The Fine Line Between Snark and Humor
Last night I posted a link to this brilliant bit of satire about internet snark. Here’s a taste:
Hey, 2005? Your meme is calling. Get into the weeds. Shorter generic liberal blogger: I’m angry and don’t understand syntax. Teh gay, it burns!… The stupid, it burns. There, fixed. Awesome sauce, the Villagers have held their grand powwow and declared that all the Very Serious People must use Abundant Capital Letters to convey irony. Line of dialogue from The Simpsons during the Clinton era.
That gerund-employing, chain-of-modifiers-involving, consumer-items-invoking, would-be rant directed at middle-class liberals? Meh. Just breathtakingly meh. Worst. Recycled. Gimmick. Ever.
Further useful phrases. Stay classy, concern troll! A smart take on entitlements “reform.” That whole coherence thing? Whatever. Smackdown. Beatdown. At a time when [minor incident involving identity politics] and [another minor incident involving identity politics] and [another minor incident involving identity politics], why behave “reasonably ” regarding [another minor incident involving identity politics that is in no way the responsibility of the person being addressed]?
It is easy to rely on snark as a means of dismissing other viewpoints, I might be guilt of occasionally employing snark as a rhetorical weapon. Yet it can be overused, and writers who use snark as a rhetorical crutch can choke on their own nastiness to the point that it becomes a bore to read them.
As if to demonstrate this point comes this piece from Think Progress titled “We Could End Homelessness With The Money Americans Spend On Christmas Decorations.” The post itself is not intensively snarkish, although substantively its premise is absurd, as aptly demonstrated by Stacy McCain. The comments to the Think Progress piece, on the other hand, are a virtual wasteland of snark. A sampling:
how dare TP open a front in the war on christmas by using christmas as a way to do christian things instead of engaging in celebration!
Hahaha… how dare they indeed. Who do they think they are Fox News!
I wonder which one Jesus would really like for his birthday?
the real Jesus or supply side Jesus?
If those of us who love and admired Jesus just lived and loved Jesus this would be a moot discussion.
To be fair, there are people who left meaningful and more insightful comments. Also, snarkiness is certainly not endemic solely to the left. But look at how those responses basically dehumanize and debase people who might have different viewpoints. They display obvious disdain towards Christians and our supposed hypocrisy for hanging Christmas lights as though we are not also devoting time, talent and treasure to help the homeless. It’s an easy way to demonstrate one’s moral and intellectual superiority without actually addressing the issue.
On the other hand, while snark can be overused, there is a role for humor and light-heartedness in our communications. The flipside of the snarksters are those dour individuals who are under the impression that laughter is a mortal sin. Seriously – there are people who point out the lack of bible passages referring to Jesus laughing as positive proof that he never laughed, and as such neither should we. One wonders what other human activities not attributed to Jesus in the Scriptures these literalists also forgo, but we’ll leave that one to the imagination.
Sure, some topics merit nothing but serious discussion, but the perpetually straight-laced and humorless are frankly tedious. I know Rush Limbaugh is not everyone’s cup of tea, even for those on the right, but one of the primary reasons – if not the primary reason he has been as successful as he has is that he is able to treat political topics with humor. Contrary to popular belief he doesn’t just go on the air and scream into a microphone. And as his show has aged his satire has grown sharper. If Limbaugh just went on the air and day after day just ranted and raved unhumorously, he would not have 20 million listeners. Okay, he might have ten million listeners, but he still wouldn’t be as popular. Similarly, Mark Steyn is able to get away with publishing columns full of doom and gloom because he does so with a sharp wit that prompts the reader to laugh and cry at the same time. Glenn Beck is at his most enjoyable when he’s not going off about Agenda 21 but instead when he’s simply satirizing some bit of liberal sillyness. I think one of the reasons MSNBC is so unwatchable – other than its decided left-wing slant – is that most of the on-air talent lacks that element of light-heartedness and humor.
It’s hard to distinguish between snark and humor, and at times they are in fact indistinguishable concepts. In the end, one can be satirical without necessarily being nasty, a concept obviously foreign to some of the followers of “Think” Progress.