We have popular names now for the rhetorical tools these flacks are deploying: the straw-man attack, the fake umbrage, the concern-trolling. Why are those tools so familiar? It is because they are essential parts of the smarmer's tool kit, the grease gun and the rag and the spatula. Where does the grease go? Smarm hopes to fill the cultural or political or religious void left by the collapse of authority, undermined by modernity and postmodernity. It's not enough anymore to point to god or the western tradition or the civilized consensus for a definitive value judgment. Yet a person can still gesture in the direction of things that resemble those values, vaguely. The old systems of prestige are rickety and insecure.
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Smarm should be understood as a type of bullshit, then—it expresses one agenda, while actually pursuing a different one. Its genuine purposes lie beneath the annotated greased-over surface. Take the following example, courtesy of the former Bush administration press secretary Ari Fleischer. You almost certainly have an opinion about Fleischer, but consider this purely as a matter of technique, how resume he frames a complaint as if his partisan credentials have nothing to do with it: Fleischer is ostensibly remarking on a failure of "civility"—a central theme. What the piece had claimed was simply that, in addition to the publicly known security brief that had warned george bush in 2001 of al qaeda's intention to attack the United States, there were other, still-classified briefings, that had offered further warnings. Fleischer had no interest in engaging with the content of those claims. He was attacking an "implication which he claimed was the work of a "truther." The fairly well-documented fact that the bush administration was insufficiently prepared for the september 11 attacks is lumped in with the insane conspiracies saying that the administration perpetrated the attacks itself. And Ari Fleischer is disgusted and wounded by it all. To say nothing of disappointed, that the new York times —those hypocrites—should have betrayed the promise of a more civil world. Notionally crossing the aisle, we find the former Clinton administration chaff-thrower Lanny davis, who was the target of this fairly concise and accurate tweet: And who replied with a condensed smarm tantrum: Again, there's the woundedness—"personal attack "name-calling." Lanny davis, cynical mouthpiece for any crook.
Falsity and hypocrisy are important to this, but they are pieces of something larger. Consider the phenomenon that the philosopher Harry Frankfurt identified, in his 1986 essay and 2005 book* On Bullshit, as bullshit. Smarm should be understood as a type of bullshit, then. It is a kind of moral and ethical misdirection. Bullshit, Frankfurt wrote, was defined by drinking the bullshitter's indifference to truth: The fact about himself that the bullshitter that the truth-values of his statements are of no central interest to him; what we are not to understand is that his intention is neither to report. The bullshitter may not deceive us, or even intend to do so, either about the facts or about what he takes the facts. What he does necessarily attempt to deceive us about is his enterprise. His only indispensably distinctive characteristic is that in a certain way he misrepresents what he is.
Someone has come a long way from "do not dismiss a book until you have written one." But Eggers was never laying down rules for himself. He was laying down rules for other people. A pause, now, for some inevitable responses: - what did dave eggers ever do to note retrolisthesis you? surprise, a gawker blogger who's never accomplished anything is jealous of dave eggers. dave eggers has inspired more people and done more good than you could possibly dream. But let's get at the deeper substance. What defines smarm, as it functions in our culture? "Smarm" and "smarmy" go back to the older "smalm meaning to smooth something down with grease—and by extension to be unctuous or flattering, or smug. Smarm aspires to smother opposition or criticism, to cover everything over with an artificial, oily gloss.
It is also no accident that Eggers is full of shit. He is so passionate, and his passion has such rhetorical momentum, that it is almost possible to overlook the fact that the literal proposition he's putting forward, in the name of large-heartedness and honesty, is bogus and insulting. Unless you have made one? Movie criticism, Eggers is saying, should be reserved for those wise and discerning souls who have access to a few tens of millions of dollars of entertainment-industry capital. One or two hundred million, if you wish to have an opinion about the works of Michael bay. And now here is dave eggers 13 years later, talking to the. New York times about his new novel, The circle, a dystopian warning about the toxic effects of social media and the sinister companies that produce it: i've never visited any tech campus, and I don't know anything in particular about how any given company. I really didn't want.
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Harvard Advocate in 2000, in which a college student had the poor manners to ask the literary celebrity about "selling out.". It is also no accident that david Eggers is full of shit. In reply to the question, Eggers told the. Advocate that yes, he was what people call a sellout, that he had been paid 12,000 for a single magazine article, that he had taken the chance to hang out with Puffy, and that he had said yes to all these opportunities because "no. I was a critic and I wish I could take it all back because it came from a smelly and ignorant place in me, and spoke with a voice that was all rage and envy. Do not dismiss a book until you summary have written one, and do not dismiss a movie until you have made one, and do not dismiss a person until you have met them.
Here we have the major themes or attitudes of smarm: the scolding, the gestures at inclusiveness, the appeal to virtue and maturity. Eggers used to be a critic, but he has grown out of childish things. Eggers has done the work—the book publishing, the hollywood deal-making—that makes his opinions (unlike those of his audience) earned and valid opinions. It is no accident that he is addressing undergraduates here; he tells the. Advocate that before he sent back his reply to its questions, he had already delivered a version of the text as a speech at Yale. He is explicitly performing, for an audience of his inferiors. The rant is directed to myself, age 20, as much as it is to you, so remember that if you ever want to take much offense.
Without identifying and comprehending what they have in common, we have a dangerously incomplete understanding of the conditions we are living under. Over the past year or two, on the way to writing this essay, i've accumulated dozens of emails and im conversations from friends and colleagues. They send links to articles, essays, tumblr posts, online comments, tweets—the shared attitude transcending any platform or format or subject matter. What is this defining feature of our times? What is snark reacting to?
It is reacting to smarm. What is smarm, exactly? Smarm is a kind of performance—an assumption of the forms of seriousness, of virtue, of constructiveness, without the substance. Smarm is concerned with appropriateness and with tone. Smarm would rather talk about anything other than smarm. Why, smarm asks, can't everyone just be nicer? The most significant explicator of the niceness rule—the loudest Thumper of all, the true prophetic voice of anti-negativity—is neither the cartoon rabbit nor the publicists' group nor Julavits, nor even david Denby. The believer 's founder and impresario, dave eggers. If there is a defining document of contemporary literary smarm, it is an interview Eggers did via email with the.
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For a guiding principle of 21st century literary criticism, buzzfeed's Fitzgerald turned to thesis the moral and intellectual teachings of Walt Disney, in the movie. Bambi : "If you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all.". The line is uttered by Thumper, bambi's young bunny companion, but its attribution is more complicated than that—Thumper's mother is making him recite a rule handed down by his father, by way of admonishing her son for unkindness. It is scolding, couched as an appeal to goodness, in the name of an absent authority. The same maxim—minus the disney citation and tidied up to "anything at all"—was offered by an organization called prconsulting Group recently, in support of its announcement that the third tuesday in October would be " Snark-Free day." "If we can put the snark away for. Are the goals of the public-relations profession the goals of the world in general? Why does a publicist talk like a book reviewer? If you listen to the crusaders against negativity—in literature, in journalism, in politics, in commerce—you begin to hear a recurring set of themes and attitudes, amounting to an omnipresent, unnamed cultural force. The words flung outward start to define a sort of unarticulated philosophy, one that has largely avoided being recognized note and defined.
It is a kind of response. Yet to what is it responding? Of what is it contemptuous? Stand against snark, and you are standing with everything decent. And who doesn't summary want to be decent? The snarkers don't, it seems. Or at least they (let's be honest: we) don't want to be decent on those terms. Over time, it has become clear that anti-negativity is a worldview of its own, a particular mode of thinking and argument, no matter how evasively or vapidly it chooses to express itself.
julavits described it in 2003, while formally bestowing the name of "snark" on it, in the inaugural issue. In her essay, julavits was grappling with the question of negative book reviewing: Was it fair or necessary? Was the meanness displayed in book reviews a symptom of deeper failings in the culture? The decade that followed did little to clear up the trouble; if anything, the identification of "snark" gave people a way to avoid thinking very hard about. Snark is supposed to be self-evidently and self-explanatorily bad: "nasty "low and "snide to pick a few words from the first page of david Denby's 2009 tract. Snark: It's mean, It's Personal, and It's ruining Our Conversation. (I bought the denby book used for six bucks, to cut him out of the loop on any royalties.). But why are nastiness and snideness taken to be features of our age? One general point of agreement, in denunciations of snark, is that snark is reactive.
Wells's HistoryPresidential InauguralsAll FictionShelf of FictionGhost StoriesShort StoriesShaw, ein, evenson,. Last month, Isaac Fitzgerald, the newly hired editor of buzzfeed's newly created books section, made a remarkable but not entirely surprising announcement: he was not interested in publishing negative book reviews. In place of "the scathing takedown rip fitzgerald said, he desired to promote a positive community experience. A community, even one dedicated to positivity, needs an enemy to define itself against. Buzzfeed's motto, the attitude that drives its success, is an explicit "No haters." The site is one of the leading voices of the moment, thriving in the online sharing economy, in which agreeability is popularity, and popularity is value. (Upworthy, the next iteration, thesis has gone ahead and made its name out of the premise.). There is more at work here than mere good feelings. "No haters" is a sentiment older and more wide-reaching than buzzfeed. There is a consensus, or something that has assumed the tone of a consensus, that we are living, to our disadvantage, in an age of snark—that the problem of our times is a thing called "snark.".
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