Ebert (and me) on Snarking

March 11, 2009 at 9:35 am | Posted in Rants | Leave a comment


Roger Ebert:Hunt not the Snark but the Snarker

Snarking has been part of the air we breathe for a long time. It is said to have entered American pop culture in the 1950s, with Mad magazine, Stan Freberg, and so on. Not at all. They were practitioners of the honorable art of Satire. They exaggerated traits rather than punishing them. There was affection involved.

When it comes to “practitioners of the honorable art of Satire”, I hope that Roger Ebert does not forget to add himself to that list. When a snark is to be made, the chorus of bitter critics is muffled by Ebert’s often affectionate criticisms. His satire is not so much a rapier through the gullet as it is a fraternal punch on the shoulder, as if to say “you’ll get ’em next time”.

For Ebert, snark and sarcasm are garnish, rather than the main course.

What concerns me is that snark functions as a device to punish human spontaneity, eccentricity, non-conformity and simple error. Everyone is being snarked into line. All celebrities are under unremitting scrutiny. How dare Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, or Mia Farrow before them, adopt more than one Third World baby? Do they have nothing better to do with their money?

See? Ebert is making a snarky comment about snarking itself. From a less talented satirist, this might come off as “Leave _____ alone! I’m SERIOUS!”, but Ebert uses his well honed snark-powers as part of his argument, not as the whole thing.

Ebert continues, “Snarking seems to be moving beyond specific occasions and becoming a deliberately chosen posture.”

Exactly! I am tired of faux-counter culturalists and snobbish anti-pop culture types. I have no great love for celebrity/reality show culture myself, but snarking for the sake of snarking is just as shallow and ultimately soul-draining.

Snarking is cultural vandalism. I have arrived at this conclusion belatedly. I have been guilty of snarking, and of enjoying snarks. In the matter of snarking, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But it has grown entirely out of hand. It is time to put away childish things.

Just to be clear, neither Ebert nor I (as if we’re buddies) are suggesting that snark be given up entirely or that it’s necessarily a bad thing devoid of context. I for one am just saying that I could go for a little more substance and a little less style. Less sizzle and more more stir fry if you will.

And if you’re going to snark, then for God’s sake, at least be good at it.

Thank for the tip-off Sullivan.

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