Columns » Bob Lancaster




This peckerwood I know called me a snark the other day, and not being exactly sure what that was, I didn't know whether to throw down a gauntlet or thank him for the compliment.

Was snark one of those semi-swear words meaning my parents weren't married or my mother was a dog? Was it a way of saying crude body noises escape from my person all too frequently? Was he calling me a DEA snitch?

We don't keep much up-to-date on the pundits' lingo here in Scarlet Neck, so I felt myself momentarily athwart.

I vaguely remembered a Lewis Carroll nonsense character called the snark — the name deriving perhaps from its having both snakelike and sharklike characteristics. Was this imbecile calling me a boojam by another name? Didn't seem likely, given the source.

So I said what I usually say to hecklers: “I've been called worse.” A good all-purpose response. Sometimes an effective squelch. And true, as such recent entries as “guttersnipe,” “bottom-feeder,” and “the Bulwer-Lytton of the lower boonies” sufficiently attest.

A day passed in which I alternated between a sneaking pride at having been outed as a snark and high shame at having been exposed as one. I was rather enjoying the uncertainty of it all, too, but curiosity finally killed the cat. I looked it up and have since given it a considerable mulling.

The on-line dictionary had two defs of snarky, the adjectival form: (1) “crotchety or snappish,” and (2) “sarcastic, impertinent, or irreverent in tone or manner.”

It would be foolish of me to argue against either accusation. You've seen what goes on in this space. But I would like to cop a plea as a victim of coicumstance, as Curly Howard used to say.

How else are you going to treat George W. Bush and Mike Huckabee? You can't do it with substance because substance balks at wasting its time on total dicks. You can't do it as funny because their crap really isn't funny, except in the sense that Job on his ashdump and Ike Snopes poking his cow are funny. Pure fiction is frowned on in this venue. So is verse. So is incoherent ranting and raving in the Ezra Pound manner. Someone did a Nixon opera once but it would need Max Bialystock Jr. to operate such bounders as these.

So what's left but crotchety, unless it's sarcastic, impertinent, or irreverent in tone?

I think I do agree with David Denby, who has written a book on the stuff,  that snark has been the ruination of the public discourse in this day and age. People only care if it's clever anymore, not whether it's accurate or even approximate, much less true. Truth in fact usually only plays the spoiler in a good run of snark. Snarkers may stumble over a piece of truth, but it interests them only insofar as it furthers their only objective, which is to steal attention away from their ostensible subjects. And so we've replaced dialogue with a kind of incessant yipping at one another, like we're all those hateful little bug-eyed dogs. Some more hateful, also more bug-eyed, than others.

But the public discourse's goose was pretty well cooked before this latest onset of snark, it seems to me. Remember when news was “nuggetized” back in the 1980s? Whacking it down to mainly just verbs and exclamation points screwed the discourse far worse than any of these latter-day would-be smartasses.

And for at least 15 years now, it's been quick takes of sleaze and twaddle, and little more. And honest toilers in this vineyard have tried to make up for the meaner scrawnier product by investing it with ever greater affectations of sincerity.

Sincere in this business is about equal parts posturing and merchandising. It's where anybody's and everybody's prospective giving-a-flip goes to die. Even if it's sincere sincerity, nobody on the receiving end wants any part of it.

Sincerity is whence “constructive criticism” springs, and where those who have “the courage of their convictions” abide. It's what those D-G lifestyle columnists unct out all over you, and prompts 14-hour speeches from Fidel Castro, and longer ones from the late Mousey Dong back before he became the rodent's peter.

Sincerity is the putting on of a powdered wig to plead your cause or make your sales pitch. It's giving fervor to your talking points. It's your strut and fret during your hour on the stage, even if the stage is no more than the corner table at Hardee's where the sclerotic oldtimers swill gray coffee and mutter denunciations of modernity that they heard on Der EIB.

I like to think that sincerity has never put forth a single bloom in this space — has never got a word in edgewise here in Assmunch Corner — but I know and you know and the American people know better than that. There are lapses into it every single week, and damn if I can do anything about it. It leaks onto the page and runs like the grease did when the Chickasaws burnt DeSoto's entire porker drove, and I wish it weren't so, but it is.

There's snark too, yes, and maybe the snark is more tolerable in the context as antidote. More music is really what's needed. And jokes. And pet tricks.

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