October 22, 2013

Look, I know Oct. 22 was supposed to be Snark-Free Day, but I just saw the video from PR Consultants promoting Snark-Free Day, and that day has to be over right now.

I don’t want to pick apart this video too much, but having been on the receiving end of plenty of online comments, I can say that most of this is not exactly prime snark.

“Are you daft?”
“Drinking already?”
“Have you taken several sharp blows to the head?”
“What do you know anyway?”

I don’t know what this is. If you bought it from your snark supplier, I would take it back and try to get a refund, but I suspect that your snark dealer has relocated after passing off these subpar goods.

In general, do not declare Snark-Free Day. The day begs the question. Do not declare Snark-Free Day unless you have run out of snark, things around the house are getting desperate and you want battalions of snarky strangers to come deposit their loads on your doorstep. This is like declaring Don’t Put Your Goat On The Copier Day at work. We all know how this ends. This is as silly as — as declaring a Snark-Free Day on the Internet.

Look, I get it. The Internet has turned the entire world into Those Kids At The Back Of The Classroom Smoking And Passing Snide Remarks. Even the kids at the front of the class are making snide remarks. That’s the only way we are allowed to talk. (Except at Thought Catalog, where they have some sort of exemption, as long as you stay on the grounds.) You can’t be earnest about anything. You might get caught. You might look silly. If anyone catches you being earnest, or thinks he has, you’re doomed. The only way out is to insist that you are never in earnest so the joke will be on him.

Maybe this is a little sad. But the way to fix it is not to ride bravely out telling everyone to Just Be Serious For A Second. If you deny us snark, we are going to be forced to resort to off-brand snark, the verbal equivalent of bathtub gin: sarcasm, ad hominem arguments, saying things in a mean voice, ending our statements with … NOT!, or just straight-up telling you that we think your idea is stupid.

Dorothy Parker said “Wit has some truth in it; wisecracking is simply calisthenics with words.” I feel something similar with snark. Its definitions, on Urban Dictionary alone, are many and variable, from a poor soul who is trying to make “snark” the shark-snake hybrid happen (it’s not going to happen) to the people who insist that it is “verbal ingenuineness that is brief, subtle, yet quite stabbing. snark is often marked by deep creativity & use of psychological attack. It employs coldbloodedness and is best served unprovoked. Snark can contain hidden complimentary meaning under a mean face, but it hurts more than it strengthens.” This is overstating it a little.

How you feel about snark on a given day generally hinges on whether the pointed end is facing towards you or away from you. That’s why a general ban on snark seems so strange. Snark can be just snide remarks, aimed indiscriminately. “Thanks, Captain Obvious! I wouldn’t expect you to understand! Wow, that’s a new low, even for you! Hush now and let the adults work!” (Although I wouldn’t recommend any of those.)

But sometimes, snark makes perfect sense. It’s a means, not an end. It’s cruel and petty or helpfully deflationary depending how you use it.

And trying earnestly to get people to stop snarking has never worked, not even in Shakespeare. “Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, that there will be no more cakes and ale?” Toby Belch asks Malvolio, when the latter tries to get him to stop drinking and snarking all day long.

Nope. What are you, daft?*

*Again, really not sure this is good snark.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.