The Psychology of Snarkiness
February 16, 2008 7:36 AM   Subscribe

...people whose brains are best equipped to understand sarcasm tend to have aggressive personalities.
Also: "those who can hang with sarcasm are always the most interesting conversation partners at a party"
posted by mecran01 (71 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
well, that's a great post, you fucking genius.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:41 AM on February 16, 2008 [10 favorites]


and it's great to see you spent a lot of time refining the tags. how did you manage to narrow it down so well? intuition, or some kind of complex mathematical process?
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:44 AM on February 16, 2008 [8 favorites]


I'd rather work with someone sarcastic than some syrupy Up With People positivity zombie. Work sucks, let's just call a spade a spade and stop pretending everything is swell. Sarcasm is the only way to stay sane in an insane world.
posted by 45moore45 at 7:53 AM on February 16, 2008 [4 favorites]


Oh, great! Another sweet psychotherapy lesson by somebody who knows me better than I know myself. Way to go, champ!
posted by Balisong at 7:55 AM on February 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


After high school or so, I got a little sick of constant sarcasm. Now I just try to be honest about my aggressive, negative outlook. Smirking and biting off half-laughs all day can't be good for your facial musculature anyways.
posted by synaesthetichaze at 7:56 AM on February 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


My parents were getting divorced right around my birthday, and I said, 'Well, isn't that a great present,'" she recalls. "That made my mom pretty mad."

Yes, it is aggressive when you smack people in the face with the truth, bursting their self constructed bubble of "This is the right thing to do."

"One time, this other mother was talking about how her kid's illness was being transmitted to the rest of the family. I said, 'Well, that's why I refuse to give my kids any kind of physical affection when they're sick. I just lock them in a room.' She thought I was serious and gave me this look.

God save us from humorless, uptight people.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:01 AM on February 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


This will end well.
posted by carter at 8:01 AM on February 16, 2008 [4 favorites]


When I was younger, I was a lot more sarcastic than I am now. Back then, I thought sarcasm was really where it was at. I held sarcasm in relatively high esteem, and I admired people who were given to making lots of biting, sarcastic comments. But relentless sarcasm kind of eats away at the soul, and it kind of eats itself. You're not really left with a whole lot after that bone has been thoroughly gnawed.

Haven't read the linked article yet, though. Will try to do so in the morning. Right now it's bedtime. Thanks for posting.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:04 AM on February 16, 2008 [10 favorites]


Well, at least the FPP is from a well thought of, peer-reviewed bastion of Science Well Done.
posted by everichon at 8:09 AM on February 16, 2008


Hey! I'm cured! Thanks!
posted by The Light Fantastic at 8:18 AM on February 16, 2008


One of my favorites - two of my friends attend a beer blast thrown by a bunch of football jocks. When they approach the bar the knucklehead behind it asks "are you guys homos?" Reply: "No, but can we still get beer?" Laughs all around and they got the beer.
posted by caddis at 8:19 AM on February 16, 2008 [9 favorites]


Do you want to see some "worldclass" snark and see what kind of psychological learnings you can extract from it?

Go to Seattle's main LJ community. They've proudly set their comment link to "snark" and aren't afraid to use it.

So unafraid, in fact, that internet-savvy friends of a missing man who repeated their posting too soon for seattle's taste and responded emotionally to an offer to delete the last one received follow-up threads parodying the missing person posts and even lulz fishing.
posted by batmonkey at 8:19 AM on February 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


dangit! link that should have been clickable from "Seattle's main LJ community".

oh, preview, why do you hate me so?
posted by batmonkey at 8:21 AM on February 16, 2008


Oh, fuck 'em.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 8:23 AM on February 16, 2008


I love the end quote, about the woman keeping her mouth shut around her husband's boss. She must really want him to get that promotion!
posted by Talanvor at 8:33 AM on February 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Do you want to see some "worldclass" snark and see what kind of psychological learnings you can extract from it?

I dunno, that was some pretty tepid snark. Crappy attempts at mocking someone who is looking for a missing friend? Yeah, that sure takes some creative genius.
posted by cmonkey at 8:37 AM on February 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


There is a fine line between excessive sarcasm and permanent bitterness.
posted by splice at 8:48 AM on February 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


cmonkey: agreed! hence, the quotemarks.

Seattle as a whole very frequently puts "worldclass" in front of anything they want folks to take them seriously on, and I didn't want to deny them their little fixation.
posted by batmonkey at 8:48 AM on February 16, 2008


My biggest problem with sarcasm is that when I get really enthusiastic about something, people think I'm denigrating it. This happens a surprising amount, actually.
posted by Greg Nog at 8:49 AM on February 16, 2008 [4 favorites]


Metafilter: it's like, give of bunch of lefty college grads a place to post their opinions about different topics, and voila, comedy gold. And of course I should mention the impressive collective intelligence coupled with all the correct social concerns (and the unanimity of voice! the speaking of truth to power!). It just makes me feel so warm inside.
posted by Raoul de Noget at 8:57 AM on February 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


Me too, Greg. Me too.
posted by flippant at 8:58 AM on February 16, 2008


Obligitory
posted by Bookhouse at 8:59 AM on February 16, 2008


There's really no need to be sarcastic...I just happen to quite enjoy it.
posted by Skeptic at 9:17 AM on February 16, 2008


Sarcasm has its place, but the culture of snark is burying empathy, and preparing to dance on the grave.
posted by SaintCynr at 9:24 AM on February 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


"those who can hang with sarcasm are always the most interesting conversation partners at a party"

And those whose conversational repertoire is limited to sarcasm are usually the dreariest conversational partners, especially when they mistake sarcasm for wit.
posted by jason's_planet at 9:29 AM on February 16, 2008 [9 favorites]


Another one here, Greg. That is the bane of my life.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 9:44 AM on February 16, 2008


Greg Nog: "My biggest problem with sarcasm is that when I get really enthusiastic about something, people think I'm denigrating it. This happens a surprising amount, actually."

Yeah, sarcasm had gotten so thick amongst our group of friends that one of us naturally developed a hand gesture that indicated "No, really, I'm actually excited about this". Kind of an anti-wink, I guess. I'm surprised that there isn't a wider spread body-language indicator of sincerity. It's such a useful communication tool in snark-infested waters.
posted by team lowkey at 9:53 AM on February 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


It only took two comments worth of sarcasm on this thread for me to start to get sick of it. Too much sarcasm is extremely annoying.

Sarcasm is not always humor. It can be funny (see Brandon Blatcher's comment), but just the fact that you're saying something you don't believe doesn't make it funny. Personally, I think it's funniest when you start very subtle, so that it's not clear you're joking, and (slowly or suddenly) get more ridiculous until it's obvious to everybody. (Note that offensiveness or inappropriateness may decrease funny, but that aspect of funny seems to depend even more enormously on the target than others.) Not making it obvious isn't inherently unfunny, but no joke is funny to anyone who doesn't get it, and more importantly, it can make you seem like a jackass, or put you in that boy-who-snarked-wolf situation that Greg Nog seems to be in.

Rules of thumb for the socially unchallenged but empathetically myopic (e.g. anyone who calls short people "big guy" or who has to frequently explain to offended people that they're just joking):

If you're the only one who has reason to find it funny, then it will make people think you're a jerk.

If recognizing your sarcasm as such requires that someone already know your true opinion, then you will probably have to explain yourself. And afterwards, people still might think that you're a jerk.

Of course, if you want people to think you're a jerk, then I guess that's fine.

Note, I did not intentionally use sarcasm anywhere in this comment.

Not even in the note I just wrote. Or this one.

See how annoying it can get if you're not clear?

posted by ErWenn at 9:54 AM on February 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


And now I just went and read the article. Should have done that in the first place, I know. They actually seem to agree with me a lot. Not quite what I was expecting.

My current instinct right now is to give the writers more credit, but I realize that doing so just because their conclusions are in line with mine would be silly.
posted by ErWenn at 10:11 AM on February 16, 2008


Anyone who describes themselves, especially as one of their primary attributes (personal ads see this a lot), as "sarcastic," is almost always an unfunny pain to hang around with. It's like they miss the fundamental shift between showing (funny) and telling (not funny).

I dunno. My girlfriend's sister thinks that she's quite the wag, and is instead just tone-deaf and tiresome. Kind of like this article.
posted by klangklangston at 10:46 AM on February 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: it's like, give of bunch of lefty college grads a place to post their opinions about different topics, and voila, comedy gold.

And if I can only master that snarky voice, I too can be one of the in-crowd that I pretend to despise.

(So how did I do? Ooh, I've been favourited! It's working! Just try and keep me away at the next North Carolina meetup. I'll be beating those butter eaters off with a baton!)
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:45 AM on February 16, 2008


There's nothing that can be said sarcastically that can't be said honestly and plainly, with the added benefit that you don't also convey that you are a verbal bully. Perhaps I should be thankful for the contextual overload that snark provides, because it becomes a clear indicator that the speaker is probably not someone I want to hang around.

I do backslide sometimes, and later I often feel ashamed about it and apologize.
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:47 AM on February 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


Yeah, right.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:24 PM on February 16, 2008


It's the lowest form of humor.
posted by parallax7d at 12:48 PM on February 16, 2008


I used to be incredibly sarcastic primarily as a defense mechanism - it was easier to make people laugh, even if at the expense of the person I'm talking to, than to try and explain myself or confront the latest Annoyingly True Fact that my adversary has brought up. As my self-esteem grows (too large), my need for sarcasm wanes, and I admit I miss being able to bite off a casual comment that'll have my friends both wincing and laughing. To think that once (and still) I cherished the casual comment of Queen of Sarcasm or some other such nonsense, hahah. That's not to say I'm not an asshole about my disdain for something when the situation arises, but I'm at least less tactless about it. I would hope. Sarcasm has its place; you can't say it doesn't.
posted by Phire at 12:51 PM on February 16, 2008


Well, this woman has something to say about it.
posted by Holy foxy moxie batman! at 12:53 PM on February 16, 2008


I work with some of the most earnest, sincere, square, socially myopic people I've ever met (religious educators) - sarcasm is my snorkle in a sea of cotton candy. Half the time no-one even knows I'm being sarcastic - so they think that I'm shiny and happy too - win win?
posted by The Light Fantastic at 12:58 PM on February 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


45moore45: half of my UWP crew were some of the most sarcastic people I'd ever known.
posted by divabat at 1:44 PM on February 16, 2008


Team Lowkey--I'd like to know more about your hand gesture. Perhaps it can become standardized?
After that all we need is to get firefox to start recognizing the sarcasm tag and we can finally start getting some clear communication!
posted by agentofselection at 2:04 PM on February 16, 2008


Sarcasm is a tool, and like a sledgehammer, sometimes it can be used for good sometimes it can be quite hurtful. Consider the following two exchanges.

Conversation 1:
"Do I look good in these pants?"
"Oh yeah, as good as any whale I've seen."

Conversation 2 (between two people who are not particularly rich):
"How much money do you make?"
"I do pretty well. Just yesterday I was out shopping for a private island."

In the first instance, the sarcastic comment is just downright hurtful. The problem here is not the sarcasm, it's that the person who'd say something like that is probably an ass. In the second instance, the sarcasm is just a subtle way of saying "mind your own business," and is not hurtful to anyone.

If Wikipedia is to be believed, Dostoyevsky said that sarcasm is "the last refuge of modest and chaste-souled people when the privacy of their soul is coarsely and intrusively invaded."
posted by epimorph at 2:16 PM on February 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


Sarcasm is like trolling IRL.

That said, self-deprecating is always funnier than sniping. Unless the person you snipe is a jackass.
posted by ryoshu at 2:25 PM on February 16, 2008


Oh, and there is a difference between sarcasm and irony, though they tend to be confused. In fact, what we are really talking about is irony and the line where it becomes sarcasm. Sarcasm is generally intended to be cutting, and frequently uses irony. Irony is saying the opposite of what one actually means. I love being a pedant.
posted by Raoul de Noget at 2:28 PM on February 16, 2008


You apparently don't love being a pedant enough to love being a correct pedant.
posted by klangklangston at 2:49 PM on February 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'd rather work with someone sarcastic than some syrupy Up With People positivity zombie.: If that's the only choices, I'll take unemployment, thanks.

Meh, sarcasm is old. Irony and self-deprecation, that's what I would do, if I was smart enough.
posted by b33j at 2:57 PM on February 16, 2008


I'm sorry klangklangston, I was just trying to simplify things. You could always elaborate on irony for us, which I'm sure would be entertaining given that last 'zinger.'
posted by Raoul de Noget at 3:37 PM on February 16, 2008


That article is full of really great advice and insight.
posted by luckypozzo at 4:28 PM on February 16, 2008


The Kids in the Hall had a great skit, "Lonely Sarcastic Guy," about a guy with a permanently sarcastic voice. "I'm not being sarcastic, nooooooooo, this is just a little speech impediment! I can't help it!" "Hey, come back, I really wanna be your friend!" Text, especially the kind of rapidfire commentary on the Internet, can be so tone-deprived that it's entirely too easy to mistake honesty for sarcasm and respond to it negatively. The sparing use of sarcasm would make these sorts of misunderstandings a little easier to recognize.
posted by adipocere at 4:53 PM on February 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'd rather work with someone sarcastic than some syrupy Up With People positivity zombie

Depends on whether the positivity is genuine (and I've met some people who are just genuinely positive, it's like they don't know any other way to be and it can be nice to be around) or some pollyanna who uses Stewart Smalley-type bullshit as a tool of denial that the world is sometimes ridiculous and horrifying and that sometimes nothing can be done about it.

Sarcasm and irony are similar. Some people use it for playful ballbusting or toi make a point or merely to deal with frustration, and that can be a great thing to be around, too. Other's use it an excuse for good old-fashioned cruelty or as a sheild behind which to hide, and that kind of sucks.

So, the sarcasm vs. cheerful thing is a false dichotomy, IMHO.
posted by jonmc at 5:16 PM on February 16, 2008


bookhouse linked to that very skit, adipocere.

i desperately want to post will ferrell's dog training with sarcasm snl skit but i can't find it on youtube. curses.
posted by raevyne at 5:22 PM on February 16, 2008


Ah, sorry, raevyne. My ongoing policy of no longer clicking YouTube links that are without explanation has bitten me in the ass here. I feel really bad about it.
posted by adipocere at 5:28 PM on February 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


Ah, I'm sorry. I now see the error of my terrible sarcastic ways. I thought myself an amusing wag but the scales have been lifted from my eyes; inside, I am an aggressive, insecure thug. I'll stop the very instant I recieve a license to kick people when they are being assholes.
posted by louche mustachio at 6:47 PM on February 16, 2008


Right.
posted by pointilist at 6:57 PM on February 16, 2008


I'd rather work with someone sarcastic than some syrupy Up With People positivity zombie

Depends on whether the positivity is genuine (and I've met some people who are just genuinely positive, it's like they don't know any other way to be and it can be nice to be around) or some pollyanna who uses Stewart Smalley-type bullshit as a tool of denial that the world is sometimes ridiculous and horrifying and that sometimes nothing can be done about it.


That's very insightful, jonmc (and I don't mean that sarcastically).
posted by amyms at 8:37 PM on February 16, 2008


"I'm sorry klangklangston, I was just trying to simplify things. You could always elaborate on irony for us, which I'm sure would be entertaining given that last 'zinger.'"

Oooh, scare quotes! A pedant and a master of sarcasm!

And yet, crippled by the inability to use simple internet tools to correctly limn sarcasm and irony, beholden to another. Truly, sir, your tale would make Sophocles weep.
posted by klangklangston at 9:38 PM on February 16, 2008


I've seen a lot of the fake positivity that Jonmc was referring to, though in a few cases I've discovered that it's not a semiconscious BS denial sort of thing, but rather an intentional mask that some people wear in their workplace that is supposed to help them climb the corporate ladder (with varying effectiveness). Get friendly with them outside of the workplace and they seem just like everybody else (especially with a few beers in them).

Definitely agree on the false dichotomy as well.
posted by ErWenn at 9:42 PM on February 16, 2008


I've seen a lot of the fake positivity that Jonmc was referring to

I'd like to mention that I've met a lot of genuinely positive people, too, so don't think I'm condemning cheerful people. In fact the point of my initial comment was to say that positivity isn't always pollyanna-ish.
posted by jonmc at 10:13 PM on February 16, 2008


"those who can hang with sarcasm are always the most interesting conversation partners at a party"

Given the description of the person who said that, chances are that he defines "most interesting" as "the only ones who don't immediately walk away".
posted by effbot at 1:50 AM on February 17, 2008


I didn't realize how sarcastic I was until I started hanging out with little kids (by that I mean people with little kids) who don't get sarcasm and just look at you funny and turn away when they can't parse your meaning. Those experiences and getting older and (hopefully) a bit better at social interaction have encouraged me to have different gears in my conversation — a more finely controlled mixture of sarcasm and sincerity.
posted by papercake at 5:13 AM on February 17, 2008


Little kids don't get sarcasm? That's news to me.

- Why did you turn the big box of lego upside down in the living room? It's going to take me the whole afternoon to pick all the pieces up.

- Oh, I didn't know the floor was covered with glue.

(Or maybe that's irony. I'm still waiting for Raoul and Klangklang to sort that out for me.)
posted by effbot at 5:29 AM on February 17, 2008


Sarcasm is a crutch for people who aren't actually funny.
posted by availablelight at 6:09 AM on February 17, 2008


...though I admit to laughing at this.
posted by availablelight at 6:11 AM on February 17, 2008


No, really. Straight up saying, "You're being obnoxious, and I'm going to go somewhere else now," and actually doing so, has a remarkable effect. It's like pulling the reigns up; the eyes blink, the mouth disengages, and strange thoughts like "maybe I am being obnoxious" start to surface. Perhaps even some introspection and self evaluation might occur. And, even if they don't, and the person is content with their behaviour... at least you're not listening to them anymore.

Also, plain speaking tends to encourage more plain speaking, leading to clear communication. Something we all need more of.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:28 AM on February 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


God am I ever sick of sarcasm/irony/whatever as a language. It's fine and good when it's good-natured ribbing between friends, which is approximately never. It's the passive-aggressive tool of the insecure who don't have the balls to attack you directly, but still want take you down a peg, but only with the failsafe of "I was only kidding, gosh can't you take a joke?" when called on the carpet for their cowardly bullshit.

Echo what seanmpuckett said, except my version is more along the lines of "Stop being a dick." There was a time I would attempt to play the oneupmanship game with regard to sarcastic barbs, until I realized how many people really weren't joking.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 10:40 AM on February 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


effbot: more like saying "Thanks for turning over the box of legos. I really like picking them up over and over again!" They'll look at you, maybe try to smile, and then quickly leave because you're talking funny.
posted by papercake at 12:30 PM on February 17, 2008


agentofselection: "Team Lowkey--I'd like to know more about your hand gesture."

It's hard to describe, but it came pretty naturally. It was like the opposite of raising the roof, so... lowering the roof, I guess. Hands out in front of your chest, palms down, punctuating your words by pushing downward. I think it evolved into a one-handed gesture, too. The meaning was pretty intuitive. Kind of tamping down the sarcasm.
posted by team lowkey at 12:34 PM on February 17, 2008


Huh, the Kids In The Hall skit seems identical to this one from The Mary Whitehouse Experience: Ray, the man afflicted with a sarcastic tone of voice.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 12:40 PM on February 17, 2008


Since I'm wholely incapable of truly understanding sarcasm in real life, I just speak frankly all the time, and assume everyone else is doing the same thing.

Yeah, I got beat up a lot in high school, why do you ask?
posted by tehloki at 3:25 PM on February 17, 2008


I just speak frankly all the time, and assume everyone else is doing the same thing.

IANAP, but you almost certainly have Asperger's.

Don't worry, though. Heath Ledger's mixture of medications should clear that up for you.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:49 PM on February 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


What a great thread this was.
posted by stinkycheese at 5:45 PM on February 17, 2008


I'm glad that a person of your calibre agrees.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:50 PM on February 17, 2008


*thin smile*
posted by stinkycheese at 8:15 PM on February 17, 2008


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