In a previous post, I responded to the recent discussion going on in Internet-land about snark vs. smarm by essentially declaring a plague on both their houses, lumping them together into the category of “snide.” Still, I didn’t feel like I’d quite gotten across what my problem was with snark and snideness, and then today I read Gary Olmstead’s take at The American Conservative, and I think he’s nailed it:
The problem with snarkers is not their truth-telling—what would society be without truth-tellers? Rather, the problem with snark is that it doesn’t have the good of society, or the bettering of the critiqued, at the center of its concern. The goal of snark is to make the critic look smart, funny, interesting. The snarky critic loves him or herself more than the critiqued—and thus, the snarky critic can attack, humiliate, and burn all they want, without personal remorse.
That’s it. It’s not just the toxicity of the tone of the snark, but true the intention of the snark-er. I included myself in the list of snark-wielding offenders, and let me tell you, I may feel a passion for mocking, say, the GOP presidential debate clown show — a passion is born of real desire to communicate the dangers they pose — but I do it mostly because I like getting the positive attention for my nugget-size zingers. Any performer or humorist who is being honest would tell you the same.
Smarm is bad. But the way in which we gleefully suck up snark’s sneering jabs is equally detrimental to society. Public discourse, in both cases, is more concerned with personal loftiness than truly elevating the needs and concerns of the public.
Snark is elevating to the snarker because it’s so digestable, a fun and somewhat-guilty rhetorical confection for the consumer. And we’re all getting fat and sick on it.