Friday, January 16, 2009

The Artlessness of Snark

By Mitchell

Terry Teachout has a terrific piece on snark. Read the whole thing here, but I particularly liked this quote:

I just don't like snarkiness. It's a cultural trend, I think, driven by the Web, where snarkiness is considered a virtue. It's legitimate to be funny in a review, but there's a certain kind of nastiness that I don't like. Sneering about the serious efforts of a serious artist is not, in my opinion, an appropriate way to respond to things.

Now, I'd extend the definition of "art" to cover serious writing (which, sadly enough, is also a commodity in short supply on the Web). And in doing so, it is clear from some sites out there (many sites) that tolerance for opposite viewpoints is fleeting.

There are a few things about this that bother me. One, of course, is the lack of civility that snarkiness has bred. But just as disturbing is the intellectual shallowness which arises from snark, where namecalling is taken as a substitute for serious discussion.

There's one blogger out there whom I've commented on before, who uses the tag line, "So That No Thought of Mine, No Matter How Stupid, Should Ever Go Unpublished Again!" who then goes on to prove it. What saddens me about this blogger (whose name I will not mention; follow the link if you're interested, and I'll only add that his last name is the same as that of the former home of the New York Mets) is that much of his writing is quite good. He has a profound sense of God, and his prayers are often very well done.

However (and I'll bet you knew that was coming), all this good that he might do he proceeds to undo via snark. He might think of it as humor, but there's no small amout of meanness to it as well (for which, to his credit, he has several times aplogized). He's just one of those guys with whom it is very difficult to conduct a serious conversation, because he makes you so angry, you lose respect for his opinion. And while it's up to us to not let ourselves be provoked in this manner, I think he also has a responsibility to try and avoid acting in that manner in the first place. Through his actions he becomes, quite possibly, the worst advocate possible for his beliefs. And this is a shame; as I mentioned, there's much good in what he writes. But it's hard to get past that because of the tone he uses. I fear he's turning away people who might be helped by what he has to say, but are disgusted by his manner. I might be persuaded by some of his arguments, if they were made by someone else. He could argue, of course, that you don't have to listen to him - you can get the same information from others. But if he is turning people away, how likely are they to pursue further investigation? From an advocacy point, this is somewhat counterproductive, to say the least. Sometimes I think he ought to consider changing his last name to Sneer.

(On a side note, I have to add that bloggers like him are what prompted us to turn this site away from being a full-time religion blog and toward a more general culture blog. Frankly, the tenor in the Catholic blogosphere can be quite, what should we say, un-Catholic. And again, in helping to create this atmosphere, a blogger - no matter how good his intentions, no matter how strong or orthodox the faith - becomes a poor ambassador for his beliefs.)

Oh well. It's not as if we haven't been guilty of this in the past ourselves, and I suspect we will again in the future. But there just has to be some sense of responsibility that goes hand-in-hand with the keyboard, doesn't there?

Doesn't there?

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