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A Psychologist Analyzes the Increasing Pervasiveness of Snark.
April 12, 2009 9:43 PM   Subscribe

A Psychologist Analyzes the Increasing Pervasiveness of Snark. From the Psychology Today blog site comes this article about snark, Gawker, and David Denby's definitions of "snark" versus "Satire."

One choice quote from the article:

[S]nark is an inherently unjust exercise: The purveyor of snark, and his or her amused audience, temporarily overlook any of their own human faults, while identifying and magnifying others' all-too-human foibles. At least temporarily, the snarker takes on the perspective of a narcissist, viewing others as unworthy, and exploiting and blaming those others for their all-too-human deficits. Perhaps some of today's snarking is associated with the apparent rising level of narcissism in our society.
posted by crazyray (49 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
GET
YOUR
OWN
BLOG
FU oh hi.
posted by loquacious at 9:51 PM on April 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


That's an awful lot of words for "somebody made fun of me and I cried, making fun is mean so don't do it."

Crybaby.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:54 PM on April 12, 2009 [6 favorites]


Snark is fine. Burpies are an unjust exercise.
posted by Science! at 9:55 PM on April 12, 2009


It's been far too long since I've had a good opportunity to say that Psychology Today is just a nasty old rag. Those responsible for it and Mental Floss need to be put on Haldol.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:01 PM on April 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


For fans of vintage snark:

Whoa then! And boys will now be a 'Pistle-making, either without their father's leave, or their elder brother's advise; we shall have our father's art brought to a pretty pass within a while. I could have told this long ago, that my father would get him so many sons as John Canterbury would have no cause to sit quiet at dinner or supper, for looking to his young nephews. I thought boys would be a doing, but foolish stripling, can you tell what you have done? I ween not.

- Martin Marprelate, 1589

posted by DaDaDaDave at 10:05 PM on April 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Wonkette has been having a lot of good, snarky fun at Denby's expense.
posted by lunasol at 10:11 PM on April 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Then the bowsprit got mixed with the rudder sometimes:
A thing, as the Bellman remarked,
That frequently happens in tropical climes,
When a vessel is, so to speak, "snarked."

posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:26 PM on April 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


“Bob Southey! You're a poet—poet-laureate,
And representative of all the race,
All though 'tis true you turned out a Tory at
Last,—yours has lately been a common case...”
That's snark. Denby's too dim to discern that snark serves a useful purpose: it lets the hot air out of folks. Wit doesn't necessarily accompany a good character, of course, but good characters are usually not the target of wits.
posted by sonic meat machine at 10:35 PM on April 12, 2009


It's been far too long since I've had a good opportunity to say that Psychology Today is just a nasty old rag. Those responsible for it and Mental Floss need to be put on Haldol.

Just out of curiosity, why do you choose mental floss to be lumped in there with PT? Why not Curious Read?

posted by crazyray at 10:46 PM on April 12, 2009


This author displays an all-too-human tendency to overuse the adjective "all-too-human."
posted by decagon at 11:03 PM on April 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


tl;dr
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 11:20 PM on April 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


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! It should also not be surprising, I guess, when people like Denby, ensconced on their porches, their conversations interrupted, tut-tut and tell those people to keep their voices down.
posted by benzenedream at 11:40 PM on April 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


He's right! rudeness is a brand new thing and it's all the internet's fault.

Thank God he caught this in time. Now we can save the planet from the snark.


"We have sailed many months, we have sailed many weeks,
(Four weeks to the month you may mark),
But never as yet ('tis your Captain who speaks)
Have we caught the least glimpse of a Snark!

posted by mmoncur at 11:54 PM on April 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Snide + sarcastic = snarky.

There. I did in three words what neither Denby nor Mayer could do in thousands.
posted by darkstar at 12:00 AM on April 13, 2009


I'm not being snarky here, but I think I need to locate an (???) local program for recovery from snark.
posted by localhuman at 12:36 AM on April 13, 2009


For something that purports to be an analysis, that blog post is pretty weak.
posted by daniel_charms at 1:28 AM on April 13, 2009


Please more clever! Don't stop now there is lots of page left!
posted by srboisvert at 1:58 AM on April 13, 2009


I learned snark from Mad magazine.
posted by telstar at 2:03 AM on April 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Snide + sarcastic = snarky.

There. I did in three words what neither Denby nor Mayer could do in thousands.


Except the math is wrong. Clearly snide + remark = snark.
posted by pwnguin at 2:06 AM on April 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I can imagine 20 years on when the countless victims of snark have piled up so high in the graveyards that the pastors and funeraries beg for a moment of peace, and the weeping mothers of millions pine for their sensitive children, that we, as a nation, will have had enough. Then, friends, then, a War on Snark will be declared, and this menace will be wiped from our internets forevermore.
posted by saysthis at 2:19 AM on April 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


You know, Comedy Central has the most honest TV news' show too. We often hide truth behind humor these days. I don't think the comedians are to blame.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:39 AM on April 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Huh. I thought the first comment was going to be "Meh." And that Snark was a combination of "sneer" and "sarcasm". Clearly I'm having a wrongness day.
posted by Grangousier at 4:11 AM on April 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


OK, now that the snarking fad has gone mainstream, and mom and dad are reading about it over the morning coffee ...

... snarking is un-hip and can finally die.

The rise of politeness is near!
posted by krilli at 4:31 AM on April 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


David Denby is a nasty old scab.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:58 AM on April 13, 2009


Denby's too dim to discern that snark serves a useful purpose: it lets the hot air out of folks. Wit doesn't necessarily accompany a good character, of course, but good characters are usually not the target of wits.

You've described snark at its best. Unfortunately, it's more commonly employed as a self-defense mechanism by the ignorant when they're confronted with something they don't understand. It can be brilliant, but snark too often is just a cover for intellectual obtuseness, an easy way to appear clever without the risk of looking stupid by taking something seriously. It's the temporary tattoo of humor.
posted by Byun-o-matic at 5:09 AM on April 13, 2009 [4 favorites]


In the midst of the word he was trying to say
In the midst of his laughter and glee
He had softly and suddenly vanished away
For the Snark was a Boojum, you see.

posted by emmling at 5:30 AM on April 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Excuse me... but David Denby has read the Great Books. Have you read the Great Books?
posted by Joe Beese at 5:33 AM on April 13, 2009


The article itself didn't say much. Anyway, I generally agree that snark is too pervasive. For me, it has less to do with hurting other people's feelings -- although I have some sympathy for that -- than it's just embarrassing to read. I always cringe more for the person snarking than the object of the snarking. It has to do with what the article said about narcissism; it gives the impression that the person wants attention so badly that, because they don't have much unique to say, they'll just say something really mean in a "clever" way so everyone looks their direction for a moment. It's just as unpleasant to witness people doing this in real life. I feel a sort of uncomfortable sadness for people that want attention more than they want to be decent people. It's hard to find what they say funny with all those awkward feelings for them swirling around.
posted by Nattie at 5:59 AM on April 13, 2009


his own bust years as a divorcée from writer Cathleen Schine
*snarks about double-entrendre in Wikipedia*
posted by lukemeister at 6:18 AM on April 13, 2009


um, entendre. Entendu, peeps?
posted by lukemeister at 6:19 AM on April 13, 2009


When I was a kid in the 60s and 70s, the world I lived in was more polite. "The world I lived in" was middle class and academic: I was a faculty brat and so were my friends. I lived in a college town that had two major demographics: people like me and townies. The townies were poorer and less educated. They were way less polite. My friends and I ignored them as best we could. We didn't see them as people. To us, they were hicks -- by turns scary (some of them were bullies) and silly (Ma and Pa Kettle, Cletus).

Popular culture seemed to be aimed at us, not them. Actually, we scorned popular culture. We thought ourselves above "Gilligan's Island" and such. But if we'd been asked whether such shows were aimed more at us or the "hicks," we would have admitted that we were closer to the demographic.

Then something happened. Donahue went out of style and was replaced by Springer. I'm not sure what the cultural forces were behind this? Mostly, it seemed to be TV executives realizing they had a huge, untapped market. For whatever reason, I started to see people on TV that I recognized from my childhood -- the kids from the other side of the tracks. This was new. Those people didn't use to be on TV.

I then saw my class of people go through a stage of disdain, followed by acceptance, followed by embracement. Yes, many of us embraced Springer and such in ironic, jokey ways -- but we were watching. And we were being affected. It was no longer shocking to see constant rude behavior. It was normal and every day. And someone born in 1980 was born into a very different USA than people like me who where born in the 1960s -- the 60s that were more like the 50s (think "Mad Men").

Meanwhile, the nerds inherited the Earth. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates got rich, and Gen-Y inherited the world. These "kids" stayed young much longer than my generation. At 25, they were (and are) still proudly playing with toys (and making huge amounts of money doing so). They also brought a sort of school-yard culture into adult life. It's a much snarkier adult life than the one I grew into.
posted by grumblebee at 6:34 AM on April 13, 2009 [6 favorites]


snide + sarcastic = snarktastic!
posted by otherthings_ at 7:16 AM on April 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Denby speculates that Sir Maxwell, who was a victim of merciless drubbing as "Cap'n Bob" in the English satirical magazine Private Eye, might ultimately have lost his balance, quite literally, as a consequence of being worn out from the constant attacks on his character.
Or maybe he was just about to exposed as a crook who'd raided his employees pension fund to cover up massive losses.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 7:34 AM on April 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


The article is crap. This thread is crap. You're all crap.
posted by JeffK at 7:43 AM on April 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


Psychology Today makes all psychologists look bad, and the serious amongst us hate it.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 8:43 AM on April 13, 2009


Denby is a fine writer who simply grew up in an earlier world and hasn't assimilated to the new one (see grumblebee's excellent comment). John D. Mayer, Ph.D., on the other hand, is simply a clueless person who can't write. (Pro tip: avoid people who append "Ph.D." to their name.)
posted by languagehat at 8:45 AM on April 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


You've described snark at its best. Unfortunately, it's more commonly employed as a self-defense mechanism by the ignorant when they're confronted with something they don't understand. It can be brilliant, but snark too often is just a cover for intellectual obtuseness, an easy way to appear clever without the risk of looking stupid by taking something seriously. It's the temporary tattoo of humor.

Word. Or in the immortal words of Patton Oswalt: "You're going to miss everything cool and die angry."
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:58 AM on April 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Great comment Grumblebee... Having been born exactly in the middle of the transition you speak of (1970) you're describing a math equation that I always seem to be doing in my head.

Funny you mention Gilligan's Island. Every year, I'm surprised not to see an ironic remake of that show. In my experience the divide you speak of is measured by The Brady Bunch, which seems to be at ground zero, as it was appreciated sincerely, and then immediately reborn ironically.
posted by billyfleetwood at 9:16 AM on April 13, 2009


human faults
all-too-human deficits
all-too-human foibles

This means that strong AI machines of the future will be really fucking good at snark. I fully embrace this future.
posted by naju at 10:00 AM on April 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Snark is just another one of the countless ways we've evolved to put others down & elevate ourselves, & to create in- & out-groups. It's a cowardly form of insult, depending on the out-group at which it's aimed to miss the point. It's too hep for the room, like a stand-up comic who aims his jokes at the band.

Sometimes snark is funny. Sometimes it does serve the purpose of deflating those filled with hot air. But mostly it's infantile & mean-spirited, & wishes it could be wit when it grows up.
posted by Forrest Greene at 10:32 AM on April 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


If you look at just about any 19th century magazine it's about as thick with snark, if not moreso, than is the internet. So it's more a question of, did the snark attenuate during the 20th century or is it our imagination?
posted by XMLicious at 10:39 AM on April 13, 2009


Snark is pithy sarcasm, and sarcasm is great except when you're stuck talking to that guy you went to high school with who hasn't figured out that just being sarcastic alone doesn't make you funny any more than adding "NOT!" to sentences makes you Wayne and Garth.
posted by klangklangston at 11:15 AM on April 13, 2009


"Here’s my prediction: not one person in a thousand is going to be confronted with a statement whose core idea they agree with and say, Yep, that’s too snarky . . . When faced with actual examples of critical language, almost everyone will approve of that critical languge if it’s directed against their (political, social, artistic, religious) enemies and disapprove of it if it’s directed against something or someone they approve of.

Whether snark is ever a good thing or not depends on what you want to achieve. If you want to buld solidarity among people who already share a set of core convictions, or if you just want to blow off your own built-up steam, then snark might be a good thing. If you want to find ways to get people who disagree with each other to come to some mutual understanding, and perhaps even agreement . . . not so much."
posted by straight at 11:28 AM on April 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have a theory that the seeming "debasing" of culture is actually the result of rising living standards among poorer people. When TV first started, only rich people could own T.V.s and thus shows were aimed at the elites. As more and more people owned televisions, and they got more disposable income, more cultural content was aimed at them. But they always had the same culture. The "debasement" was illusory.

That's my theory anyway.

I think that snark was so potent during the bush years because everything was so awful and hopeless. Without looking at through the lens of humor, you'd go crazy.
posted by delmoi at 12:02 PM on April 13, 2009


It's a power of the weak and a weakness of the powerful.
posted by jamjam at 12:31 PM on April 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Here’s my prediction: not one person in a thousand is going to be confronted with a statement whose core idea they agree with and say, Yep, that’s too snarky . . .

I guess I'm one in a thousand. I can NOT tolerate snark when it serves "my side." If anything, I hate it more, because I (stupidly) expect people who agree with many of my views to also share my love of polite conversation. I'm a liberal, but I would MUCH rather hang out with polite conservatives than snarky liberals.

I actually know some other people like me, so though we may be a minority, we're not one in a thousand.
posted by grumblebee at 7:02 PM on April 13, 2009


80s: Earnest Spandex
90s: Ironic Spandex
00s: Snarky Spandex
10s: ?
posted by Sys Rq at 8:16 AM on April 14, 2009


10s: Earnest Spandex
posted by telstar at 3:24 PM on April 14, 2009


It's a matter of taste. Does it really matter?
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 11:29 AM on April 15, 2009


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