The Smarm Offensive

I was merely responding to your supposition though…?

I’m confused now. Ah well.

I think that’s the point.

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Okay, I read and then scanned. Mea culpa. But it became tiresome in its own self-righteousness.

I think that we can all agree that the NSA is smarmy. They talk about being the “good guys” and protecting people, but clearly they are happy to keep the machine humming, and don’t really have your back.

If this is parody, congrats, it’s great.

If this is not parody, the irony, it burns us.


That’s not the golden rule. This is.

(don’t miss the little red button here:


Smarmers to the left of me, snarkers to the right…

Wait, is that smarmy? What if you have equal affinities for both postures? Does that make me a stone cold hustler? Hmmm, I think this entire comment might be a little snarky. Great. Now my neurosis has kicked in and my entire identity is in flux.

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Snark is often conflated with cynicism, which is a troublesome misreading. Snark may speak in cynical terms about a cynical world, but it is not cynicism itself. It is a theory of cynicism.

The practice of cynicism is smarm.

I’m going to have to protest the misuse of “cynic” and “cynicism” – it complicates many of our discussions, and the author winds up on two sides of the definition here. Snark is definitely the tool of a true Cynic. The practice of those a Cynic is snarky about is properly a kind of Nihilism.

But yeah, I know what he means.

Does anyone remember the advertising executive, gloating in the month following the September 11th attack that “the age of cynicism irony is over!”. CynicismIrony and snark are the two most important weapons against the most consistent purveyors of smarm: advertisers.

(getting my own terms wrong)

It complains about the use of tone as a substitute for substance, which is not the same thing as complaining about the tone of something while ignoring its substance. Except for using the word smarm instead, it’s essentially an essay about how much of our society has turned to tone trolling as a way to dismiss criticism and worthwhile causes.

It’s winding and I don’t agree with every point, but having read through the article, I thought it was definitely worthwhile. There are things in the world that deserve to be called out, and we are the poorer when we instead fault the people who do not show them respect.

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The piece definitely had some interesting threads to pull and and points to bring up, but I don’t think the wandering form or the scattershot of topics really fit the succinctness that title suggested. Returning endlessly to the word smarm, and attempting to encapsulate the thesis in it distracted from the larger points and came off as forced. My main takeaway was that the strategy of crying for civility as a defense against pointed and necessary criticism is an insidious, seductive and invasive current and can be just as dishonest, hollow and hypocritical as empty criticism.

Setting up the snark vs. smarm dichotomy seemed like a he-said-she-said catalyst for the perpetual motion machine of “didn’t read it, but I will sure as hell disagree with what I think the title is saying” comment sections. The article itself, though, raised some interesting points about how politeness can destructively mask the cleansing power of well-reasoned anger.

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One could also argue that snark may be angry, but angry isn’t always snark. You can earnestly assert anger and the reasons why you are calling something or someone out. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy snark, but there are times when a writer is discussing such serious issues that dispensing with the snark to gain an ear from an otherwise shut-off constituency is more important and effective. On the other hand, the call for kumbaya all around, genuflecting at the soldiers schtick, and you have to adhere no matter what is ridiculous. You can be angry and relatively respectful (at least of the subject) at the same time.

But if someone only wants to write happy fluffy pieces and never criticism, so be it. It’s easy to tell who the cheerleaders are. On the other side, it’s also easy to see who really doesn’t give a shit, but who is sarcastic for either the joke or the kill.

I’ll just add that its not politeness itself, but appealing to politeness in order to avoid answering an argument.

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Ah, Dave Eggers. I only know his writings which I would describe as unctuous and hyperbolic. An article he wrote ages ago on the Flaming Lips was so wheedling and sycophantic that it put me off the band for over a decade until a friend took me to a concert. Not really seeing the smarm, but luuurve the word. Smarm. Delicious.

I agree there is certainly a difference. I think that Scocca would agree too. I think the article, on the one hand, was railing against the over-assignment of the term “snark” to all anger, and on the other hand was defending snark by saying that its presence doesn’t preclude substance, and that, when added judiciously to substance, can be an effective tone.

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I don’t disagree with that. Gawker, unfortunately, normally isn’t all that judicious about applying snark. So the long on and on, came across as somewhat defensive. Or maybe I just didn’t have the patience for it.

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The snark was a boojum, you see…

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I think the problem might be two-fold.

First you have the pros, like the politicians described in the original article. They are masters of this sort of fakery. But their actual policies and actions are frequently directly at odds with even their most vaguely positive statements. For instance, they go on about the value of the Middle Class, while supporting policies (both major parties) that are actively destructive to it. They are not motivating better behavior by successfully faking virtue, they are obscuring harmful behavior. Not to mention the harm from focusing on a “Middle Class” that hardly exists anymore, and is mostly composed of people better described as Working Poor. Who are then conveniently completely ignored.

Secondly, us plebes love to feel special and just slightly more virtuous than the next person. When we concern-troll others, which we all do, it allows us to avoid – yet again – dealing with our own shit. I’ve gone on any number of thoughtful, heartfelt rants against people scoring cheap points or being needlessly, cynically sarcastic. Although reasonably well-intentioned, all I’ve really accomplished is to give myself a little pat on the back for being so damn decent; it doesn’t curtail the nastiness, and it prevents me from grappling with my own hypocrisy. Namely, that my critique of their “hating” is often its own smug form of “hating.” But beyond that, we allow ourselves to be bewitched by the professionals and stifle our natural rage in deference to their false conception of “civility.” We neuter ourselves, and allow them to continue to get away with their harmful bullshit.

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I really liked this, its feels like a really important piece of the puzzle. (The puzzle being modern politics)

There’s still some other pieces to decipher, for example I would love to find the link between smarm in the way its used here and concern trolling. :smile:

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Well put. I think this is pretty much how I came away from the article, as well: a mixed bag, but one full of provocative points.

I also came away feeling a little sheepish, and more intent on examining my own reasons for “taking the high road” in a given situation.

How do you expect people to relate to a mentally ill society bent on wanton cruelty and destruction?

It’s past time for civil words to have any effect on what’s become an exclusive corporatocracy; as citizens we have been atomised. Within this system of stimuli scientifically evolved to bypass the frontal lobes and plug directly into animal compulsions, only grunts and moans are heard. Steered by fear, a love of shiny things and a sugar jones, the mob is corralled.

IMO the only way to restore the possibility of a coherent and worthwhile public conversation is to start with a fresh system; ignoring the old one as much as possible.

How can we ever hope to enjoy a fruitful conversation with people influenced by the likes of Rupert Murdoch? We must exclude trollies somehow.

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I am most certainly a happy mutant! There is only so much content to consume here, and I occasionally veer elsewhere, to my dismay.

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