Thursday, 30 July 2009
I go to websites like failblog.org and TMZ to chuckle at ordinary people doing dumb things and celebrities doing dumb things, respectively. Stephen Colbert’s skewering of bumbling politicians always has me in stitches. And my last two posts for Xanga were titled “Ugly Tattoos: A Gallery” and “The Worst Fads of the 90’s.” Granted, crop tops were pretty regrettable, but that doesn’t explain my slow-burning need to diss stuff.
In today’s age of Internet immersion, snarking is more immediate and more prevalent than ever; all it takes to manufacture pop sarcasm is paparazzi pictures of Heidi Montag, Wordpress and a moderately quick wit. Many of the most popular websites and blogs—Stuff White People Like, FML, College Humor—rake in millions of hits and dollars by dialing up the jabs. And I tune in too: it seems I never miss an opportunity to ridicule, nor to hear someone else get ridiculed. But why is snarking so much fun? And, should it be?
Author David Denby in his recent book Snark lists nine instructions for doing snark correctly: 1. Attack without reason; 2. Appeal to common, trite prejudices; 3. Use media references and old jokes to attack; 4. Assume all negative information to be true; 5.Take no responsibility for accuracy; 6. Caricature everyone; 7. Put celebrities through a cycle of adoration followed by loathing; 8. Attack anything old; 9.Attack overpriced restaurants. You’ll notice a pattern: attack, attack, attack, even if you have no reason to, and always keep it one-sided. Never let the snark mirror shine back on your own foibles.
And here’s why we don’t want it to: ironic detachment makes me feel good because I can keep things at arms’ length. Caring about anything is just not cool, because nothing is really worthy of being called cool. When dates, parents, careers and God have failed us, it’s better to stay bemused on the outside, a nonchalant satellite in orbit, then to dig in where it’s messy. And so we josh on other people’s naiveté, clothing choices and faux pas’s from the anonymous foxhole of our living rooms, safely avoiding any true sentiment.
But that’s, well, the irony. This generation does care a lot about a lot of things. We were deeply mobilized to elect Barack Obama. We are genuinely concerned about environmental policy, human rights issues and faith. So why do we act like we don’t care about things that matter so much less?
The ancients were no strangers to the razor-edged quip. Greek author Lucian sneered at a philosopher’s superficial conversion to Christianity in The Passing of Peregrinus, and Juvenal, turning a wry eye to bread-and-circus-loving Rome, mused, “It is hard not to write satire.”
Even the apostle Paul snuck a zinger or two into his epistles. In 2 Corinthians, when he hears of opponents infiltrating Corinth and preaching heresy, Paul snidely christens them the “super-apostles.” Today we might call them his frenemies.
But for the most part, when Paul got ticked off, he didn’t post about it to FML or make a graphic tee about it. He got right to the point directly with his target: “Foolish Galatians!” “Men of Athens!” “I am talking to you, Gentiles.” Even in 2 Corinthians, he goes on from labeling his opponents to demonstrate that he is superior to them in terms of miracle working and sufferings for the gospel. Conflict for Paul demands assertive work on behalf of both parties.
Paul’s method for handling attitudes rings relevant for us today. Philippians highlights the overturning of ego: “In humility, consider others better than yourselves.” Humility does not include me deriding someone as a “wannabe hipster” because I feel insecure in my own ability to pull off neon Ray-Bans. It means I shouldn’t derive a superiority complex from someone calling Lady Gaga’s outfits “fugly.”And if I were truly approaching reality TV stars in humility, I wouldn’t laugh at their antics but feel sorry for their exploiting on national television.
After all, isn’t snarking really just a more articulate form of gossip? Talking about people on a website or in an idle work conversation is still talking about them behind their backs. We might all do well to take our finger off the mouse button, zip our lips and, as the adage goes, if we can’t say anything nice, don’t blog anything at all.