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Critics argue the merit and meaning of snark

Posted January 06, 2009

Snark

In the new New York Magazine, Adam Sternbergh’s book review Snark Attack (rather snarkily) attacks the new book, Snark: It’s Mean, It’s Personal, and It’s Ruining Our Conversation, from the New Yorker film critic David Denby. (It’s good to mention that Denby also used to be the film critic of New York Magazine, before ascending to the post across town.) As the book’s ad copy suggests, “What is snark? You recognize it when you see it -- a tone of teasing, snide, undermining abuse, nasty and knowing, that is spreading like pinkeye through the media and threatening to take over how Americans converse with each other and what they can count on as true. Snark attempts to steal someone's mojo, erase her cool, annihilate her effectiveness.”

But Sternbergh claims Denby misses the point. He writes: “Denby’s book invites—even begs masochistically to receive—a snarky response, but he won’t get one here. I enjoy snark. I practice snark. And I hope herein to defend snark. But it’s too easy to stamp this book with some snarky dismissal (EPIC FAIL) and continue on one’s self-satisfied way. Denby’s book is serious, and wrong, and it deserves an appropriate response.”  His response is to claim that snarkiness is the cry of power from those rendered powerless. But the debate has already started to line people up. Edward Champion in his blog Reluctant Habits writes “In Defense of David Denby:” “Sternbergh’s “appropriate response” completely misses the point of Denby’s thesis and Sternbergh, in his efforts to persuade us of snark’s great glory, unintentionally reenforces Denby’s argument.”