Saturday, September 6, 2014

When Did Snarkiness Become Acceptable?

"Come listen, my men, while I tell you again
The five unmistakable marks
So that you might know, wherever you go
The warranted genuine snarks."
-- Lewis Carroll (The Hunting of the Snark)

Lewis Carroll expounds on these: a meager and hollow taste, a habit of getting up late, slowness in taking a jest, a fondness for bathing machines, and ambition.  If we can take this as representative of 19th century thoughts on snarkiness, how did the present day meaning come about?  And why is it now okay to be snarky nowadays?

Possibly the meager and hollow taste cited by Carroll resulted in the person becoming sharply critical, cutting, or snide.  The snarks, by not understanding something, feels threatened by its existence.  God knows, however, why anyone should feel threatened by Hello Kitty!

First of all, let us ask when and where snarkiness or snarky remarks are acceptable.  Sermons and funeral orations are not accredited occasions for snarky comments.  Sometimes the social situation calls for people to play it straight.  And a politician seeking office should strategically not try to be too clever.  Read my words: Americans admire smartness, but not cleverness.  To be seen as clever is to be smart and up to something!

Also, who can be snarky?  Typically, newspaper or television critics or reviewers are allowed to be clever.  To them, and to the readers, their reviews are as much a tour de force of being clever as a simple imparting of information.  Was the Times restaurant critic awarded the chef's ears and tail for the devastating review of that Times Square restaurant, much like a toreador who dispached El Toro in style would be awarded the bull's ears and tails?  Anyway, critics, like newspaper columnists, are not to be taken very seriously.

High schoolers can be snarky.  Sorry, people, but it's a function of the setting.  After all, high schoolers have to go to school, and the power is in the hands of the teachers and principals!  A little bit of under the breath snarkiness serves to counter the sense of being in a P.O.W. camp, even with the periodic roll calls and substandard cuisine.  Being snarky is often an attribute of the powerless.  After all, do the real movers and shakers make much in the way of snarky remarks?

My theory is that snarkiness can be a manifestation of the Tall Poppy Syndrome: the social tendency to cut the prominent and powerful down to size.  It can be manifested in how a lame duck President is treated.  The high school students gain satisfaction from ridiculing the teacher or principal.  The talentless or unventuresome movie or food critic snipes at the noted moviemaker or chef.  The bon mot becomes their reason for being.  

However, it is at a cost in some cases.  Jon Stewart's or Stephen Colbert's snarkiness on the Comedy Network render few to take them seriously.  In that way, they are the victims of their own jokes.  


Linda Kay said...

I couldn't even think of a snarky remark for this one! Good post!

TexWisGirl said...

snarky sometimes becomes hateful and just plain cruel (i'm thinking joan rivers)

Mike said...

High school was like a POW camp wasn't it.

Grand Crapaud said...

My highschool was like that.

Grand Crapaud said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bilbo said...

High school is the breeding ground for extreme snarkiness.

Cloudia said...

Tall Poppy Syndrome.

We call it Crabs in da Bucket. One tries climb out, do oddahs pull her back down......


Anonymous said...

sadly the tall poppy syndrome is rife here - which I think is a despicable trait.

i've not seen it in any of the americans I've met - which is an admirable trait.