Steyn on Snark

March 6, 2009

Reading Mark Steyn can be exhausting, but once in a while he’s able to rein in his political zingers and bouncing prose enough to make himself palatable to a dullard like myself.  He has a review of David Denby’s recent book Snark: It’s Mean, It’s Personal, and It’s Ruining Our Conversation in Commentary magazine, and it is quite good.  The burden of Denby’s book, as I understand it, is to deplore the prevalence of “snark” in media and public life, while distinguishing it from a good and healthy irony.  Steyn thinks he fails, for what that’s worth, mainly because the line between snark and irony turns out to be the same line that divides Denby’s political foes from his friends.  At the end of the review Steyn remarks that the real problem with our public conversation and popular culture is not that it’s snarky instead of ironic, but that it is tied to an ever-changing news cycle devoid of perspective and memory.  He puts it this way:

For my own part, I find the divide between Colbertian “irony” and Dowd-esque “snark” less of a chasm than Denby imagines: Both are part of a self-referential present-tense culture bobbing around in circles on the surface, and it’s foolish to argue degrees of precedence between flotsam and jetsam.

It’s an obvious point, but well said.

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