Hear, hear, Stephen Marche. Writing in The National Post, Marche takes a swipe at David Denby, the Snark-hunter:
David Denby, a New Yorker film critic, has just released an assault on the bad behaviour of our times, Snark: It’s Mean, It’s Personal and It’s Ruining Our Conversation. It is one of those thin polemical books that tries to excuse the laziness of its argumentation with brevity of presentation. The opening chapter is a contortionist act, defining the term “snarky” to fit Denby’s rather boring and unexceptional tastes. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are not snarky. Penn Jillette is. Obama and friends are not snarky. McCain and friends are. David Letterman is snarky. Lenny Bruce is not. Basically, people Denby dislikes are snarky. People he does like? Those are ironists.
Denby is just another old man who doesn’t like the tone the kids are taking these days. He adds to this blinkered fuddy-duddyism a pathetically old-fashioned morality that would not have been out of place in Edwardian England. The book becomes, quite quickly, a study in David Denby’s aspirational snobbery. Like the American parvenu who arrives at the country estate trying to impress the other guests with an air of haughty entitlement, he shuts the window of the smoking room in a marked manner because the servants’ chatter is disturbing the peregrinations of the port. The efforts only display his clumsiness, however. Real nobility loves the noise of the rabble.
Denby’s defence of politeness boils down to a defence of institutional legitimacy. He disapproves of critics who are not from The New Yorker; he finds them gauche and common. I agree with him that the rise of the blogosphere has produced an explosion of sniping from the sidelines, but the problem with that kind of conversation isn’t tone — it’s method. The insults posted on the comments section of Gawker or any of the other nasty websites tend to be thoughtless because they’re anonymous. Argument reveals a healthy environment of idea development and discussion, and we should be taking shots at each other in public debate; just not cheap shots. No one but obsessive self-Googlers care what’s posted on a random website somewhere. But given that our celebrities are vapid, our bankers bankrupt, our politicians fraudulent, and our watchmen blind to endemic corruption at the core and periphery of all systems both local and global, who can say that we don’t need more attack dogs? Would Bernie Madoff have been such a complete surprise if Spy magazine still existed?
Blinkered fuddy-duddyism a pathetically old-fashioned morality? Yes! I love it!