A brilliant analysis for our times from Tom Scocca at Gawker. I'm serious.
But why are nastiness and snideness taken to be features of our age? One general point of agreement, in denunciations of snark, is that snark is reactive. It is a kind of response. Yet to what is it responding? Of what is it contemptuous?
If you listen to the crusaders against negativity—in literature, in journalism, in politics, in commerce—you begin to hear a recurring set of themes and attitudes, amounting to an omnipresent, unnamed cultural force. The words flung outward start to define a sort of unarticulated philosophy, one that has largely avoided being recognized and defined.
Without identifying and comprehending what they have in common, we have a dangerously incomplete understanding of the conditions we are living under.
Over the past year or two, on the way to writing this essay, I've accumulated dozens of emails and IM conversations from friends and colleagues. They send links to articles, essays, Tumblr posts, online comments, tweets—the shared attitude transcending any platform or format or subject matter.
What is this defining feature of our times? What is snark reacting to?
It is reacting to smarm.
What is smarm, exactly? Smarm is a kind of performance—an assumption of the forms of seriousness, of virtue, of constructiveness, without the substance. Smarm is concerned with appropriateness and with tone. Smarm disapproves.
Malcolm Gladwell's riposte is, well, what it should be.