AmyTuteurMD

AmyTuteurMD
Bio
Dr. Amy Tuteur is an obstetrician-gynecologist. She received her undergraduate degree from Harvard College and her medical degree from Boston University School of Medicine. Dr. Tuteur is a former clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School.

Editor’s Pick
JANUARY 25, 2009 1:32PM

Snark: the language of losers

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yelling

 

Snark is hostile as spit ... hazing on the page. It prides itself on wit, but it's closer to a leg stuck out in a school corridor that sends some kid flying.

So writes David Denby in his new book Snark, subtitled It’s Mean, It’s Personal and It’s Ruining Our Conversation. Denby explains:

This is an essay about a strain of nasty, knowing abuse, spreading like pinkeye through the national conversation --- a tone of snarking insult provoked and encourage by the new hybrid world of print, television, radio and the Internet… I’m all in favor of … any kind of satire, and certain kinds of invective. It’s the bad kind of invective --- low, teasing, snide, condescending, knowing; in brief snark --- that I hate.

For Denby, the real problem with snark is not the viciousness and clique like behavior of its practitioners. The biggest sin is that snark is witless.

…[I]t lacks imagination, freshness, fantasy, verbal invention and adroitness --- all the elements of wit… If you crave immediate proof, turn to the discussion threads that follow a routine post on so many Web sites… a free-fire zone of bilious, snarling, other annihilating rage … snark is the preferred mode of attack. Everyone, it seems, wants to be a comic.

Denby lays out three criteria that differentiate snark from biting commentary. Snark is anonymous; it is ridicule; and it makes no argument of any kind, intellectual or otherwise. In contrast, biting satire is criticism, in the literary sense of the word. Satire attempts to construct a coherent argument, drawing the listener or reader toward the author’s conclusions. Snark is nothing more than “kneecapping.”

Yet Denby fails to address another, equally important characteristic of snark. Snark is the language of losers. It is the petulant whine of people on the outside, unable to figure out why so many are more successful than they. Snark is an attempt to make its purveyors feel better by whittling down others to their own measly size. It takes joy from hurting and pretends that playground insult is rapier-like wit.

Snark fancies itself as Jon Stewart, but is not even a pale imitation. Stewart does not slink behind the cover of anonymity, he is not attempting to hurt the feelings of his targets, and his satire is motivated by a comprehensive and coherent view of contemporary politics. He may skewer Conservatives as fools and hypocrites, but, at heart, he believes that their world view is both philosophically and factually wrong.

As Denby points out:

The trouble with today's snarky pipsqueaks who break off a sentence or two, or who write a couple of mean paragraphs, is … they don't stand for anything, push for anything; they're mere opportunists without dedication, and they don't win any victories.

Ultimately Denby asks: “What kind of journalistic culture do we want? ... What kind of national conversation?”

What kind, indeed?

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"a leg stuck out in a school corridor that sends some kid flying" - hey, that sounds funny! Put me down as pro-snark!

Also - as a side note - snark has been around from day one, t'aint nothin' new. And if you're true to yourself to begin with, it doesn't bother you anyway.
Thanks for sharing Denby's comments/opinion....now just wait a few minutes Doc....here they come......major Snark Attacks on the horizon...but they will be directed towards you not at Denby....
Growing up, I was surrounded by snark and sarcasm passed off as wit. In my late teens I recognized it as being a form of criticism that is, at heart, about putting other people down to make yourself feel better. Simply put, it is scoffing with a smirk. I would go even further to state that wit has the ability to laugh at itself, or to call to attention the absurdity of a situation, thought or act. Snark and sarcasm never does this.

I vowed in my twenties that I would do my best to not resort to this kind of behavior. That said, I am guilty of scoffing at prescription medication ads being pimped on TV, in particular erectile dysfunction ads.
Harry Homeless:

"if you're true to yourself to begin with, it doesn't bother you anyway."

It may not bother me, but it may bother others whose contributions may be lost because they fear nasty, cliquish comments they may draw. Moreover, it degrades public conversation.
scared grandma:

"here they come......major Snark Attacks on the horizon...but they will be directed towards you not at Denby.... "

Undoubtedly there will be some, but that's okay. I am more concerned about others being silenced by witless posts written by those who can't think of anything to write about and, therefore, parasitize the posts of well meaning members of the community, and encourage comment threads that have no other purpose than to make the commenters feel better by hurting someone else.
marcelleqb:

"I would go even further to state that wit has the ability to laugh at itself, or to call to attention the absurdity of a situation, thought or act. Snark and sarcasm never does this."

That is an excellent point.
Tom DeLay, Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, et al., have been snarky since conception. It is also a perennial plank in the Republican platform.
GregorMendel:

"Tom DeLay, Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, et al., have been snarky since conception."

Definitely. Losers one and all.

Those men, much as I despise them, don't meet all the criteria for snark. They are not anonymous, and they do have an agenda. They do not criticize simply to hurt people, or to get attention from the world that would otherwise ignore them.
I guess I haven't been here long enough, nor read enough comments, but I am finding the snark level here to be very low. Not in the same league as comments on regular Salon.

I try to avoid snark myself, but every once in a while my fingers are possessed by the devil...
Myriad:

"I am finding the snark level here to be very low."

I'm glad that has been your experience; that's the way it should be. Unfortunately, some new posters have not been so lucky.
Amy, I'm with you here. Snark is the weapon of choice on the junior high school scene, and it's damaging enough there. It has not place in adult discourse.
I just finished Denby's book. He considers Maureen Dowd the epitome of snark. So being anonymous isn't necessary for snark according to Denby. The problem with his argument is that he never pins down what snark is. I was left with the impression that snark is in the eye of the beholder. Hard to fight something like that.
Leigh Bailey:

"Snark is the weapon of choice on the junior high school scene, and it's damaging enough there. It has not place in adult discourse."

Agreed. What practitioners of snark fail to realize is that it is not an argument. It is a sign of the inability to create a logical and coherent argument.
oops, cancel my comment. i seem to have inserted cranium into nice warm place... i just discovered the all-snark alla-time site here. Sorry, not knowing the back story, I had to chuckle...
The Biblio Files:

"The problem with his argument is that he never pins down what snark is. I was left with the impression that snark is in the eye of the beholder. Hard to fight something like that."

I was a bit surprised that he used Maureen Dowd as the epitome of snark, because, as you point out, she is not anonymous. However, she does degrade discourse by making fun of everyone, and generally for inane reasons.

Two of Denby's criteria for snark struck me as particularly important. First, it is ridicule with no purpose other than to hurt someone else. There is no larger point behind it. Second, it makes no argument of any kind beyond "look at me, aren't I clever for hurting another person?"

I would add an additional criterion that Denby does not mention. Snark is entirely derivative. It cannot exist apart from the work or the person being criticized. In other words, it signals that the purveyor of snark has absolutely nothing to offer, no original point of view or new analysis, just vapid insults. Without someone to insult, purveyors of snark would have literally nothing to say.
So does Denby argue that snark is always anonymous?
To quote "Lundberg" from "Office Space", "I'm gonna have to go ahead and agree with you here Dr. Amy."

I'm all for humor, but I've made it clear how I feel about snark in the past.
SA Lloyd:

"So does Denby argue that snark is always anonymous?"

Although he argues that snark is often anonymous, his emphasis on Maureen Dowd means that he does not believe that it is always anonymous.
Greg Thomas:

"I'm all for humor, but I've made it clear how I feel about snark in the past."

Thanks.
Amy wrote: It may not bother me, but it may bother others whose contributions may be lost

Do you remain "unbothered" Amy? You seem to bear up against the written attacks quite well from my perspective, but still I worry.

Thanks for the info on Denby's book - it's intriguing.
Ann Rhys Matthews:

"Do you remain "unbothered" Amy?"

I don't like it, but it doesn't deter me. However, there have been others who have written well meaning pieces who have been skewered by those who can't manage to make it onto the feed based on the quality of their own writing. The practitioners of snark substitute insults for writing, and then congratulate themselves on their "cleverness."
I'm glad you're not deterred. That inspires me!
Snark has seemingly replaced sarcasm as the lowest form of wit.

Like Greg, I appreciate good humor in various forms, including satire and pastiche, but snark is too often a facile replacement for argument, much like its cousin, the ad hominem attack.

That said, I don't worry too much about snark or ad hominems silencing tender voices. There are plenty of stalwart ones out there, and I'm of the opinion that those who can't take the snark should stay off de interwebs. (Or just lurk.)
Squillo:

"I'm of the opinion that those who can't take the snark should stay off de interwebs."

That's certainly the way that it is now, but I wonder if it needs to be that way. Does snark add anything to our experience of the web? Don't you think that it only takes away?
Amy:

"Does snark add anything to our experience of the web? Don't you think that it only takes away?"

Yes, but I also believe there are lots of good voices out there, and if one wants to be heard, one must develop a way of dealing with even stupid criticism. (Maybe it's because I'm a former actor and no stranger to lots and lots of highly personal criticism). Annoyances like snark aren't ever going to disappear, so I don't spend a lot of time worrying about them. I just try to do my bit to respond to the substance of the post (or comment), and let the dross float away from the gold in my own travels around the web and elsewhere.
Earlier this weekend Iconesis's, 'Independence: Three Hots and a Cot,' drew me into Lewis Carroll's, 'Hunt of the Snark (An Agony in 8 Fits)'. . .Wikkipedia...now providing some really fine audio as well.

Iconesis's essay, apparently an Ayn Randish/libertarianish slant on potential utopia--- provides an erstwhile, crisp diatribe, along with some rather intimidating verbosity---however my selfish take-away was reference to Lewis Carroll's coinage of Snark.

Contrarily- Boojum- is clearly the negative, while an accurate definition of Snark is the unknown, the undefined. Hence, it appears that the electronic village somehow latched onto Snark as some type of sophomoric flaming, whereas Boojum, pursuant to the inventor of both, is the perjorative. Curious, then, how Snark attained prominence. Wondering if Denby notes this etymology. Elsewhere Wikkipedia mentions the SM-62 Snark: an intercontinental nuclear cruise missle; also, my view, it's a word mirage of Shark. I know I know you're swimming joyously reading/writing and you're surrounded by dorsal fins. Now, if Denby wouldn't have snarked Maureen Dowd, I'd probably Amazon
him....
I am glad Amy is not deterred. However, our national journalistic tradition is being jeopardized by online snarkiness. Newspapers that adhere to ethical standards are going bankrupt, while terrorism of all types is in fashion. We don't seem to get it that this type of hatred for personal amusement is not only dismissive of knowledge and professionalism, but diminishes our national conversation.
alaska doc:

"Newspapers that adhere to ethical standards are going bankrupt, while terrorism of all types is in fashion. We don't seem to get it that this type of hatred for personal amusement is not only dismissive of knowledge and professionalism, but diminishes our national conversation."

Exactly!
I think there's a generation gap in terms of definition here. I always thought of snark as another word for wit/satire/biting commentary, because that's how it's used on many of the blogs I read, usually written by people about my age. David Denby is around 65, and what he describes . . . it almost sounds like a form of trolling. People who do what he describes in online comments are called out as trolls pretty quickly. Snark doesn't have the pejorative connotation he ascribes to it. But then, I try to read smart, amusing blogs, so maybe they've co-opted the word. Which would then give snark a second definition, necessitating another book.
Fox News... They have nothing but snark...
You said, " there have been others who have written well meaning pieces who have been skewered by those who can't manage to make it onto the feed based on the quality of their own writing".

I'm new here, so may not quite understand how things work, but I've seen it stated that there are 15,000 (or 'only' 1,500??) people on OS. As far as I can see, the "new" feed is automatic - my posts and comments, however trivial, show up. But the feed moves very fast. It seems to me entirely possible for someone to post an excellent piece, but if it hits the "new" feed at moment when people are distracted by something else, its 5 min. (or less!!) may mean nobody sees it. Presumably the editor reads a lot of the posts, but it's not humanly possible, I'd think, to read them all. Which means he probably has the equivalent of a "friends' list", with people like yourself, that he checks for putting up as EPs. And you, because you are so prolific (non-working, non-mothering people like me are impressed but baffled - doc, I need some stimulants I think), and because you write about medical things (conscious of our mortality, we are all fascinated), and in my short time here, SEXY medical things, you get read and featured a lot. It's good stuff - but I think there are people here who write good stuff too who are lost in the crowd.

Or - looking again at what you said - perhaps you ARE saying that people don't make it based on the quality of their writing, but on the vagaries of the set-up... ?? And some of them are unhappy. I guess them's the breaks, but I can sympathize...

As for snark - snark we have always had with us. Times when I've been screwed over (not here yet!), I've found (cold) comfort in the idea that it's only metaphorically that someone's chopped my arms off or put me out to sea... I think the human race needs some gene therapy to dampen down the aggressiveness and turn up the kindness... Evolution seems to have worked to reward ruthlessness... The sharpest fangs and claws win...
Liz Larocca:

"I think there's a generation gap in terms of definition here. I always thought of snark as another word for wit/satire/biting commentary, because that's how it's used on many of the blogs I read, usually written by people about my age."

There's no "official" definition of snark. Denby wanted to discuss a certain type of discourse, characterized by anonymity, ridicule and devoid of argument. He labeled that snark, but tried to carefully differentiate it from satire, no matter how biting. In his view, satire is making a point with humor, even vicious humor. Snark is just about derailing discussion by hurting other people.
Myriad:

"It's good stuff - but I think there are people here who write good stuff too who are lost in the crowd."

There's no secret about how OS works. The editors have been clear about this from the beginning. OS is a business. It is a blog aggregator and the hope is that a community of readers and writers will develop around it. As a business, it must be commercially successful, and the only way to be commercially successful on the web is to drive traffic.

OS is not a literary magazine. It does not exist to reward good writing; it exists to reward writing that other people want to read, which may be good, but may not.

Moreover, Salon did not set up OS as a charitable gift to a small clique of individuals whose major form of entertainment is to converse with each other. If the only people who read OS are the people who write for it, the project will die in short order.

The fundamentals of OS are exactly the same as the fundamentals of any web based business that doesn't sell a product. It can only succeed with lots of traffic, and hence it is driven by web statistics. The ONLY reason my pieces get on the cover is that they are deliberately designed to appeal to people who come to OS. I keep detailed traffic statistics on what I write. If something isn't successful, I don't repeat it. If it is successful, I write something similar.

If people want to get read (and not everyone considers this the highest priority), they MUST take into account what people want to read. It doesn't matter what they judge to be "good." It only matters what the audience likes.

It's not a secret, and it is not a conspiracy. It is nothing more than freelance writing 101.
A very interesting piece and an interesting thread. It seems the definition of snark is falling close to anonymous sarcasm: " sarcastic implies an intentional inflicting of pain by deriding, taunting, or ridiculing [a critic known for his sarcastic remarks]." It's one thing to be sarcastic, another to do it with the knowledge that no one knows who you are. I've been dealing with it on a local community social networking site, and I think the main idea is not to get caught up in being sarcastic or snarky in response. Once you adhere to that, it's often easy to deconstruct snarky commentary.

It's also interesting that you have your nose in the air sniffing the trend winds in order to tailor your writing. I don't judge this to be a bad thing, and I suspect I will be studying the freelance 101 outline if I hang out here long enought, but I wonder if in its way, over time, it also has a slightly negative impact on the quality and diversity of discourse?
iron fish:

"I wonder if in its way, over time, it also has a slightly negative impact on the quality and diversity of discourse?"

I'm not sure. A lot of the snark seems to be driven by frustration. Almost every day, one or more purveyors of snark publicly lament the fact that although they have judged their own writing to be "brilliant," no one is reading it but their personal friends.

They are baffled by what appears to them to be the poor taste of readers and the incomprehensible choice of editors. The snarkers are blaming the wrong people. They are responsible for the fact that their writing is not popular.

Write something that people want to read and it will end up on the front page --- guaranteed. It's not difficult to figure out what people want to read. That's what the most read feeds tell you. Yet the purveyors of snark choose to ignore it and soothe themselves with dire references to "conspiracies."
Amy,

I may not have been clear in my previous comment. I'm way too new to worry about conspiracy theories (which in any case do seem silly no matter how you slice it) and I agree that in general, the cream will rise. But (and totally separate from any discussion of snarkiness or theories) I do wonder about constantly honing one's writing to appeal to the greatest crowds. Maybe there is some balance to achieve, or, maybe it is completely a function of the marketplace, and responding to what it apparently wants. In any case, I don't have an issue with any of it, just pondering.
Sorry to break this into two comments, but as an example of what I'm talking about, John McPhee wrote an entire book about oranges. I doubt he first did a survey to determine how many people want to read about oranges.
Amy. You've misread Iron Fish's comment, and as is your habit, you've quoted it entirely out of context.

He was questioning the negative consequences of tailoring our posts to compulsive reading habits, not the negative consequences of snark. I for one think it is sad your posts are becoming less thoughtful and more obviously provocative. That people compulsively click on cheap headlines generously peppered with sperm and whatever, is to me, no surprise. It is also no much of an indicator of merit.
It seems to me that the intentions of Salon are not only to make a quick profit but to attract a certain quality of writer and reader, so that they can attract sponsors who are proud to be associated with the project.
Writers who cannot get beyond freelance 101 techniques, who are repeatedly contemptous of other readers and writers in this forum, who make a habit of carelessly misquoting and misreading them. are going to come under attack. And will probably become the victim of clever satire by writers who are capable of more creativity.

My guess is that over time, writers driven by more commercial aims will drift off to communities who suit the generic tone of their work. Though, if part of their strategy is to generate rat trap controversy, then they will always come under attack. And that's where you're going to find the worst, most boring snark.

As for David Denby, I think it's interesting that in reporting on controversy around his book, The Guardian.uk gave The Gawker the last word: "Please buy David Denby's book, so he can stop talking."

The Brits have never been afraid snark, and I don't think it has destroyed the quality of their discourse. So I'm not so worried about the U.S.
iron fish:

"I doubt he first did a survey to determine how many people want to read about oranges."

If the book was published, he almost certainly did a survey to determine how many people wanted to read a book about oranges. The first step to getting a book published is a book proposal, and every book proposal contains a survey of the market, explaining who is likely to buy the book, how many people will buy it, similar titles and their sales statistics, etc.

Friction may be written as a "cri de coeur," but non-fiction is planned in advance with careful attention to the intended audience.
Juliet Waters:

"And will probably become the victim of clever satire by writers who are capable of more creativity."

Probably not. I've been on OS for months and I have yet to see ANY clever attack satire. I've only seen attack snark that is about as clever as tripping a middle schooler, like Denby describes.
Well Amy, As someone who has actually read David Denby's books, he's had his good ones (Great Books), and he's had his crappier ones (American Sucker.) From what I'm reading of critics I respect, he seems to be on a bit of a crap cycle. I guess I'll have to read it myself to decide. Fortunately, if I find that he's on a crap cycle, there's a new doctor on OS who might be able to help him. And please don't trip over yourself to answer this. I'll understand if you don't.
I did not know that snark was a real word. I first heard it this summer when Sarah Palin's comments were called snarky. Didn't even have to look it up. Seemed kind of onomatopoetic.Like a noise one's nose might make while being smarmy.
I do wish that comments were less vitriolic and contributed to true discourse. But, some of the articles that come to the front seem to be formulaic and not very worthy themselves of much. That's snarky isn't it? But I do not mean for it to be. Meets the definiton though: Doesn't help much, is anonymous and I just said it. Didn't run it through a sifter first however. So how does your article contribute to generating better initial posts that warrant better comments? I am not saying it had to, or fell short trying, just wondering if your only intention today was to get word snipers to quit picking at the better OS writers or if I may have missed something.
alsoknownas:

"I am not saying it had to, or fell short trying, just wondering if your only intention today was to get word snipers to quit picking at the better OS writers or if I may have missed something."

My main intention, actually is to get the purveyors of snark to lay off new posters who mean well. The reception that greets any post that does not please the self-appointed "OS police" discourages people from posting. Moreover, the purveyors of snark add no value to the site. They simply make themselves feel better by hurting other community members. Where's the benefit in that?
Since I haven't read the book - I have a pretty limited idea of what this argument is. However, I think snark, much like satire, is in the eye of the beholder.
"Online message board"-style snark is a whole different animal than "Maureen Dowd"-style snark. Frankly, I'd think that someone who wrote a book about the art of snark would have been able to discern and elucidate the differences. Perhaps, in fact, he did; it is just not evident from the post or comments here.

Well-written message board style snark does indeed have a place in the virtual world. First of all, good snark is ALWAYS witty, and I say wit is always welcome. Second, snark's purpose is to illuminate the boundaries of an online communities preferred culture. There are always posts that are, shall we say, lacking in clarity, direction or rational thought. They might be hateful, or simply out of place with the tone or direction of the site to which they were posted. "We do not tolerate that sort of thing here" or the more direct "shut up and go away" are boring to read and can too easily be replied to with something along the lines of "I don't have to if I don't want to." Rapier, witty snark on the other hand can put a smile on the face of many, whilst informing the offensive poster that the participants at that particular online venue are not intereted in hearing more. If the snarker is in the minority, or if the venue is a factionalized one, the original poster will be supported, and the snarker chastised or equivalently reminded that they do not speak for all.

Yes, the world would certainly be a more civilized place if everyone spoke only when they had opinions formed of research, thought, and deeply held, discussable convictions. When the day occurs that we see that in all starting comments, snark will cease to be needed. Here in reality-land, however, snark is a useful adversary to posters up on horses too high.

I have been around a lot of snark. It was never intended to make someone feel bad, simply to make them "feel bad." It was intended to tell them thier opinions were not welcome. I do not believe the members of an online community are bound to make everyone feel welcome.
Great point Amy MD. And it seems that we are facing a Snark Tsunami. Radio show hosts like Jim Rome fill their time with snark. They rank one another on how effectively snarky they can be. Lots of other radio personalities are mimicking the style. One Don Rickles is funny, but 100 million of them, anonymous, and more twisted than talented is a pandemic.
"If the book was published, he almost certainly did a survey to determine how many people wanted to read a book about oranges. The first step to getting a book published is a book proposal, and every book proposal contains a survey of the market, explaining who is likely to buy the book, how many people will buy it, similar titles and their sales statistics, etc."

And some people just write shit that they want to and they find a publisher who likes the shit the person wrote and prints up a few copies and, well other people that like that shit that was written buy the book and tell their friends who like that shit too and they buy the book.

There used to be tons of books published that nearly no one read but now that the publishing business has gotten so profit driven, that doesn't happen so much (except for Coulter, Limbaugh, O'Reilly and other blowhard books).

I remember the story of a certain writer who couldn't get her book published because everyone thought it 'stupid' and 'immature' and that only 'a small number of children *might* like it'. I'm sure the publishing houses that turned down JK Rowling are kicking themselves in the head for that 'stupid' and 'immature' decision. Look at Verizon passing on the iPhone too... HP passing on the Apple computer...

The world is awash with people that have made really stupid decisions that were backed up with 'data'... Sometimes life, and people, surprise you...
Yes, indeed the book was published. No, Mr. McPhee did not do any surveys prior to publication: http://www.johnmcphee.com/bookshelf.htm. Not to be snarky, but I would hope his writing would be included in most magazine 101 writing curricula. He's certainly up there in the pantheon of non-fiction writers. One of the great things about his writing is his deep interest in other people and in things. His opinions and point of view, while there, are subsumed within the stories he builds around his subjects. I guess his writing is a little too considered for most venues today. But he's well worth reading, both for the pleasure of his gifts as a writer and for the fascinating stories he tells. I rate him.
aaroncynic:

"I think snark, much like satire, is in the eye of the beholder."

Denby has offered a definition that is not in the eye of the beholder. He says that snark is generally anonymous, it consists of ridicule and it has no purpose beyond making its purveyor feel better (or seem more "in") by hurting other people.
kh3333:

"First of all, good snark is ALWAYS witty, and I say wit is always welcome. "

I think that Denby was trying to make the point that it is almost never witty (even though its purveyors are convinced of their own wittiness). Just because someone enjoys it does not make it witty. It is no more interesting, amusing or inventive than tripping someone. Others may laugh, but that tells us more about them and how they enjoy themselves at others expense. It certainly doesn't mean that tripping someone is witty.
iron fish:

"No, Mr. McPhee did not do any surveys prior to publication"

Unless it was self-published, McPhee wrote a book proposal and that book proposal explained how and why the book would make a profit.
Snark, like cynicism, is at best only a sophomoric solution.
John McPhee is not self-published, and he has very likely never written a book proposal in his life although he has had many published. Amy, did you check out the link I provided above? If not, it might be worth it:

http://www.johnmcphee.com/bookshelf.htm

He writes about what interests him in the world, and his publisher publishes it. Many of his books started out as article for the New Yorker. Not saying that works for all, or even most, but it does happen, and I initially brought it up in a slightly different context. One could always write about what moves or interests them, then do a proposal later--especially with short magazine pieces. Anyway, to each his own, certainly not trying to say one way is superior to another.
iron fish:

"certainly not trying to say one way is superior to another. "

I understand. However, while you may write to please your own muse, getting read and getting published are both commercial ventures. I was just pointing out that while you can write whatever non-fiction you choose, you shouldn't expect anyone to read it if you ignore the needs and desires of your audience.
I don't know if this will help with the definition of snark.

I think of snark as snide opinion whose only goal is to put down the thoughts, feelings, opinions, beliefs, etc of another by taunting them. It's a way of invalidating a person's thoughts and feelings.
Snark is a word that already has a meaning. It's not the meaning Denby is trying to give it. Snark is, yes, mean, but always witty. The word has not changed meanings just because someone most people have never heard of wrote a book about it.
Dr. Tuteur-
I agree with everything defined and illustrated in your column
regarding snarf and those that spew its expletives; I am most concerned with continuation of snarf, reasons for allowing it to exist in such high number with such respectable publications;
We the people find our crossroads of free-speech on the internet in jeopardy if we cant do anything about it on a scale that teaches. After all, the demographic of snarf is just you and me....only caution I have for combating it is not to get caught up in its faceless, baseless banter, such that one can never escape an aspect of its existence, for instance in tone, how one-word put-downs of those who snarf may be literal and appropriate, still barking up the wrong tree, if barking down is snarfing at us, their demand for hostages-- Barking terror.. before the falling out as populist favorite...Let's hope our culture doesnt continue to snarf it up: the poem that folows was written in a language of banner announcements, lists, statistics, all based on counting (numeral = order); following the leader type of sloganeering, to a degree measured by the weight of its topic and its counter-offer of solutions... its experimental wanted to see how you feel it may fit in with an aspect of understanding the mentality you describe above with snarfing.
The onus of putting with it is on each of us:

GLORIOUS ONUS MOMENTOUS

TERRORISM persisting: demands for hostages;
TRUTH-seekers giving-up in heat of others

FAITH, easily overused for human consumption:

IMMORTALITY! SOLD-OUT!

COMMODITY:
For sake, un-graced—no lack of term,
For place, endowment:

TO BE OR NOT TO BE
All gone, except the begging,

Bleeding

UNCLE

—or just is NO JUSTICE:

ANTI-FAITH:

The DEVIL'S MASK (raison d'être)
Interior of the underground...

Remains in hiding, tucked; not telling
What lies in ruins : lives been ruined there

And such markets, enterprises, contests...
Sweeping stakes, dug-up plots—more sediment
Rising up, swells to mound this layer, this year:

NUMBER 9... NUMBER 9... NUMBER 9...

YOUR PHOTO (PLACE HERE)!!!

(Blinking—not winking:)
NO FACE PICS, NO RESPONSE

...Just IS closer: CARBON-CHAINED

As we, as they, once bound to thought receive
Unholy, hosted ways—severely blinded...


Never means for forgiving—giving tender back—
Who knocked, for a higher place of being;


UN-GRACED: the space between betwixt,
Bewitched in moments’ magic thought:

A lie, a tie that binds allowing NO WATER,
NO VACANCY to settle-in: coiled beings,

ALONE

When darkness strikes—destiny no end;
And down near end of tunnel--

Highlighted—so RED:

Heightened glory—so FLUSH,

Face of SHAME:
So riveting, revealing...

ONE-BY-ONE, every mask,

Every KISS misses out:

On GLORIOUS MOMENTOUS determining step...

My price for this, whatever loss entails;
No reminisce for pitiable need--wrung out,
Made to dry on bricks—HEELS KICKED—

On offering (once spent willingly):

NO RESPECT

—Round and round, till lease is up
—For JUST IS no justice: worsening,

THIS AWAKENING,

As wills will repeat, after me, to say the least:

"NO RESPECT!"

Just is Justice: JUST ONCE redemption knocks,
KNOCK-KNOCK knocking mound deeper in


Repeats again, again: DOWN, up from under,
Till when : till when, comes a time:

KNOCK-OUT: GLORY FOR ONE!

Right where others’ destinies mapping,
Napping involuntarily on new disguises;

FEAR—for fear of fear; then, then:

SHAME... inside

WHO GOES THERE, ANYWAY?
(besides more of us...)

O GLORIOUS, GLORIOUS MOMENTOUS

Novices, beginners, still, on their own,
As we—spots always pointing—never
Sticking to ground:

(FOR SHAME?)

For GROUND CONTROL controls
Our TRICKSTER—moving sideways,
Back, repeating again, again...

Up from under, SOMEWHERE...

Within this rite: TRUTH be-known,

A HIGHER BEING...

Always remains alone:

ALWAYS remains ALONE
"Snark fancies itself as Jon Stewart, but is not even a pale imitation. Stewart does not slink behind the cover of anonymity"

So why is it then that Jon Stewart's REAL name is "Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz" ???

(source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jon_Stewart)

Was that snarky? I'm not sure...
OOoops: snark=snark, not snarf (correct?) : correction...Oooops
THIS is the correct response to unruly teens: "Hey. No-snark zone. Say it well or snicker to yourself."

And Denby is right. The problem isn't attitude per se, it's witlessness. Having just suffered thru the comments section for the latest Salon Israel article, I can say that Snark/Witless is in full flower among Salon readers/writers.

And Rush's latest, saying he hopes Obama fails (=the US fails) is arguably the most hypocritical, snarky comment ever uttered.

Is it really so hard to think?

Great post, punchy writing as usual, Amy.
I like kh3333's take on snark, which pretty much matches my own. Like almost everything, there are good and bad examples, good and bad uses of it. I'll disagree with Denby's definition as it's given here; good snark focuses largely on the message rather than the messenger, and it works just as well if not better coming from a source who's not anonymous. Jon Stewart's show is largely snark; Jerry Seinfeld's comedy was mostly snark; some of the funnier posters here concentrate on snark. Sure, there may not be a lot of good examples in one-line OS comments, but that's no reflection on the form itself.
Now that I have read all other comments:

1. Mysterious how so many make comments, yet so few rate the piece. This tends to happen to you a lot, Amy.

2. Can we have a rule of thumb: no long experimental poetry in Comments? especially Commenter's own poetry?

Now, are either of those snarky? Hm. I don't think so. Not anonymous, accurate observations, constructive advice, etc.

But they do have a whiff o snark, methinks.
The interent contributes mightily to the coarsening of our national discourse. With one's name affixed or not, it is much easier to be "direct" when one lacks the others mere voice let alone physical presence.

Responding to it serves little purpose either.
Gee, it seems like the world is always coming to an end. For example, in the quote in your article, the last "d" is left off of the word "encourage(d)." And misuse of apostrophes is rampant. Not to mention the misspellings and bad grammar all over the place (closed captions on television are really wonderful for this). "Reign" for "rein," as in "rein in." And so forth. Still, the stuff that people snark at -- i.e., folks in denial on reality television, for example -- are snarkable. Many moderators discourage snarking at other posters, so I'm not sure what comment threads Mr. Denby is accessing. Hardly worth getting your knickers in a twist over, you ask me.
It seems to me that anonymity is certainly not a prerequisite. Maureen Dowd: surely. Ann Coulter: snark on steroids +hatred. Keith Olberman: Yup. (Add your own) ____________, etc., etc.
Oops! One more: Sarah Palin in her acceptance speech in St. Paul, comparing her mayoral duties to Obama's experience as a comunity organizer.
Seems to me that Snark is pretty vaguely defined and just being crude or tripping someone are not the point.

When we satirize, we assume a moral position behind the comment or image that makes the satire both funny and critical. Satire presumes a shared moral world view that has been violated. On the internet and in the global world, that moral assumption may not be articulated nor understood. So satire that I do not agree with or understand becomes "snark."

Left/Right wing gas bags (satire) do have a moral point to make and though I may disagree with them, they are usually articulating their displeasure with some position. They may launch reckless attacks with a smirking look, but we know from wither they launch. Perhaps the rise of "snark" signals the rise of uninformed readers--ironically, a potential consequence of the internet itself.
Greg Correll:

"Mysterious how so many make comments, yet so few rate the piece. This tends to happen to you a lot, Amy."

For me, readership is far more important.

Moreover, if you think about it, people are constantly casting "supervotes" for me by writing about me. That type of publicity drives tremendous traffic to my posts, far more than I would get if I actually paid for advertising.
"Mysterious how so many make comments, yet so few rate the piece. This tends to happen to you a lot, Amy."

One could also note that the mechanism of rating only works in the positive direction. No telling whether you've written a truly good piece or if its just the first 12 people who read it were particularly receptive.

Not that it's especially bad, you know-- I'm just sayin...
It seems there are a couple of snarky comments on this very post - at least I find Greg Correll and Julie Waters to be 'snarky' (criticizing with innuendos and not a lot of substance).
The old adage that those who can't "do" teach, should be changed to those who don't "do", snark. That's what makes them losers.

Great article.
I agree, Doc.

While it's true that snark has been around for a long time, only recently has it been possible to do it with impunity. Prior to the Web one had at least to look the other person in the eye, and risk having your own eye poked, or your own balloon deflated. Now all one has to do is hit and run.

In short, it's the perfect vehicle for cowards.

dz
An article full of insight, on point and well-written. Thanks for writing it. I'm a middle aged woman who was driven out of one well-known liberal blog because I didn't "get" a snark comment and replied to it seriously. The spiteful and contemptuous response to me not being "cool" or "hip" enough to be in their club took my breath away. I wrote to the blog's "editors" and told them I would never read their efforts again. Did that matter to them? No, but it should because I may have become a valuable asset in their cause. I learned in high school that using sarcastic humor at a friend's expense to get a cheap laugh will cause the loss of that friend. I have rarely used sarcasm again and never aimed at someone. So many of these "liberal", "progressive" blogs are the same as the cliques in school. That "clubbiness" endangers our causes. If it (snark) makes someone who agrees with you not want to work with you, then how will it affect someone who would like to understand your position, is undecided or searching for answers? Snark is cynical and does not in any way contribute to hope, change, optimism, or positive action.
I, too, find that snarkiness is next to pun-liness, as a brand of higher intel! Yessir, laugh everytime someone falls down!
The only real losers are those who use the term to describe others who may not be as priviledged, educated, brilliant, witty or charismatic in order to allay the fear that maybe they just aren't as great as they think they are in relationship to others or the world. Those who have less than others are not a priori, "losers". Better look in the mirror or at least spend some time on the couch (analysts' couch, not in front of the TV, loser!)
Kathy McConaghie:

"Snark is cynical and does not in any way contribute to hope, change, optimism, or positive action."

That's an excellent description. I think that's what Denby means by the claim that snark makes no argument of any kind. It's only about ridicule and attention seeking. It's unfortunate that you were the victim of it.
Cap'n Parrotdead:

"The old adage that those who can't "do" teach, should be changed to those who don't "do", snark. That's what makes them losers."

On OS, they appear to be clueless as well.

Rather than investigate what make an article successful on OS and rather than consider that what they write might be unsuccessful because it does not appeal to readers, they'd rather whine incessantly and:

1. pretend that I am keeping them off the cover (as if I have any influence over the other 10-14 cover slots that are available at any given time or the 14-19 other slots in the most read or highest rate feeds)

2. pretend that Kerry and Joan are "discriminating" against their brilliant writing

3. pretend that other readers don't have the good sense to recognize the brilliance of their writing

4. waste their time on posts that will never get on the cover, make them look small and foolish, and often publicize ME.

If they want to get on the cover, they MUST make a serious effort to get on the cover, not waste their time whining about made up conspiracies that are ostensibly designed to keep them off.
I know that snarky language is easily disclosed to those who are laughing at the sake of someone elses expense. It is plain rude at times, are we ever able to be plain is what needs to be understood. Can people get away with polite conversation? Well for those not thinking about hurting someones feelings, or puffing themselves up at the expense of making someone else look or feel small. Then there is some hope. What about the work place? There are ways in which some people feel a need to jab someone for some reason. The inexplicable joy of having the sense of power and ability to jolt someone as though a victory slam of some sort has just been performed. Have you ever spoken to someone who is very bias in regard to politics, or liberal issues? There is no room for any discussion, just direct assault direct conflict, so the snark comment can be used to direct insult into the sense of humor, but seldom is funny for the one who is on the receiving end. Then sensitivity becomes another factor, as in being able to take a joke. The question then becomes was it really funny to begin with. The shadows on this can go on for quite some time, until two people have to come to some reasonable conclusion that they are simply not compatible. Which would lead up to other areas to reassemble, or at best a secular society of those who can snark, versus those who you just don't, and how do you know the difference? To sneer or not to sneer is the question?
Snark is not news. I feel like I'm reading the always-behind-on-everything NY Times discovering now that the telephone was just invented. I am turning 65 next month and I was snarked all the way through Junior High School back in the Bronx. In those days we called it "sounding."
Did you read Denby's book or merely the reviews of Denby's book? Given your post and comments, the latter seems likely.
As was said, snarking is nothing new. In fact, it's the final of 38 strategies for winning an argument as listed by the 18th Century philosopher, Schopenhauer. It's just that as a rule, those who resort to the final baseless, personal and insulting strategy aren't capable of the performing the first 37 strategies.

You're right, snarking lacks poetry, and is best displayed on baseball caps and big ugly brass belt buckles.
I just heard the author on NPR today and sort of agree with Bibliofiles. I said out loud to my son that he seemed to have difficulty distinguishing b/t snark and other things like sarcasm and irony. Although he did explain that unlike Colbert and Stewart, Dowd's work doesn't have the underlying liberal values but is rather written for the sake of mockery. I sort of get that. I do like the title of the book, though, and certainly agree with your larger point that snarkiness is a nasty addition to conversations in communities like this. I have never really understood why it's acceptable among so many people. I think there's an element of "cool" to it.
Snark? The very word makes me want to scream at someone. I think people today are thin-skinned, rely way too much on the opinions of others instead of cold, hard, facts, and think their opinion actually matters in journalism.

What kind of journalism do we want? How about factual, accurate, and the kind that leaves the syrupy sentimental crap to the curb; i.e., more gushing over Obama for absolutely no good reason to gush.

When the entire field of journalism stops acting so self-serving and stops trying to be the news- hey! a forum is just a life support system for an asshole - then maybe it will command respect. And just because you have an opinion doesn't make you Walter Winchell.
Rose Ramblin:

"gushing over Obama for absolutely no good reason to gush."

Why shouldn't they gush?

After 8 years of the lying, incompetent, greedy, theiving Republican party head by the moron Bush who destroyed every single thing he touched and is personally responsible for the unnecessary deaths of thousands of American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, it's worth gushing about our new president. It's such a relief to have an intelligent, competent, knowledgeable president for a change.
Dr. Tuteur,
Ignore Ramblin'Rose......she is still in a major snit over the fact the Hillary did NOT get the nomination..
Rose snarls and bites out at different posts, especially political articles on Salon and she often ends up with some spitting superwoman "feminist" man hating or man bashing rant...she is very likely clinically depressed, certainly is quite angry and possibly physically constipated...that is not a snark, not here.

What I wrote to her attention, a few minutes ago on another post where she commented in an even angrier manner, was rather snarky....but my suggestion for her to take "fibre supplements" was , in all likelihood GOOD advice!