And if you want to call that snark, that's okay with me.
David Denby is one of those nonfiction authors I keep trying, even though I've never, ever read anything of his that made me say, "Yeah, that's right!" He's a film critic for The New Yorker magazine, which goes a long way toward explaining why I never really find anything I like reading in The New Yorker.
His latest book is titled Snark: It's Mean, It's Personal, and It's Ruining Our Conversation. Denby spends 128 pages describing what he thinks is and isn't snark, which he defines as "a strain of nasty, knowing abuse spreading like pinkeye through the national conversation--a tone of snarking insult provoked and encouraged by the new hybrid world of print, television, radio, and the Internet." Of course that's not all there is to it; he goes on for some time describing what snark ISN'T (it's not Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert; it's not Internet "trolls," it's not irreverence or spoof.)
I'd like to offer a better overview of Denby's premise, but I think the major weakness of his work is that he never really gets around to explaining it himself. Instead he gets all sanctimonious, at the end of his first chapter:
"We are in a shaky moment, a moment of transition, and I think it's reasonable to ask: What are we doing to ourselves? What kind of journalistic culture do we want?...Journalism is a vast sea of good and bad, but surely some demands can be made, and the distinction between toughness and cynicism, incisiveness and fatuous sarcasm, satire and free-floating cruelty--these are differences worth fighting for in any medium."
Whatever, Mr. Denby. Methinks someone sniffed a market for erudite earnestness (also known as the same people who purchased Harry Frankfurt's dreadfully dull but creatively titled books On Bullshit and On Truth) and decided to exploit it for all it was worth. I expected no less of the man who wrote Great Books, one of the few boring books about books I've ever read, a compilation of his not-so-fascinating remarks on the great books of Western civilization, and American Sucker, about his adventures losing money in the stock market he wasn't smart enough to exploit before the dot-com bubble burst.* I don't care if you need the money, Mr. Denby, but for once would you consider selling out by writing an interesting book?
Yes, this is all very snarky. And I'm doing it on the Internet, on one of those disgusting snarky little blogs. So be it. Not all of us can luck onto film reviewing gigs because we were disciples of Pauline Kael.
*I probably shouldn't be so mean about this. He got into the stock market because he was going through a messy divorce and wanted to make enough money to be able to buy his wife's half of their New York apartment so he could stay in it.