of the Snark' by Lewis Carroll, but a snide/remark [snark, geddit?] posted in a flame fest of sarcasm. It's what the Guardian might refer to as an irascibly arch comment if it wasn't trying to be bloggy and jiggy widdit. So embarassing all this boomer pandering to the younger, cooler set.

It is the bane of the modern world. It is cheap, nasty and heralds a new cultural dark age. It is "snark".

Or at least it is according to David Denby, a leading critic on the New Yorker magazine, who has sparked a literary debate over snark which pits the printed word against the new world of the internet.

Denby has written a slim polemical book called Snark: It's Mean, It's Personal and It's Ruining Our Conversation, that has created headlines across America. It is a ruthless assault on a tone of writing that combines malice, humour and aggressiveness. While Denby traces the origins of "snark" back to the ancient Greeks, he postulates that it is flowering in the media culture created by the internet. He says that internet message boards, gossip websites such as Gawker and Perez Hilton and the proliferation of millions of blogs have come to dominate modern media with a tone of vicious, unpleasant humour usually delivered in just a paragraph or two. He says that tone has now spread to newspapers and magazines and it is destroying American public life.

Not that Denby himself is shy of using an insult or two. "Indolent parasitism as a work ethos," he says of those who write for Gawker and its ilk. He continues: "The trouble with today's snarky pipsqueaks ... spinning around in the media from moment to moment, is they don't stand for anything or push for anything. They're mere opportunists without dedication and they don't win any victories."

Many commentators and reviewers have welcomed Denby's book as a long overdue corrective. 'God save us from Gawker's world,' opined one review in the Los Angeles Times. But others have seen Denby's outcry as the last gasp of an older media world that is being reshaped by a new generation.

"Some snarkiness is nasty, cynical and damaging. Some is insightful and serves the public good. Young people are right to see that the sometimes personally nasty satire of the Daily Show often offers more insightful political commentary than mainstream newspapers," said Professor TV Reed, a popular culture expert at Washington State University.

Not surprisingly, the reaction among the websites and columnists targeted by Denby has been less than polite. Perhaps it has even been a little ... snarky. Gawker posted a piece on the book under the headline: "Please buy David Denby's book, so he can stop talking."

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