Thursday, April 16, 2009

On Snark, Wit

Taking off from the Facebook post below, where I mentioned that the site had connected me with some people I'd lost touch with that I really missed, I'll now direct your attention to the writing of one such person, Lori Kozlowski. Someday, when we've all become ragingly successful and/or won the lottery and I have time to organize my own Algonquin roundtable, she's SO going to need to take a seat.

Among her recent pieces for the LAT, this Q&A with David Denby on his book on snark. I haven't read the book, but the interview gives a good overview of his ideas on snark and why it is evvvvil. Maureen Dowd, also evil. Or at least, bad of the discourse.

Among the comments that struck me: "snark is not original. It is essentially parasitic and lazy."

And how!

[LAT, initially quoting from the book]: “Snark is the expression of the alienated, of the ambitious, of the dispossessed.” Is everyone who is snarky in need of love or medication or both, or is it something else?

Denby: In need of more success. Success usually makes people relax a little bit.

[He paused and then gave this example of how snarkers can become what they pretend to hate: There is a bit of envy involved. For instance, he said, people who work for Gawker and snark at the mainstream media take a job in the mainstream media as soon as a position opens up.]
This has been my point for so very long . . . God knows I both employ snark (along with other, slightly more elevated forms of humor. At least, I hope they are elevated) and attack the dreary MSM frequently - but by that same God I would welcome an NYT profile even though none is warranted because with an NYT profile or job offer comes a book deal. And an option. And freedom. And celebrity in the ominous way that Lily Allen sings about of late.

Here, read this part too:

JC[LAT]: You lay out nine Principles of Snark. Which of these is the worst? Which is most personally offensive to you?

Denby: No. 5. Total disregard of routine journalism. No phone calls, no checking things out. Journalism should try not to slander people.

The other one, No. 3. The trashiness of the jokes. The laziness. Just grabbing something off the rotting heap.

JC: Moving forward into the wild media landscape, how do you suggest we do better as Americans? How can we tame the writerly behavior on the Internet?

Denby: There are a lot of people who are sick of the way people drop in with their little bombs and insults. You need moderators — referees and editors who apply rules. We shouldn’t sober up. I love satire. But we should toughen up. Let’s apply writing standards to what we are saying.

JC: Let’s talk about Maureen Dowd (pictured, left). You devote an entire chapter to her. You call her the most “gifted writer of snark in the country.” Is she adding to our national conversation or just ruining everyone’s day?

Denby: She’s brilliant. She can be very funny. But she’s completely irresponsible. If she can make any joke about any way you are vulnerable, she will do it. She played Hillary and Obama off each other.… She gets things wrong a lot of the time because she is trying to find a point of attack.
See kids, Dowd is funny, but she's bad for you! You think she's good in a Jon Stewart kind of way, but she's snark and he's irony, wit, truth, and only a sprinkling of snark. Not snark-as-M.O.

Now I need this book. Please feel free to send it to me, faithful readers. Wait, damn, I don't have anymore.

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