I just finished reading Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator by Ryan Holiday, and his thoughts on snark seemed dead on to me.
“To be called a douche is to be branded with all the characteristics of what society deigns to hate but can’t define. It’s a way to dismiss someone entirely without doing any of the work or providing any of the reasons. It says, You are a fool, and everyone thinks it. It is the ultimate insult, because it deprives the recipient of the credentials of being taken seriously.
Roger Ebert calls snarking “cultural vandalism.” He’s right. Snark makes culture impossible, or rather, it makes the conditions that make culture possible impossible. Earnestness, honesty, vulnerability: These are the targets of snark. “Snark functions as a device to punish human spontaneity, eccentricity, nonconformity, and simple error. Everyone is being snarked into line,” he wrote.
If controversial ideas are the victims of snark, who benefits from it? Who doesn’t mind snark? Who likes it? The answer is obvious: People with nothing to lose. People who need to be talked about, like attention-hungry reality stars. There is nothing that you could say that would hurt the cast of Jersey Shore. They need you to talk about them, to insult them, and to make fun of them is to do that. They have no reputation to ruin, only notoriety to gain.*
So the people who thrive under snark are exactly those who we wish would go away, and the people we value most as cultural contributors lurk in the back of the room, hoping not to get noticed and hurt. Everything in-between may as well not exist. Snark encourages the fakeness and stupidity it is supposedly trying to rail against.”
I’ll be a bit more thoughtful and constructive in discussing ideas and people in the future.