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What is snark? You recognize it when you see it -- a tone of teasing, snide, undermining abuse, nasty and knowing, that is spreading like pinkeye through the media and threatening to take over how Americans converse with each other and what they can count on as true. Snark attempts to steal someone's mojo, erase her cool, annihilate her effectiveness. In this sharp and witty polemic, New Yorker critic and bestselling author David Denby takes on the snarkers, naming the nine principles of snark -- the standard techniques its practitioners use to poison their arrows. Snarkers like to think they are deploying wit, but mostly they are exposing the seethe and snarl of an unhappy country, releasing bad feeling but little laughter.
In this highly entertaining essay, Denby traces the history of snark through the ages, starting with its invention as personal insult in the drinking clubs of ancient Athens, tracking its development all the way to the age of the Internet, where it has become the sole purpose and style of many media, political, and celebrity Web sites. Snark releases the anguish of the dispossessed, envious, and frightened; it flows when a dying class of the powerful struggles to keep the barbarians outside the gates, or, alternately, when those outsiders want to take over the halls of the powerful and expel the office-holders. Snark was behind the London-based magazine Private Eye, launched amid the dying embers of the British empire in 1961; it was also central to the career-hungry, New York-based magazine Spy. It has flourished over the years in the works of everyone from the startling Roman poet Juvenal to Alexander Pope to Tom Wolfe to a million commenters snarling at other people behind handles. Thanks to the grand dame of snark, it has a prominent place twice a week on the opinion page of the New York Times.
Denby has fun snarking the snarkers, expelling the bums and promoting the true wits, but he is also making a serious point: the Internet has put snark on steroids. In politics, snark means the lowest, most insinuating and insulting side can win. For the young, a savage piece of gossip could ruin a reputation and possibly a future career. And for all of us, snark just sucks the humor out of life. Denby defends the right of any of us to be cruel, but shows us how the real pros pull it off. Snark, he says, is for the amateurs.
- Just so I understand...
...Snark is a detrimental philosophical outlook because it viciously attacks without reason. Writing books about snark however, where the author attacks only those with whom he disagrees, is an honest, noble calling? How is using a narrow personal interpretation of the world, while utterly ignoring the relative merits of a person's argument, a just cause?
This waste of paper would be illogical enough if he only set up the battle lines between liberal and conservative, an already idiotic delineation. But attacking fellow liberals for supposedly attacking other liberals? Brilliant.
With the fundamental concept of the book being such a shocking failure, it's just nitpicking to mention the mountains of simple factual errors. But, god forbid a member of the mainstream media bother with simple fact checking.
Wait, was that snarky?...more info
- Ultimately Unsatisfying
I was eager to dig into SNARK, as the topic our social and political dialogue being hijacked by a tone of knowing, jeering, and opportunistic quasi-humor is of great interest to me. I expected that SNARK would lay out a groundwork for what constitutes snarkiness, how is has affected our political discourse, why it is unhelpful and damaging, and then present possible solutions to the problem. Sadly, while SNARK is filled with examples of Snakines, a mock historical narrative of it's roots in ancient Greece and Rome, and a very interesting discussion of the 'media culture' of today's youth, the book lacked the intellectual rigor and cohesiveness that would have made it truly compelling.
"Snark, by its very nature, is philistine; it will never honor the artistically and intellectually ambitious, who see the world as a field of ravishing possibilities or as tragedy."
Denby defines snark in various ways throughout the book, but the above quote sums up his most important point: that discourse, (any discourse, be it political, the arts, historical, etc.) stripped of humanness, stripped of the ability to 'stand in the other man's shoes' becomes trivial, mean spirited, and adds nothing to the discussion. Sadly, most of the books is devoted to ferreting out the many permutations of snark, not addressing this important observation. Denby seems happy to define (and endlessly re-define) snark, but not delve into the ultimate sociological and political consequences of leaving it totally unchecked.
Denby is very aware of how the internet and non-print mediums have served to fan that flames of snarkiness:
"Anonymity frees us to attack whites, blacks, Muslims, men, women, gays, birders, arachnophobes, philatelists--frees us in a way that would be impossible in the office, at a cocktail party, in a bar, or in a schoolyard."
The rise of what he describes as 'Little Brother'--our neighbors, friends, enemies, literally anyone with a cell phone camera, all able to document and disperse unflattering photos, videos, sound files, etc. of anyone across the web, is frightening to those of us who value our privacy. However, he fails to really incorporate these observations with any coherent main argument. Like the book, broken into 8 chapters each on various topics some of which are only loosely interrelated, Denby fails to provide a single, united argument that pulls the various strains of the book together into a purposeful whole. In this regard the book reminded me of The Lexus and the Olive Tree which was equally full of interesting observations but unable to deliver a single, defining argument or narrative.
Denby does sum up most of what takes place on the internet quit succinctly:
"At a higher level, attack-without-reason works by separating distaste from argument. Nothing needs to be demonstrated or argued. Just attack."
Virtually 80% of all reviews on political books from either a conservative or liberal perspective fall into this category. In fact, Amazon is a breeding ground these days for the sort of short sighted, angry, and uninformed hack job criticisms that plague books like GUILTY, SNARK, or anything written from a political perspective that one side or the other takes offense at. The validity of arguments becomes unimportant. Ann Coulter is "mean," therefore she is wrong. Danby "has a liberal bias," therefore his book is worthless. This sort of childishness is at the heart of what is killing our country's ability to have a civil conversation about politics.
"The trouble with today's snarky pipsqueaks who break off a sentence or two, or who write a couple of mean paragraphs, is that they don't go far enough; they don't have a coherent view of life. Spinning around in the media from moment to moment, they don't stand for anything, push for anything; they're more opportunists without dedication, and they don't win any victories."
The objectivity of this statement is easy to question, given Danby's personal disregard toward political fairness in SNARK. He is more concerned in making small points (pointing out the silliness of those representing Obama as a Muslim America hater, highlighting GWB's personality quirks) than in driving home a larger one. He seems happy enough to scribble a few paragraphs ripping this politician or that one, without really demonstrating any commitment to furthering an authentic, bipartisan conversation. I felt he was at times baldfacedly disingenuous, and while he makes a series of valid points, never does he tie them into an argument that can or will change anything in our national conversation.
Ultimately, as an entertaining dip into the darker realms of journalistic avarice, the book succeeds. As an argument against snark, or a prescription for repairing the fractured and disjointed political dialogue of our great nation, the book fails. Worth reading for it's more salient moments, it is a book that has little to no power to impact the reality of our political landscape. SNARK could and should have been so much more than it is: a book that is LESS than the sum total of its parts.
A short note to those roasting this book with 1 star reviews:
I agree that Denby is partisan, and gives far more examples of conservative/republican snark than liberal/democrat snark. I agree that his viewpoint is obviously controlled by his own views, and sadly those views are easy to identify given his willingness to be as partisan as he is. However, I don't think this is a 1 star book any more than Guilty by Ann Coulter is a 1 star book. Igniting a flame war over Denby's political leanings completely ignores the valid arguments that he has to offer. I feel this is one of those books where you have to eat the meat and leave the bones. ...more info
- I know why it has such crappy ratings!
People who are snarky are just full of themselves enough to pick this up and flash it's yellow cover around as a beacon to other snarks. But beware if it is solidarity in your exclusionary practice of being a social jackass that you seek in this book! You won't find it here. You'll find what you already know, deep down inside: snark is another version of being unhappy masquerading as being above it all.
Snarky people hate being told the truth about their favorite peccadillo, and are also the most likely to pull this one off the shelf and write reviews about it. Hence the unseemly low rating right now. More non-snarks should get their hands on it, though. I really enjoyed it. ...more info
- lazy thoughts dreary book
A poorly researched essay lamenting insensitivity of comic / satirical work mostly about political events in USA.A tired and grumpy survey of
already forgotten journalism.
- Snark is a welcome and fascinating analysis
David Denby's "Snark" provides a thorough and welcome analysis of a phenomenon coursing through the media. Denby does not "go gentle into that good night" -- he protests, objects, and deconstructs the nature of meanness in cultural conversation in an enjoyable and thought-provoking book. In our radio interview yesterday on WPKN, he spoke of the gratuitous insults becoming more and more ubiquitous on the internet; often planted anonymously. He wants to preserve satire, spoof, and sarcasm -- just not the unbalanced and casual barbs that have no substantive benefit to anyone....more info
- Empty fodder
Frankly, I wish I'd never bothered to buy this book. There's not much to it, and the lack of proper editing is an insult to the reader. I think the author should be quite ashamed of having written this book....more info
- Great concept for a book, but poor follow through in every way
Although author David Denby has a decent writer's voice and is a capable researcher, the entire book "Snark" falls apart because of one gigantic fatal flaw - the author's inability to keep from contradicting himself constantly.
Denby continually changes not only his definition of snark, but his thesis as to why it is harmful as well. He will give an example of snark, only to come back later and give an example of someone being even meaner or far more spite-filled,only to say, "But that wasn't snark." He gives no clear guidelines, definitions, or firm description of what seperates snark from say, sarcasm, jibes, jest, catty comments or any of a dozen other types of putdowns. Because snark is never given a clear defintion or set of criteria for what it is, the book merely becomes a collection of conjecture and opinions with no real depth and thus the reader comes away having learned nothing that can be put to use.
In truth, "Snark" feels hypocritical because Denby seems to be attacking people for being snark, with either a lack of realization that he too is being snarky in his attacks, or it's a lovely piece of intended irony. Either way, it again defeats the purpose of a professionally written discourse on the subject leaving me unable to recommend the book to others. ...more info
- A Fascinating Case Study In Cluelessness
This book is worth reading only - repeat only -- as a example of a reviewer/commentator who completely misunderstands his subject matter; utterly fails the basics of research/fact checking; and mistakes his own ignorance of modern society for legitimate issues.
A much more interesting book would be something along the lines of "Why Denby Failed: Intellectual Pretense and The Decline of Criticism."
But the bottom line remains the same: Don't waste your money on this book....more info
- From Juvenal to Jon Stewart
As soon as I started to read this essay (Mr. Denby rightly calls this work an essay, rather than a book), I got his message, agreed with it and then halted. Why write an essay about how nasty we are in our ugly attacks on people, without logic or truth our hysterics? I watched the election; I know what this is all about. I see schoolgirls and water cooler denizens. It takes only a couple of pages to make the point. But why should I read it? Mr. Denby is usually lurking in the back of the New Yorker, reviewing movies. The people who ought to cut out acting like this will not read this essay and would not change if they did.
I knew that Snarkers would immediately attack this book. They cannot help themselves. So pity them and go forward.
Then I noticed he has organized the essay as a polemic in seven "fits". That was it. He had me. And on we went. He starts each chapter with an abstract of where he is going next. This sort of thing goes on in early English novels where a small, differently formatted paragraph hooks you into continuing. "Where our intrepid hero defeats the enemy army and enters the city only to meet a more deadly threat -- that kind of thing.
While Mr. Denby pursues his agenda against the Snarks among us, he demonstrates the opposite of what those condescending lowlifes do to soil our society. He gives us an essay of argument and style, fact and grace. He takes us, along the Seven Hills of Rant, to many curious places through cultural history from Classical Greece to Comedy Central.
He takes us to the shrines of satire and irony as if to show in the greats everything the Snark can only hope to do, and why the Snark ultimately fails and fades. Mr. Denby ranges around all the forms and devices available to those of strong wit and purpose and why they work so well, enduring so long.
Juvenal is revisited, the first time since school for me. But now I could reread Juvenal with a new appreciation. Classics are not paraded in front of us to pretend to legitimacy and sophistication. Far from it, these old Gheezers were plenty raw and cutting. If anything, it was the translators who shrank from full strength renderings. Denby gives us the cook's tour of the really good stuff. Now you know why the dull bluster of the TV pseudo analysts and fake reporters are never really memorable.
Mr. Denby even takes on Tom Wolf, and takes him to the mat -- a feat I have never seen. I have enjoyed Mr. Wolfe antics for decades (and still do, in a slightly different light now). But the new David slays his Goliath; my jaw dropped open like a Philistine's. He adds insult to injury by being quite fair to Mr. Wolfe. I did feel a bit better when catching our new David in an error. He says Wolfe invariably wore a white suit. Wrong; I have seen him in pale yellow.
A dark chill comes through when he remembers Will Rogers of seventy-five years ago: "We are the first nation in the history of the world to go to the poorhouse in an automobile. ... We are the first nation to starve to death in a storehouse that's overfilled with everything we want."...more info
- A much-needed skewering of snark
Wander the internet, and you'll find what happens when ordinary people, given anonymity and an audience, say and do things they would never say or do in person. Much of what falls under the heading of snark these days is included in some of the more regrettable manifestations thereof.
David Denby does a lovely job of exploring the history and function of snark; this adds a good deal of context to the modern phenomenon, and why so much of it falls short of being *good* snark. He also takes pains to differentiate it from similar forms of humor, such as satire and sarcasm. Snark is given its own category and descriptors, and I ended up with a much better understanding of it.
Denby doesn't entirely denounce snark. There is a time and a place for it--but it has to be well-executed. His explorations of the principles of snark help bring modern shortcomings into sharp focus. Additionally, he draws on examples of journalists and others who have either done it well--or haven't. (You may be surprised at some of his assessments!)...more info
- Laughably uninformed and pointless
David Denby futilely attempts to define 'snark' and its corrosive effect on U.S. culture, but the New Yorker critic can barely muster a succinct definition of the term without contradicting himself. If you were looking for perspective from a 'public intellectual' in the vein of Susan Sontag's 'Notes on Camp,' you will be disappointed. Denby posits that anyone who does not espouse his political opinions is somehow guilty of snarkinees. So, he's basically a cramped and frustrated spokesman for the Democratic Party. And I'm fully aware that I'm snarky....more info
It's been decades since I needed to draw on reserves of patience to get through a 144-page book. It took all the patience I had to finish reading David Denby's brief book, Snark. Denby writes film criticism for The New Yorker, and in Snark, he uses clever writing to try to define and crush what he sees as increasing tendency from many quarters to turn wit, vituperation and invective into a form of verbal abuse that he views as witless and uncivilized, called snark. He tries to use examples of wit that works and snark that doesn't, and verbal cruelty that succeeds, and verbal abuse that falls flat. We can be nasty in better ways, according to Denby. If you care, give Snark a try.
Rating: Two-star (Mildly Recommended)
- This is how your teens talk to each other!
Mr. Denby's book is a reference to the rudness and "put downs" that we as a society have accepted.
A tone of teasing, snide, undermining abuse, nasty and knowing, that is spreading like pinkeye through the media and threatening to take over how Americans converse with each other and what they can count on as true. So, the public feels that if someone talks with these mannerisms than it must be true! Snark attempts to steal someone's mojo, erase their cool, annihilate anyones effectiveness.
Thanks to the grand dame of snark, it has a prominent place twice a week on the opinion page of the New York Times. Sorry, I have read her articles and they just seem to insult and have very little basis or theory to them. Opinion is that and our constiution supports her right to speak her mind. But, the rest of us don't have to listen to her after the first time around or continue our subscription.
Mr. Denby's point is that with the internet (ex. myspace, facebook etc.) language and how we interface with others is important! How we talk or express ourselves is also being viewed by our next generation and they are pushing the limits even further. Sex-texting by teens is a example of what can bite you when you are 35 and go for that job interview and the interviewer says, "aren't you the guy who went to jail for sex texting his girlfriend?"
In politics, snark means the lowest, most insinuating and insulting side can win. For the young, a savage piece of gossip could ruin a reputation and possibly a future career. And for all of us, snark just sucks the humor out of life.
Denby is right in my opinion on how this type of language just sucks the enjoyment or manners out of life. I have a ex-husband who practices this type of behavior still after being divorced for over 5 years.
When I meet a teen or young adult who talks to others in this way, I realize that there is a difference between criticism and Snark. Snark is just down right rude and degrading someone else to make yourself feel better. Ohh, now that is a person who I would like to spend time with!
The con of Denby's book is that it seems to be jumbled at points and he even has admitted during his interview with Charlie Rose, that it was written in a very short time period, due to his concern over how it was effecting the conversation in america during the election.
Just my opinion,
Novato, Ca...more info
This is a tough book to get into. Denby pulls in historical development and anecdotes of snark and strings these together into a book that doesn't seem to go anywhere. I probably will not be interested enough to finish the book....more info
- I think I know why this was written.
After reading this (mercifully) short book, I'm reasonably sure that Mr. Denby was hoping to illicit snarky commentary from reviewers to prove his point.
It doesn't take long at all to see that Snark is a book aimed squarely at the NPR demographic. While I don't consider myself a member, even as an outsider looking in, Snark is a mess.
One might think that David Denby took a day or two to compile examples of snark and provide them as a compendium. Frankly, I think that may be giving him too much credit. The end result is little more than rambling about societal changes and quasi-political pot shots.
Should you happen to completely share the author's worldview, there is no doubt that this book will help you feel good about yourself. Beyond that, I can't think of a reason any other person would want to read this....more info
- A Little Research Goes a long way
Can't tell difference between website with feminine name and it's male writers. Confuses "snark" with "disagreement". Desperately needs clue. Doesn't mention Truck Nutz enough....more info
What do you get when you combine Karl Rove's respect for the truth with John McCain's understanding of the internet? Well, that's clearly what David Denby aspired to, but he falls short. Poorly conceived, pedantically written and shoddily "researched," this turd is too insubstantial even to serve as a serviceable doorstop....more info
- An interesting mess
I agree with other reviewers that this book is a mess. At 121 pages, one would think an editor could have easily helped, but it appears that editing is becoming another lost art.
Denby rambles, rages, and contradicts himself frequently. Yet,unlike other reviewers, I enjoyed every page.
I agree with the book's premise (though, at times, Denby doesn't seem to agree with himself). Because of this, I could put up with this short book's many flaws.
And yes, Denby is an elitist. He seems to find "snark" perfectly fine when practiced by those with enough credentials (or an English accent). Honestly, I had to laugh at this bit of hypocrisy.
I must admit I found it refreshing to read such an imperfect book of ideas. I'm leaning towards congratulating Denby for exposing his thoughts in such a free-flowing manner, warts and all.
The subject of the degradation of public discourse is one that needs to be addressed. "Snark", at least, starts the conversation. It also reads like a conversation, which is another reason I found it compelling, even as I scoffed over one point or another.
If you enjoy cocktail party debate, you may enjoy this book. If you're looking for an intellectually consistent, well researched tome, pass it by. Goodness knows, everyone else is recommending you do just that.
Myself, I had a good time with this short romp. Denby obviously enjoyed writing this, and I didn't mind spending a few hours with him in print.
- A Snarky Look at Snarkiness
I think it is fair to say that most people know "snark" when they hear it and they would disagree with exactly what it was. What is snark to one person isn't so to another and vice versa. That said, I have to wonder about this book. It seems to have little point other than to vent the frustrations of the author on the public about those people that the author feels are snarky. While I enjoyed certain pages or passages, I really don't understand why I should care about what the author has to say....more info
- On the Current State of "Conversation"
I think Denby makes a valid point that a lot of what passes as journalism, analysis or commentary is nothing more than verbal sniping for its own sake and amounts to not much more than infantile verbal jousting you might hear in a schoolyard. That the internet is an enabler of this is indisputable - virtually anyone with access to it can rant anonymously on just about any subject or person simply because it's there (see some of the less substantive book reviews even here, as I write anonymously). I often find myself when listening to sports or other commentators thinking "So what's the point?" Would that the level of discussion could be elevated to something more dignified or enlightening, but I doubt that will ever happen.
I think that Denby is right on target when he writes about how we embrace celebrity only to then trash it, as if by doing so we vindicate something about ourselves (hey, at least I'm not jumping up and down erratically on Oprah's couch).
It's an interesting read that perhaps will help some of us to think twice about why we are writing something, and do it purposefully, especially when we are criticizing....more info
- Denby Fights, But Loses Bites to Great White "Snark"
Who's this week snark, I mean shark bait? Michael "Smoke on the Water" Phelps, photographed taking one hit then taking two from his sport and sponsor? Jessica Simpson, fed everything but lyrics in a recent concert? Christian Bale's un-Christian tirade on his movie set?
They, along with political figures, minorities and even ourselves, can be targets of a form of national conversation Webster defines as "crotchety," "snappish," "sarcastic, impertinent, or irreverent in tone or manner." It shows up in blog postings, Fox News and MSNBC reports, to the New York Times and other mainstream publications its writers aspire to join. In his brief, instructive (if somewhat snobbish) book-length essay, New Yorker film critic David Denby adds "mean" and "personal" to the definition. His seven "fits" (chapters totalling about 120 pages and easily read in an afternoon) draw snark's historical timeline, explain its rules of order, and bemoan its "spreading like pinkeye" across American discussion.
Denby skillfully (if liberal, politically) cutties snark not only from lowbrow racist insult but highbrow brethen satire (Stephen Colbert) irony (H.L. Mencken), even good, if cruel writing (Denby's New Yorker film critic predecessor, the legendary Pauline Kael). He describes its focus on cariacture and fear of women, minorities, and human sexuality: his "principles of snark" include "appeal to common, hackneyed prejudices" (examples include shots at President and Mrs. Obama, and the Clintons including daughter Chelsea) "glom onto celebrities in an attitude of...first adoration, then loathing" (one of Denby's clearest passages where young straw men (and women) athletes, politicans, and entertainers are snidely whiplashed for gaining weight, getting old, or fighting to stay young. Denby accurately sees snark as pop culture's cheapest weapon when pop icons chip commercially, morally, or physically.
Denby traces snark's roots to Greek iambos from poets such as Hipponax to Englishman Lewis Carroll (who in his titled poem identifies "snark," and which Denby quotes liberally). Denby fast-forwards to London and New York-based magazines ("Private Eye," "Spy") whose titles show his point: snark was how outsiders respecting power and money (but neither had it nor respected those who did) to break in using not only covert means but code phrases. Denby takes this to an entire "fit" on popular New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd who, Denby claims, substituted "puns and sarcasm" for needed criticism over the 2000 election and Bush administration.
Peggy Noonan focused part of her recent best-seller "Patriotic Grace," to those who "speak anonymously on comment threats, in emails...." who "successfully unleash toxins into the political air." To which Denby adds, "the Internet doesn't clear away it's dirty dishes" and anything rumored and written can be Googled against you, possibly forever. Name-checking Denby's book, conservative columnist Kathleen Parker adds, "Snark is cheap and bad for you. But then, so are hot dogs. I still want one now and then." For hot dogs, like snark, are quick to make, delicious, easily topped and, unfortunately, repeat on you. Snark is also a by-product; self-defense and point of entry in a world deluged with information and instant celebrity. Except for a few weeks after September 11, 2001 after (a day Noonan said "began in shock and ended in unity") snark will be here to stay.
In his acknowledgements at book's end, Denby mentions being encouraged to write "Snark" after fellow columnist (and liberal) Michael Kinsley considered his own book on the subject. Perhaps he still should; Denby educates about snark, and takes his shots against it, but fails to disarm this unique, populist culture war weapon.
- Denby Does Gumby
The specter of Pauline Kael is never far from Denby, a self-described "Paulette." Just as Kael couldn't separate her politics from her film criticisms, Denby's attempt at dissecting a pop culture euphemism is hopelessly guided by his left wing ideology.
Denby expects the unfortunate reader to buy into his ridiculous standards for what is and isn't snark. Considering the ability of Denby to assume Gumby positions in order to stuff his daffy definitions of snark into their leaky compartments, he might want to consider auditioning for Cirque du Soleil. ...more info
Who's snarkier than a film critic, or any person whose bread and butter comes from tearing down what others have created? I expected better. However, if you're looking for a coherent definition of snark, you won't find it here. You won't really find coherent here, period. The most surreal moment was probably when the author, who clearly has no love for conservatives and Republicans, not only tried to tear into Wonkette, the top snarky progressive blog, but made such severe factual errors in doing so that they completely undermined whatever point he was trying to make (in case you read this, Denby, the Wonkette post about Chelsea Clinton that led to your brilliant observation that the snark was motivated by the "young woman" author's jealousy of Chelsea Clinton? It was written by a man; two of the three Wonkette editors are male. But nice sexist stereotyping anyway.). V. glad I read this in B&N and didn't pay for it....more info
- Lazy writing, Lazy points
The very fact that Denby would choose to "take on the snarkers" by being snarky about them undercuts his point. If he truly finds the form so distasteful why is it good enough for those he disagrees with. Additionally he doesn't seem to understand what "snark" really is. This reads like someone who doesn't get it rather than any kind of serious cultural critique. It also features some serious factual errors that serve to undercut his point even further. When coupled with the lazy sexism inherent in some of his points (any woman who writes anything mean about another woman has some form of "cat fight syndrome," it's true) it makes the book nearly unreadable. ...more info
- Amusing read
Denby's slim volume is an amusing read, but will probably do little to arrest the snark tsunami that is the internet. The temptation of anonymous insulting invective is more than many of our fellow creatures can withstand. Why write on the restroom wall when you can secretly put it out there for the whole world to see?
Snark in our age is the offspring of the political correctness of the Left with the meanness of sprit of the Right. People who are unwilling or unable to make and defend thoughtful value judgements just write or say something mean and personal instead. All forms of media and even political discourse are permeated with an adolescent sensibility. Critics of both Obama and Palin routinely cross the line into snark.
Even Denby admits there are time when snark may be appropriate (reviewing over-priced, pretentious, mediocre, NYC restaurants for example). I think Denby would agree that snark is, as my mother used to say about profanity, the habitual expression of a limited mind.
It these types of cultural trends interest you, you'll probably find Snark to be worthwhile reading....more info
- IN WHICH THE REVIEWER TRIES TO OFFER THE AUTHOR'S ADVICE AS TO HOW TO HAVE CLASS AND NOT BE AN ASS
Snark is "hazing on the page," says David Denby. To me, this simple sentence is the essence of the book. But David Denby further tells the reader that it's mean (though at times it can be spot on and he gives examples when it is spot on and when it's not). It's also personal, he says, (though it can, too, be a piece of wicked delight for a reader, and Denby, of course, provides many examples). Finally, the author offers the idea -- or ideal -- that snark, although completely impossible to avoid and, at times (but only at times) useful, it's ruining our conversation (for the most part)-- particularly in the media and on the internet.
In case you won't take him seriously (why should you, eh?), he gives the historical credentials for snarking, and its roots go back to Athens and Roman. Denby's main example is foul-mouthed, castigating Juvenal, artist of the smear and put-down.
Sensing the reader may fall asleep, however, if he remains too tied up with snark's historical legitimacy from ancient times, Denby increases the pace and tempo of his writing to draw near to the present fairly quickly, focusing on the days of two once-popular but now defunct magazines known for their smart snarkiness and yet questionable wit: "Private Eye" and "Spy." I did not relish these sources for illustration of what is snark as much as David Denby did, but his indefatigable brio of enthusiasm for his own research here carried me through this part, and I did very much enjoy his criticism of Tom Wolfe's so-called satiric (but very snarky) writing, work done roughly in the same time-period as these two, once-popular, magazines.
Denby eventually comes to make a list of "principles" that comprise snark, and I found the approach unconvincing, even though after the "principles" are offered and given copious illustration, he uses them again, later, when discussing more contemporary forms of snark - a nice pedagogic technique --, thus helping the reader reinforce these "principles" in still another context. But to label his them principles, rather than, say, rules of thumb, suggests there is a kind of philosophy behind snark, which, of course, there isn't, not a trace. It also suggests that these so-called principles are somehow so clear that they serve as an analysis of the entire phenomenon rather than as just a description or a "feel" for the subject at hand.
It is not necessary to study and analyze the "principles" of snark before one can know what is and what is not snark. All one need do is read the rest of the book, and the subject matter at hand will become wholly and unmistakeably clear by the finish. David Denby's own writing does most of the work for you; the effort to understand his writing is nearly effortless with the author's sophisticated and humorous style; you don't need anything more than appreciation of his style as it is urbane, breezy and intelligent.
The majority of reviewers on this Amazon site for this book can be studied and evaluated for their ability to snark well or badly as they are performing snark in their reviews while knowing little of the subject, apparently. Parenthetically, I think the majority of these performances are done quite badly, meanly and unintelligently. Few of the reviewers here have the stamina, courage, and intelligence that David Denby does -- to look in the mirror and examine whether one's tastes have fallen to the lowest level possible and to question whether you want to be a thug or a thinker by the use and performance of your language. David Denby admits one must pick one's fights. Many times you must go with the flow, but if snarking is a matter of losing your ability to earn your living or a loss of your social relationships, then it's necessary to fight back, push back --- hard.
Oh but oh! How nice it was to witness Maureen Dowd receive her own comeuppance! (Oh, would that Dorothy Parker were still alive! We might not have needed David Denby here.) That chapter is nearly worth the price of the book.
Speaking of the price of books, the prices are outrageous these days. So, although many reviewers on Amazon assert the price isn't worth the book (and the book itself at 122 pages is really just an (attractive but) over-extended magazine article, I say, "pay it any way." I did.
It's hard to find good stuff to read -- whether cheap or dear. Denby employs a very funny approach to each chapter of his book. Not only does he call them "Fits" but he adds on 18th century epigrams before each chapter, humorously underscoring how far we've come (away) from anything remotely connected with the Industrial Revolution. It's all Internet and blogospheres, baby!...more info
- Interesting & Necessary, & altered my perception
I ordered this book thinking I knew what to expect, mildly interested. Instead, I found it emotional and often painful, because it's so true. More importantly, it made me evaluate my own behavior, & question what I do when *I* am anonymous. (and usually, I'm not - it took me a long time to stop using my real name for log ins)
Well worth reading, and perhaps more of a self-evaluation book than I'd imagined. Thank you, Mr. Denby!...more info
- Don't Bother
If you like terribly written books that are badly researched then this book is for you. If you like smart, intelligent writing look elsewhere because this book is tripe. The author is obviously just some wonk that wants attention....more info
Off to a bad start because he doesn't understand his subject, the "what" of current controversy. His argument -- if such it is -- is made worse because Denby simply doesn't understand how opinion is formed and expressed on the Net and elsewhere either. Mr. Denby is thereby sadly ill-suited to opine on the subject of Snark.
Maybe he should look at a recent article in his own New Yorker to see how savagely political debates have gone in this country in the past. He certainly doesn't understand the present. He should stick to media where things move more slowly.
Don't waste your money on this one....more info
- Factual Errors + No Humor = General Misunderstanding
Denby had an interesting book idea, and given that I enjoy political satire and am interested in the way it was used on all sides during the last election cycle, I thought this might be a terrific read. Wrong. I'm not sure how Denby came to possess the many axes he wants to grind, but his criticisms are chockablock with factual errors. Not only did he need the services of basic fact-checking, but his own utter lack of a sense of humor means that he frequently misinterprets what he reads. If his complaint against some bloggers and media is that they attack people without reason and without careful adherence to standards of truthfulness, well... hypocrite, anyone? This is not worth your money; don't bother....more info
- Profoundly ignorant, a feat of intellectual incuriosity
This crabby, uninformed rant seems to run on far longer than its hundred-odd pages. It is by turns: maddeningly ill-informed, poorly researched, close-minded, obtuse, and priggish.
The twee device of introducing each chapter like it was an Eighteenth-Century pamphlet grows old very quickly. And beware: when someone starts a sentence with "I'm all in favor of nasty comedy..." you know you will end up being scolded by a humorless schoolmarm.
How narrow is Denby's field of vision? He thinks Maureen Dowd has some sort of actual influence on political events.
Dear reader: please avoid.
- A short essay stretched to the length of a book goes on a bit too long but does have its moments of wit and insight
Disclosure: My review is based on a promotional copy I received.
Snarky comments have become acceptable in all walks of society. On the internet the ultimate in anonymous, cowardly commentary snark is what passes for wit represented a teasing tone with an undercurrent of nastiness that isn't good for our society, overselves, others or anyone with a shred of self respect.
Those who uses snark often misunderstand the concept of wit confusing being clever with being intelligent according to David Denby's book SNARK. SNARK is really less than a book but more than an essay--at 128 pages it manages to tackle the history of the word, the behavior, how it demeans and damages others. Denby's short book wittily takes us behind the scenes to the creation of the word. It was popularized by Lewis Carroll and his poem "The Hunting of the Snark" and Denby suggests (as have others) that the poem itself which portrayed the snark as something sinister and scary ("..beamish nephew, beware the day, if your snark be a Boojum! For then you will softly and suddenly vanish away, and never be met with again!"). Denby suggests that Carroll's fall out with the Liddell family (who had two little girls one of whom may have been the inspiration for Alice in ALICE IN WONDERLAND)may have inspired Carroll to come up with this horrible beast. It also suggests (to me) within the context of the poem that Caroll is also commenting on snide comments and the damage they can do to others. Denby discovers that snark wasn't a word that Carroll invented (although he gave it new meaning)but its history goes back to the anicent Greeks and the drunken symposiums (big surprise there) where it began as a form of personal insult.
Denby contrasts the difference between ironic jokes, comments and snarky comments/behavior designed to damage the reputation or put someone in their place at a nasty cost to the other person. According to Denby snark crosses the line from humor to humiliation because while it appears witty it isn't humorous allowing the "snark" to insinuate, insult and ruin careers.Denby suggests that snarky comments tend to be the work of amateurs who can't quite master the art of the mocking, clever, witty and humorous put down. He also suggests that the internet has allowed snark to proliferate out of control. He could be very well be right.
- intellectually lazy
This is a work defined by intellectual laziness and poor grasp of subject matter. It is a fine example of false teleology; The author attempts to construct a chronology of a recent cultural episteme without full knowledge of its discursive history then completely illogically projects it back throughout time. Also, in addition to turgid prose, it is wrought with factual errors....more info
- POSITIVELY SNARK STREET
David Denby, normally a film critic for the NEW YORKER, wrote this essay on SNARK behavior, in hopes that the world's sarcastic, wisecracking wit will never sink below the level, of Alexander Pope. Apparently, Mr. Denby fears that all wit, irony, criticism, and erudite HUMOUR would be washed away by some snarky teenager on a blog. I don't mind that the essay takes so much time tracing the history of humor, from 8th century BC Greece, then the farces of ancient Rome, to Alexander Pope, and Samuel Clemens. Actually, the whole book is nothing BUT a critique of humor, and what kind of humor is "kind and intelligent", and what kind is sarcastic and hurtful. In Denby's mind, SNARK is hurtful, and stupid, and lowers our collective, communal humor. I suppose if I had read more blogs, I'd have seen his point. But I do think he is right. People DO attack people, lie about them, and assume that because they WROTE it, its true. People have a knee jerk reaction to this book as HORRIBLE, without reading it. And why? Because it criticises their own apparent behavior. Does the author do that? Yes, and it is hard to read. But nowhere NEAR as hard to read, as how people respond to the book itself. No matter.
So, is SNARK mean and personal? Sure, like some lowbrow humor, I think it is, or can be. So, are snarky blogs ruining our conversation, or lowering our sense of humor? WEll, maybe he is right. He deserves to be heard, or considered, because this is NOT a book written with NO ability. This is not a person without insight, even if its out of date. SNARK type humor, lowbrow, vendictive humor, has always existed in the lowest parts of society. People stuck a crown of thorns on Jesus, for a laugh. So, hurtful humor can lead to ALL kinds of sick laughter. Like those films done by comedians who dress up like the morbidly obese. Which is a disease, people die from, every day, and is heartbreaking, not funny. It does ruin humor. So, some humor can lower the "compassion" of our culture. And if the anomynous content of the web, cause people feel free to attack and lie, again, DENBY is correct. Are we so heartless as a nation? There are CRUEL people out there, slinging lying vindictives around, for the pure pleasure it gives them. Is that HUMOR? If you laugh, does it make it funny? Its personal attacks, often by unintelligent, uneducated childish people , and this writer feels like he should respond to it. AND, he has the RIGHT to express his viewpoint, without censoring his beliefs. He does have something to address, which is, how far do we, as a culture, what to take this SNARK humor? So, I am grateful he pointed this out in the book. But if you buy the book to KNOW what SNARK means, you might be disappointed, because he says so many types of humor is SNARK, its hard to tell what he exactly means by the end of the essay. What makes people laugh, runs the gamet from Shakespear, to tossing drawfs. If an essay makes you consider linguistic, cultural, or philosophical ideas in a new way, espeically humor, which is SUCH A INDICATOR OF A SOCIETY's CULTURAL SOPHISTICATION, then its valid in my book. So, you could do MUCH WORSE with your time, than to read this. ...more info
- Critics are Gods!
While I haven't actually read the book, simply knowing that the Author is an esteemed Drama Critic for (of all papers) the justly-lauded New York Times tells me that it must (a) be factually as accurate as the collected writings of Mr. Rush Limbaugh, and (b) show a level of scathing wit that could not but leave Mr. G. B. Shaw and Mr. O. Wilde sobbing upon each other's shoulders in helpless, jealous fury. Why, when it comes to snark, who better to appreciate it than Miss Denby? (Note: I assume, given the excerpts which I have been privileged to pass before my eyes, that Miss Denby's obvious pen name of "David" is equivalent to "George" Sand and "Alice" Cooper - a simple means by which to disguise the gender (and perhaps the gender issues?) of the writer.)...more info
- Sad example of critical thinking
This is a self serving puff piece by a weak minded film critic expanded to book form. I liked the yellow jacket. The author doesn't rate any snark only distain. I'm glad it was a borrowed copy....more info
- Mr Grumpy Reads a Book
I laughed, I cried , then I read the book. Ok. I tried to read the book. Personally, I like books with a LOT of pictures. Color pictures, not that black and white dribble. Maybe if Denby put a foldout in the middle I would have read that far. But noooooooooooo. Denby should write about what he knows. Which brings up the question, what does Denby know? Judging from the contents of this book, not much.
- Denby don't know snark
Denby writes on page 2 of his book that calling Obama "nothing more than a dumbass with a pair of lips so large he could float half of Cuba to the shores of Miami" is snark.
That's not snark. That's just stupid....more info
- Mr. Denby does not like Snark
Denby presents opinion as fact and comments like, "...snark stinks up the air without liberating any laughter", are sprinkled throughout the book. He seems remarkably convinced the world thinks and acts as he does. "Just the same as everyone else, Ph.D students immersed in Hegel or the intricacies of early Victorian landscape painting sit around leafing through celebrity magazines -- 'He's hot... she's so hot.'" Denby seems unable to understand some forms of Snark. He decries a comment saying Nancy Pelosi should be "(D-Beijing)". The illogical comment could mean she is so far-left she crossed the Pacific Ocean into China, yet this seemed lost on Denby who instead mused on China's current political climate. Finally, Denby tries to make the case that criticizing something (or someone) by dressing it up in grandiose vocabulary is somehow more agreeable than snark itself as evidenced by his eight page attack on Maureen Dowd toward the end of the book. Intending to single her out as "Queen of Snarks" and even blaming her for contributing to Al Gore's loss in 2000 and Hillary's loss in 2008, he did little than attempt to steal her mojo, erase her cool, and annihilate her effectiveness. No mention on whether she stinks up the air. Following the diatribe he briefly lauds Keith Olberman as one who avoids the weaknesses of this oft-insulted but still undefined practice he calls Snark....more info
- In Dire Need of Fact Checking
The title says it all.
Let me get this straight... a book written about snark is a poignant piece of information, but actual snark is bad? Unfortunately, you shoot yourself in the foot the second you pick a side.
Had this been just a statement of what snark is, and how it is shaping our society instead of a scathing b*tchfest in which the author reams any and all who picked on him in high school, then this might have been successful. Sadly, this is just a little man who might have been bullied as a child. ...more info
So NOW I understand why David "American Sucker" Denby is killing the film pages of the New Yorker. This book is as amusing as that other crime against humanity written by Sprezzatura.
Good thing I read it at my local bookstore. I want my half-hour back....more info
- Too Long
This should have been a single short essay rather than a full-on book. The concept is an interesting one--that snarkiness has become so pervasive it's completely destroying discourse and, from there, lives. Unfortunately, there's no succinct definition of "snark" here, it's more "I know it when I hear it." This is a strange little tome. I wish I could say it was compelling, because I completely agree with his basic thesis, but it's not. Instead, it wanders aimlessly from point to point without hitting any of them hard enough to make for worthwhile reading....more info
- Save your money for more important things. Like, well, anything.
I had a choice to spend my money on something at Amazon, and I should've picked the TruckNutz instead of Snark. If you like books that cherry pick examples and then either supplement them with made-up details or gross misinterpretations, then you will LOVE Snark. Why won't Barack Obama apologize for this horrible book Denby has written?
What a senseless piece of garbage. Since when does proving that one is out of touch garner a book deal? At its best, Snark is uninformed and off-the-mark. At its worst, it is baseless and malicious. Since fact-checking and proper editing were apparently disregarded, maybe Denby should have just gotten a blog....more info
- Cleverly written but not much more
About three chapters in I tossed this book down in disgust, saying to myself that it read like a lot of the stuff in the New Yorker Magazine - needlessly pretentious, with the writing going in witty circles to disguise the fact that there's not much actual substance there. I turned to the back cover and laughed to read Denby is a New Yorker writer. I guess I called that one!
I struggled through the rest of the book, thinking repeatedly that Denby seems to define wit as writing that skewers someone he doesn't agree with, and snark as skewering someone he approves of. He didn't do a good job of illustrating what other criteria might define snark. I actually agree with much of his political ideology, which makes it extra surprising that I found this double-standard so blatant.
Overall, the book was pretentious and empty - but prettily-written, if you like flowery prose and clever use of adjectives. But maybe I'm just the wrong audience. I'll freely admit to hating The New Yorker, so maybe I'm just missing the cultural references that would have made this a more compelling and appealing book.