The word comes from various sources. One dictionary says it blends “snide” and “remark,” another one points to Lewis Carroll’s “The Hunting of the Snark.” There are sailboats, missiles and minor characters in novels that are snarks. (The minor character is in Joseph Heller’s Catch-22) but in Denby’s book, it is always mean and cruel.
I’m not overly surprised to see how common snark has become. The anonymity of social networking sites and emails (on the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog,) allows us to be mean without responsibility. We don’t have to say it in person or show ourselves, so the bar to decency is lowered considerably.
The popularity of reality shows lies in the “mean girl”snark–the bullying insults that we secretly wish we could hurl at the person who was mean to us. We get that vicarious pleasure in someone else’s bad behavior, that emotional schadenfreude of a rush, guilt-free, from those shows. After endless seasons of escalating backstabbing in the kitchen, bedroom, hot tub, dress-making studio and home remodel, “shocking” has numbed us down to acceptance.
Oddly enough, I can appreciate sarcasm, irony, parody and wit. But snark takes them all out for a walk, then mugs them and tells them they don’t have a sense of humor. Snark hurts.
I think it may be time to put down the glee in gossip, and recognize that winning is not everything, or the only thing, but a time in our life we can really show how big we are. Reality shows would collapse, and we’d have to rediscover a real sense of humor. Personally, I’m ready for it.
–Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach who runs workshops in communicating at work, at home, and to strangers.