Monday, March 9, 2009
Forgive Me Lord, For I Have Snarked
Last week, Roger Ebert used his very popular personal blog as a confessional, where he repented... for being snarky.
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. I must restore my balance, view the world in a fair way, hope to inspire more appreciation than ridicule. No doubt there will always be a role for snarking, given the proper target and an appropriate venue, and I reserve the right to snark when it is deserved, as in certain movie reviews. But in general I must become more well-behaved.
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.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?
I feel the need to note that Roger Ebert mainly uses his blog to say nice things; as snarky websites go, it's practically the anti-Gawker. Still, I enjoy seeing someone hold the internet to a standard of higher morality. Is being mean online as much of a sin as being mean in person? Even if it's funny? Does snark keep the bourgeoisie in check (stay humble, Angelina!), and does it do so at the expense of discouraging our celebrities -- and by extension, us -- from being risk-takers?
To me, it seems that snarkiness is linked to pettiness: it is the art of being mean for no good reason. This is markedly different, I think, from satire, which is one of the most effective ways of critiquing something that's fundamentally screwy (and I am proud to live in an age where satire is a valued form of political debate). Could it be said that satire is, in fact, moral comedy, and snark is its lesser cousin?
Which is not to say snark doesn't have its uses; a good sarcastic insult is an attack tool, focusing the writer's anger and rallying readers. It vents frustration. I've done it. Maybe you have too. But at what cost?
Perhaps Ebert should take this whole thing one step further and set up an actual online confessional, where we can cleanse ourselves of the sins accrued in the heat of blogging...