Published: December 14, 2013
There has been a backlash against snark for a couple of years now, including David Denby's book titled Snark: It's Mean, It's Personal, And It's Ruining Our Conversation" which included an entire chapter on Maureen Dowd.
Now Tom Scocca, a writer I have been following since his days at Baltimore City Paper, has struck back with an essay on a phenomenon he calls 'smarm,' overly sincere earnestness which he sees as worse than snark. He writes:
What is smarm, exactly? Smarm is a kind of performance—an assumption of the forms of seriousness, of virtue, of constructiveness, without the substance. Smarm is concerned with appropriateness and with tone.
Smarm would rather talk about anything other than smarm. Why, smarm asks, can't everyone just be nicer?That essay really hit a certain portion of the zeitgeist and caused Malcolm Gladwell for one to issue rebuttals. The Dowdster weighed in on the anti-smarm side, naturally. The title of the essay comes from what Scocca calls The Bambi Rule, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." Dowd much prefers the Dorothy Parker variation, "If you don't have anything nice to say, come sit by me." She concludes her two-cents on the smarm/snark divide with this great rant:
Pretending that false and ugly things don’t exist is a bit delusional. Yet such prettifying is consistent with a culture dominated by an Internet concerned mainly with marketing techniques.
Not to review books negatively is in essence to subsume book reviewing into advertising, public relations and promotion. Succumbing to uplift, edification and happy talk is basically saying that there’s something more important than telling the truth: not making enemies, not hurting people’s feelings.
All quarrels are not petty. Sometimes quarrels are about big things, and it’s an actual privilege to take a side in them.
Snark in the defense of truth is no crime.