Columns > Published on November 26th, 2013

Snark is a Dead Scene: Why It's Time For Writers to Try Something New

Illustration by Henry Holiday is public domain

For those of you who read a column's title and sprint for the comments, pants around your ankles in anticipation of the self-righteous hot and coily you intend to deposit, let me preface this by saying I'm guilty of everything I'm about to address. So save the figurative unleashing of your bowels for someone else. This isn't the proper forum for such leavings, and you risk leaving skidmarks on the underwear of your reputation.

That being said...

I think it's time we as writers gave the snark a rest.

I know, I know. It's part of who you are. You tell it like it is. It's what makes you unique.

It's as if we can't have opinions anymore without being assholes.

Well, actually, no. No it's not. It's a telegraphed punch of your influences, which just so happen to be everyone elses' influences, so you can stop your protests right there.

These days, just about anyone who's "hip" and has a blog, or writes for a more reputable website devoted to dissecting one of the major disciplines of pop culture, relies a little too heavily on the crutch of snark. It's as if we can't have opinions anymore without being assholes. And even though the two have been forever linked due to their mutual lack of uniqueness, it doesn't mean you can't have one without being the other.

Part of the problem is, we're all (self-appointed) experts in the same few fields. So we feel the need to tear each other down to build ourselves up, make ourselves stand out. And it may have worked, at first. Once upon a time, when the Internet was young. But now that we're all "standing out" in the same way, it's in danger of becoming a homogenized parody of itself. We're like a bunch of lemmings, staring over each others' shoulders, asking, "Where are we going?" And by the time we realize it's into a giant ditch filled with our collective festering snark, we've already swan-dived and commenced the wallowing. We've turned into that amorphous mass of flesh from Brian Yuzna's Society, unable to decipher where one of us ends and the other begins. Sure, it feels good, but it's just so fucking ugly.

This idea occurred to me as I was writing a column whose subject I couldn't have cared less about. I was just putting words on the page. I had nothing meaningful to say. So I figured I'd quote a few stats, crack a few snarky jokes, and be on my merry way. Usually my snark amuses at least me, but when you can't even make yourself laugh, you know your jokes are t-i-r-e-d tired. You know that line in Fight Club about not being a beautiful and unique snowflake? That's how I felt. I realized I wasn't doing anything special. And if I'm doing the same exact thing as everyone else, what's the point?

That's not to say snark can't be done well. Kurt Vonnegut could be a pretty snarky motherfucker. But snark was just a single tool in his well-furnished kit. And let's not kid ourselves with comparisons to a master. Just because you've punched a few keys and pushed a few buttons doesn't elevate you to that level.

So how can you stand out without putting others down? In a 2009 journal entry, Roger Ebert wrote that snarking was "cultural vandalism," and that it "functions as a device to punish human spontaneity, eccentricity, non-conformity and simple error." He went on to say, and I believe this is the crux of the argument, that "It is easy to snark, and I am a clever writer." In other words, being snarky is lazy. Good writing speaks for itself. Irony, sarcasm, cynicism—it's a dead scene, man. If you want to make a name for yourself, write well, about interesting topics. Don't confuse being an asshole with having personality. Even though the internet tells us different, they're not the same thing.

Nowhere is this more prevalent than on social media. Snark seems to be the default voice for writers on Facebook and Twitter. Even "respected" authors such as Bret Easton Ellis can't help unleashing their inner eight year-old when confined to 140 characters. Is it because the medium is inherently flawed, and doesn't lend itself to meaningful discourse? That seems to be the perception, what with people shooting off their mouths like it was the Wild Wild West.

Obviously no one is looking to these platforms for Pulitzer-worthy writing, but the constant barrage of poison-tongued witticisms gets tiresome after a while. And the disease seems to be spreading. People's social media personas are bleeding into real life. Snark is like your favorite pair of jeans. It's so easy to slip into them. Eventually you don't even bother to look at what else is in your closet. And if you pretend to be a jerk for too long, it ceases to be an act. Fiction, thankfully, seems to have remained unscathed thus far, but imagine what it would be like if everyone started using snarky third-person narrators? What if the unspecified entity telling every story ever was an obnoxious dick? No one would want to read anymore. Talk about counterproductive.

So do your writing and everyone else a favor: ease up on the snark. You'll force yourself to be more creative and your writing will improve as a result. Plus, you won't come off as an assembly line jerk, identical to all the other jerks. If anything, snark should be used sparingly to enhance your writing. You can't make an entire meal of the stuff.

Maybe that's why Snarksters are always shitting all over everything. They've gorged themselves on too much snark. Let's not perpetuate the cycle.

Get The Annotated Hunting of the Snark at Bookshop or Amazon

Get Irony is a Dead Scene at Amazon 

About the author

Joshua Chaplinsky is the Managing Editor of LitReactor. He is the author of The Paradox Twins (CLASH Books), the story collection Whispers in the Ear of A Dreaming Ape, and the parody Kanye West—Reanimator. His short fiction has been published by Vice, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Thuglit, Severed Press, Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, Broken River Books, and more. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @jaceycockrobin. More info at joshuachaplinsky.com and unravelingtheparadox.com.


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