Contempt In A Free-Floating Void

Fear GogglesDon’t eat the Snark.  Let it roll off your tongue like honey.  Click the Beck.

When I was growing up, a Snark was a fictional creature created by Lewis Carroll, in his fitful poem, The Hunting of the Snark.  By the time I was coming to terms with the fact my ass was on the line in a shooting War in Vietnam, the humble creature had taken over the body of a pissant Corporal in Joe Heller‘s Catch-22.  And today, the Snark has morphed again; today, Snark is contempt in a free-floating void.

Just as surely as the worm will turn, snark becomes a localized and personal approach to all that is worthy of contempt.  There is a reflexive element involved in our take on the values any one target of our contempt embodies, and it usually results in a juicing of our own self-worth, even to levels of self-righteous anger. As our fragile collective reality lumbers farther and farther from the great divine purpose of consciousness, tumbling like cosmonaut Frank Poole in 2001: A Space Odyssey, we feel the constraints of cynicism tightening around our sense of reason like a vise squeezing an egg;  and finally…

rumour is fact;
accusation is proof;
gossip is news.

No, we’re not talking about Fux Noise, despite the spot on description.  We’re talking about a book-length definition of snark by a native New Yorker intellectual elitist. You will not want to do more than skim David Denby’s dribbling diatribe on snark, but do be sure to take the time and read Adam Sternbergh‘s rebuttal, here.


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?”— [Are you a Teabag-AfterBirther?] 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 [“funsters”? Really?? I thought that was something that grew on your feet] 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, [Oh, say, 300 lbs. worth] an exposed boob, a blotch, a blemish, a wrinkle, [an open festering wound], an open fly, an open mouth, a closed mouth [a closed mind].  It exploits— slyly, teasingly— race and gender prejudice. [Oh PLEASE, crakkah.]  When there are no vulnerabilities, it makes them up. [Denby has a weakness for Earl Grey canapés.]  Snark razzes pomp, but it razzes certain kinds of strength, too— people who are unaffectedly serious. [Are you fuckin’ kidding me?]  Snarky writers can’t bear being outclassed by anyone, [that’s a lie, you cretin] and snark becomes the vehicle of their resentment and contempt. When writers of snark turn their attention to anyone even slightly well known, they choose to regard rumour [since when does a New Yorker spell rumor this way?] as fact, accusation as proof, gossip as news. Once something negative is said, snark repeats and pumps up the remark, with nasty commentary added as a tweak.

When you are living in a nation awash in bullshit,
it should not be surprising when people cry out,
The nation is awash in bullshit!

and maybe throw in an extraneous
And your mother dresses you funny!
— Adam Sternbergh

The fifth principle of snark: the reckless-disregard principle. Ignore the routine responsibilities of journalism. The more flagrantly you ignore them the better. In the internet age, the rumour, [sic] the smear or the taunt, if it’s pungently phrased, spreads instantly through the web; [who’s your ISP, dude? God?] and from thence into the mainstream press. The internet will quickly turn snark into meme. And once the item appears, its truth or falsity is irrelevant.

Well of course, fuck NO. That’s precisely when its truth or falsity is most relevant.  The fact is that snark, like any literary convention, is a tool that can be wielded like a scalpel, or a Louisville Slugger;  it becomes precise or indiscriminate in direct proportion to the skill of its employer.  But the snark-laden meme is not the message.  If you’re not smart enough to separate the wheat from the chaff, the truth from the fact, then truth held no meaning for you in the first place.

Adam Sternbergh

This raises a tricky question that Denby, like most of snark’s critics, never addresses: Where exactly did all this snark come from? Did we simply transform overnight into a nation of venal assholes? I’d argue that slackers adopted irony not as a pose of hipster cynicism but as a defense against inheriting a two-faced world. When no one—from politicians to pundits—says what he actually means, irony becomes a logical self-inoculation. Similarly, snark, irony’s brat, flourishes in an age of doublespeak and idiocy that’s too rarely called out elsewhere. Snark is not a honk of blasé detachment; it’s a clarion call of frustrated outrage.

When you are living in a nation awash in bullshit, it should not be surprising when people cry out, The nation is awash in bullshit! and maybe throw in an extraneous And your mother dresses you funny!

The simple, snark-free truth is this.  There is so much wrong with the way life and culture are currently valued, lived, and experienced in America today by a huge, backward looking minority, that irony and snark must per force ooze from every pore of our collective bag of national skin until we free ourselves from its grasping claws.   Here’s just one endemic example.

Chris Hedges

Our elites— the ones in Congress, the ones on Wall Street and the ones being produced at prestigious universities and business schools— do not have the capacity to fix our financial mess. Indeed, they will make it worse. They have no concept, thanks to the educations they have received, of the common good. They are stunted, timid and uncreative bureaucrats who are trained to carry out systems management. They see only piecemeal solutions which will satisfy the corporate structure. They are about numbers, profits and personal advancement. They are as able to deny gravely ill people medical coverage to increase company profits as they are able to use taxpayer dollars to peddle costly weapons systems to blood-soaked dictatorships. The human consequences never figure into their balance sheets.

When Barack Obama ignited our collective hope that he would lead us in the ways and means to fix our sick consumer corporate vulture-culture, a door swung wide to a future where snark would be unnecessary. When there is no need of irony, snark sounds just like hate.

And indeed, when it is employed by the fearful troglodytes of the tattered traditional values of a time that must pass from reality into the pages of our history, it is nothing but hate speech. Traditional intellectuals like Denby who cannot or refuse to change, are simply incapable of hearing and comprehending what the true nature of snark in a progressive world is all about. Another sign that a culture so desperately in need of change is going to change whether they like it or not.  It will just be too fuggin’ snarkalicious if they’re all at 9-12 meetups with their guns on dressed like white-trash urban cowboys when the levee finally breaks.


  1. Avatar Michael Hart

    And Snark is Rachel Maddow reading Republican quotes on the air, and making them sound even more ludicrous that when the Repugs actually said them out loud and weren’t laughed out of town.

  2. Propagandee Propagandee

    Snark is a neurological 2×4 upside the head of people suffering from mental vapor lock. Like slapping a hysteric

    Shame and humiliation were selected by evolution long ago for its survival value as way of forcing tribal members to look at things from a different point of view. For instance, the women of the Pacific Northwest Haida Indians put on a yearly spectacle where they take down all the self-important male leaders for doing teh stupid.

    As the ancient Roman satirist Juvenal put it:

    difficile est saturam non scribere. nam quis iniquae
    tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se…

    It is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself…


  3. Just when I was finished hunting snipes, now begins a new quest.


    Somehow, I suspect that Denby was given a very large target that was missed utterly. Try as I might, I don’t see the purveyors of what I call ‘snark’ within his encapsulated states, let alone a suitable definition of the rationales for my own minor efforts.

    Perhaps it is the difference in U.K. and U.S. cultures, and the attitudes toward civic leaders and media personalities therein.


  4. Avatar mary b

    seeing eye chick,

    I respectfully disagree only on one point.
    When the (elite) right wing put down Democrats, Liberals and Progressives, well yes, that stinks. It’s hypocrisy at it’s finest (or worse).
    Their isn’t anything wrong with being elite. Just as long as your position helps you to use it as a force for good. The elite on the right only cares about using their position for money, power and greed. And yes, that stinks to high Heaven (or Havona).

    I also agree with you about your comment about snark. I just took away a different part of the article.

  5. This reminds me a lot, of the complaints made by some of the more delicate intellectuals, about the quality of information on the internet. Their first complaint, was how did all the “little people” get on and start talking about issues that were clearly beyond all but a few masterminds.

    Uh!? Go fuck yourself. That is my response. As a bibliophile I can tell you, that long before the internet, and its billions of questionable stars and snark, there were just as many books, that might well honestly qualify for the burn pile. Written by people who were credentialed in the subject [somehow] but who either lacked the talent to compose and compile, or perhaps padded their resume` as an author or scholar.

    Elitism stinks the same everywhere. Just like evil.

  6. Gosh! Thats not what Snark is to me at all. Personally I got tired of seeing half assed attempts by yellow journalists to cover the very tip top, creamy steamy of a story, and just leave the rest hanging while the rest of America blissfully assumes “That’s all there is to know folks!”

    Snark is contempt, I will give him that. Its contempt for Lazy fucks who don’t earn their paychecks, and for criminal fucks who steal yours and my paychecks.

    Snark is for people who think they are snarky when all they pose at is being mean for the sake of mean-ness.

    Snark is that fire in my belly that comes out of me at the speed of pissed everytime I smell the kind of bullshit this country is awash in, as I contemplate how long my snorkel will have to be this week to breath the filthy air.

    Snark is the frustration I feel as I watch Corporate America steal our rights by organizing the working class out of active participation of their government.

    Snark is watching functionally, Culturally illiterate cocksuckers like Sarah Palin get airtime while they repeat the dumbest shit I never heard at a some hole in the wall bar deep in the heart of Tennessee where the people appear to have fewer brains and even fewer teeth.

    I can think of a lot of perfectly good justifications for my Snark. And I don’t need no asshole resting on his laurels trying to correct me just because I probably beat him 10 times this week to a very relevant punch.

    Snark is my anger over how mean this country has gotten with its nasty coils of passive aggression as it chokes the life right out of itself.

    Snark is a many splendored thing in my world.

  7. Avatar Michael Hart

    I hope you’re right about Obama, Mary; but it’s precisely that feeling of impatience with the pace of change that must give way to the true understanding of the driving force behind our snarkiness and our willingness not to give up until we get everything right; from health care, to the common good, to the end of war, to the brotherhood of all mankind.

  8. Avatar mary b

    “Traditional intellectuals like Denby who cannot or refuse to change, are simply incapable of hearing and comprehending what the true nature of snark in a progressive world is all about. Another sign that a culture so desperately in need of change is going to change whether they like it or not. ”

    He must be one of those old white guys who still wants to hang on to the Status Quo. It’s sickening. They’ve had their turn, their generation. It’s far too long since any kind of positive change has begun in this Country. I’ve been waiting for 30 years. When I helped campaign for Obama all I could think about was, this is the time. It’s now or never. I know, I’m getting impatient because I think Obama should tell the rethugs to go off themselves. But he really hasn’t had enough time yet. Hopefully, he thinks he’s giving them just enough rope so that he can finish our business and get good health care passed. He was so patient during the campaign, sometimes it drove me nuts.
    Patience is a Virtue.

    And I’ve probably missed the whole entire point of this blog!

Prove you're human: leave a comment.