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Thursday, August 02, 2012


I suppose, what with texting and FaceBooking and Tweeting, I should have expected it.

I don't know if you've noticed, but I find that there has been a sudden, alarming increase in "snark".

Snark is a combination of sarcasm and snide remark, usually very brief, very pointed and sometimes - but not always - clever and funny.

Well, it's clever funny in the way that snide remarks and sarcasm sometimes are.

But, not always.  Sometimes, snark hurts. Because - intentional or not - that's part of what snark does.

Snark should never be confused with wit, which is a form of intellectual humor. "Brevity is the soul of wit," said Shakespeare, which, I think, snark aims for but misses the mark in its banality.  "Blunt language cannot hide a banal conception," wrote New Yorker editor, James Wolcott.

To be sure, wit can descend to the depths of sarcasm, which is then known as a "quip" or a "wise crack". Dorothy Parker was the acid-tongue Queen of Quip, famous for her remark to her Upper East Side apartment doorman who once greeted her with, "Age before beauty", to which she responded, "And pearls before swine."

She also suggested for her epitaph, "Excuse my dust," which I think is pretty witty.

Episcopalian Tallulah Bankhead could also throw around a clever remark or two in her time. 

I love the story - which has been passed down from generation to generation of gay men (in fact, I don't think you can get your certificate from Gay Central without telling this story at least once) -  wherein Ms. Bankhead rushes in late for midnight mass at the Cathedral of John the Divine one Christmas Eve. 

As she wrapped herself up in her mink stole and tended to her hair, she glanced at the thurifer and called to him over her shoulder, "Lovely dress, dahling, but your purse is on fire."

Clever. Funny. But, neither snark nor wit. Most likely sarcasm trying to disguise inebriation. However, she also said, "I'd rather be strongly wrong than weakly right", which I think is quite witty.

Winston Churchill was known for his biting sarcasm, like the remark he reportedly made to Lady Astor:
Astor: “Sir, if you were my husband, I would give you poison.”
Churchill: “Madam, if I were your husband I would take it.”
However, he also said, "An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile—hoping it will eat him last.". Clever. Intelligent. Just enough ironic humor to induce a guffaw but not exactly a laugh, and slicing closely to the marrow of truth.

He was, no doubt, speaking of Neville Chamberlain, which brings the remark terribly close to sarcasm. However, he was probably speaking of Hitler when he said, "A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject," which, my mind, is a fine example of wit.

Cyberspace is filled with snark. Which is fine, except those who snark often think they are being clever and witty. Some of it is clever but it is not wit. And, quite frankly, I'm weary of it.

Maybe it's a generational thing. Maybe it's just me.

I joined the Twitterverse in May so I could keep up with General Convention. It wasn't long after I was in Indy that there was a buzz about the tweets of one, "MyselfTheBishop" AKA "++++KJS".

Some of the initial "tweets" were quite clever if not a harsh mirror to the language favored by liberals in The Episcopal church. I never met an Episcopal priest (myself included) or bishop who couldn't take a twenty-five cent metaphor and wring out an extra nickle.  Like, this one:

Jesus wants to pull us to his chest and nurse us on the sweet milk of tolerance, vulnerability, risk taking, and inclusion.
There was one earlier one about how we all needed to take time to "mend the sacred hoop" that drove many of us into paroxysms of laughter and became the answer to the question, "Where are you headed?" "Oh, out to mend my sacred hoop."

I don't know the identity of "MyselfTheBishop" but I'd lay solid money on the fact that it's one of the uber-Calvinist "orthodox", either former or staying-but-mad-as-hell Episcopal bloggers on the far right.

This one is a dead give-away:
So excited in the new dean of ! Maybe we can organize a yoga Eucharist w/ Buddhist chant & Sufi readings
So is this one:

Eating at Chic-Fil-A is grounds for exclusion from the discernment process. Meat-eaters... Homophobes... How much worse can it get?
We are not amused.

Here's the thing about sarcasm: It is always anger disguised as humor.

Take a moment to let that sink in - especially the next time you catch yourself ready to snark.

Sarcasm can be a healthy way of expressing anger - better than fisticuffs any day - but it always serves to make me angry whenever it believes itself to be clever and/or intelligent humor.  It is not. Sometimes, it's funny but not when the snarker thinks him/herself clever or in the possession of wit.

Then, it's more about the snarker than the snark. It's like watching that pathetic kid we all knew in the 6th grade who thought he was being funny but mostly was a real jerk. When his jokes didn't work, he usually pulled your pony tail or stuck a "Kick Me" note on your back when you weren't looking.

I do not have the intellectual capacity to be witty but I have enough intelligence to know the difference between 'wit' and 'snark'.  I can even tell the difference between 'clever' and 'sarcasm'.

Shakespeare was a wit. John Donne was a wit. Oscar Wilde, Dorothy Parker, and Winston Churchill were intelligent people who could be quite witty but more often than not sojourned into sarcasm and were, perhaps, more ingenious than funny.

Whoever is the author of "MyselfTheBishop" is a nitwit.

These days, a sojourn into cyberspace can feel a bit like being locked in a room with Don Rickles.

So, I'm asking - as nicely as I know how - that the next time you're in cyberspace, please consider lowering the decibel level on your snark-o-meter.

My sacred hoop has lots of tears and needs more mending than I have time for repair.

Or, to paraphrase the words of the immortal Ms. Tallulah Bankhead, "I love your FaceBook and Twitter posts, dahling, but your brain is on fire."

See? I told you I wasn't witty. But, I am annoyed, so please knock it off because, as one snark on FaceBook recently posted, beating the crap out of someone is illegal.

Thank you. Thank you very much. I'm here all week. Try the salad bar. < / snark >


Jim said...

I believe it was the late Randall Garrett who had a character say when challenged for attempting to be a wit:

"I only wish to be promoted to Sargent my lord, for which one requires only half a wit."

There is an observation about trolls and other authors of snark there somewhere.


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

And so proving to be a wit.

Love it.

Trolls have pretty much left me alone for awhile. Happens when you stop publishing snarky comments and posts from people who want to remain anonymous.

Bateau Master said...

Moving the subject just a little - one of things I rail against is sarcasm & wit without belief without foundation.

My favorite example is Seinfeld - a program about nothing that believed in nothing - it had no core value. Family Guy and much of Seth McFarlane work is in the same vain. 2 & 1/2 men often follows the same pattern. These shows are often just mean.

On the other side: the wit and sarcasm of the Simpsons is tempered by the knowledge that Homer loves Marge, Bart loves his parents & even Lisa. Plus, they are the most church going family on TV!.

We've come to embrace this entertainment and it has sharpened our tongues and keyboards. When we use wit to dismiss and diminish others - it becomes snark and nothing to be admired.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I'm always happy to agree with you, Bateau Master.

JCF said...


Snark is something best done between friends (y'know, like certain in-group re-appropriations of Former Smear Terms...said JCF the Queer).

But Snark for Snark's Sake wearies, Quickly! (said JCF who has been Guilty of Same, from time to time).

Today at Episcopal Cafe/The Lead, I read someone who snarks more than ANYONE else there, accuse others of "snark"! Oy vey, Kyrie eleison...

Muthah+ said...

At present I would rather use my fists. It is just too mean at the moment.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

There's lots of snark at EC but there's lots of snark all over the internet. Probably because there's lots of anger in the church.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Guess it's true, eh? Don't mess with Texas.

Anonymous said...

Why snark? JCF, I have no idea what you are talking about. (clutches pearls.)


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

IT - Neither do I, which is why I wrote this post.

Frank Remkiewicz aka “Tree” said...

The problem with snark as well as wit is it is so much dependent on the eyes, nose, lips/mouth and that does not come across the digital divide. Niether works very well without the facial expression and the body language. The result is hurtful and mean-spirited. I see this all the time and sometimes am guilty myself. I have come to realize unless I want to "put a shot across someone'[s bow" the snarky or witty comment is better left unsaid. Such is the computer.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Probably one of the best articles I saw on the evolution of humor was years ago in Smithsonian magazine. It was actually an article about the Marx Brothers, I think, but it's been so long the details are a little fuzzy.

What it talked about was the difference between "outsider humor" vs. "insider humor." In the context of the Marx Brothers, they were very obviously "outsiders" just as in real life, they were offspring of the great American immigration of the late 1800's. The reason they were funny was their obvious "outside-ness" as the poked fun at the insiders. The status quo changes when the insiders are exposed.

It then compared that to the humor of Seinfeld and the Letterman Show--examples of "insider humor." The "we're so cool and they're so not" kind. The kind that hurts people. The kind that only drives the outsiders further outside and into the shadows.

That article changed my life by making aware of something in myself. People who know me know I can be incredibly funny. But I always have to be careful I don't go too far. That article taught me to ask myself, "Am I engaging in outsider or insider humor? If it's the latter, am I building up or tearing down the Body of Christ with it?" I still don't do it right all the time, but I have a better awareness.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Fred I think we can all do well. Someone recently said to me that the difference between a smart phone and a dumb phone is often only 10 seconds

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

For me, when I feel a snark coming on, I ask myself what I'm really angry about and what better way might there be to channel that energy. The association with anger has really helped. I think that might be part of the insider-outsider stuff.