Snark is what you make of it

Alan Jacobs reviews himself reviewing Adam Sternbergh reviewing David Denby’s Snark.

But all that said, I want to go back to the point that this is a useless argument. Here’s my prediction: not one person in a thousand is going to be confronted with a statement whose core idea they agree with and say, Yep, that’s too snarky. They’ll either say along with Sternbergh that that’s good snark or (what amounts to the same thing) they’ll say it’s not snark at all but rather legitimate irony or sarcasm which the target of the criticism richly deserves. When faced with actual examples of critical language, almost everyone will approve of that critical languge if it’s directed against their (political, social, artistic, religious) enemies and disapprove of it if it’s directed against something or someone they approve of. Democrats will lament Republican snark, Republicans will lament Democratic snark, world without end. Why even bother having this conversation?

I’ll confine myself to this one statement: whether snark is ever a good thing or not depends on what you want to achieve. If you want to buld solidarity among people who already share a set of core convictions, or if you just want to blow off your own built-up steam, then snark might be a good thing. If you want to find ways to get people who disagree with each other to come to some mutual understanding, and perhaps even agreement . . . not so much.

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