David L. Ulin posts an excellent, thought-provoking review in today's Houston Chronicle, commenting on Snark: It's Mean, It's Personal, and It's Ruining Our Conversation by David Denby (author of one of my favorite tomes, Great Books.)
God save us from Gawker’s world.
The New York-based media gossip Web site, which launched in 2002 and has distinguished itself by, among other things, attacking writer Neal Pollack’s young son, Elijah, is generally regarded as the prototype of a new style of cultural discourse: dismissive, superior, jaded, marked by what David Denby, in Snark: It’s Mean, It’s Personal, and It’s Ruining Our Conversation, calls “false knowingness,” a way of pretending to be more clued-in than it is.
Denby quotes Gawker founder Nick Denton: “The ideal Gawker item is something triggered by a quote at a party, or an incident, or a story somewhere else and serves to expose hypocrisy, or turn conventional wisdom on its head, and it’s 100 words long, 200 max.” This, Denby continues, is “snark’s mission statement — indolent parasitism as a work ethos.”
Snark aspires to make a counter-argument: that the culture of mean, as exemplified by Gawker, TMZ and Perez Hilton, is not just idiotic but a dehumanizing force. “We are in a shaky moment,” Denby writes, “a moment of transition, and I think it’s reasonable to ask: What are we doing to ourselves? What kind of journalistic culture do we want? ... What kind of national conversation?”
These are excellent questions, the kind any thinking person ought to be asking as the top-down authority of traditional media yields to the fluidity of the electronic frontier. What makes this new paradigm so exciting, after all, is what makes it so unsettling: that we can respond to anything instantaneously, almost without thinking, Twittering and posting and YouTubing in an endless monologue, like Joyce’s stream of consciousness run amok.
Click here to read the rest on Chron.com.
The hilarious footnote to this post is that when I went to Amazon to grab a link for Denby's book, I couldn't help but notice that it has been (predictably) lambasted by two dozen snarky one star reviews.