The internet features lots of snark, but precious little wit. Spend any time on social media, and you’ll find that most confuse the two.
Wit is defined as “the keen perception and cleverly apt expression of those connections between ideas that awaken amusement and pleasure.” Snark is “to be critical in a rude or sarcastic way.” Of course, sarcasm and rudeness can be funny, but the problem with most snark is its purely negative intent. Don Rickles is obnoxiously rude but everyone knows he doesn’t mean it. And funny sarcasm contains a wink to the recipient that it’s all in good fun. But snark holds the subject in contempt and the goal is harm and virtue signaling to the cool kids.
David Denby wrote an entire book about snark, aptly titled Snark, where he describes it as “that nasty combination of snide and sarcasm that goes beyond irony and satire to just plain ugliness.”
A semi-recent example of Denby’s definition was the left’s weird mockery of Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women” comment. His statement demonstrated how his governorship had more women in senior leadership positions than that of any other state. This didn’t just happen randomly, but Romney actively sought out qualified females to better represent his constituents.
Attacks from the left were quick and none made sense. The ersatz jokes never got to a punchline, leaning instead on the “Women? In binders? Really?!” formula that led Seth Meyers’ Weekend Update into laughless decline.
Making a statement and adding “really” is the Platonic ideal of snark. Humor isn’t even attempted, just a vague dismissal followed by a dumb grin, pencil tap, or raised eyebrow. It contains a few trappings of comedy but none of the impact.
Snark is what unfunny people think is funny. It’s the comedian with lousy material who shouts it louder to spark a reaction. It’s the mean girls teasing the new kid at school because her hair is so last year. Snark offers no insights, but only flatters the biases of the author and the intended audience.
Worst of all, snark is lazy. Instead of offering a clever juxtaposition, a fresh turn of phrase, or a unique perspective, the snarker just mutters, “white people, am I right?” It’s a boring pose, revealing cynicism not comedy.
You want to disagree with me? In the comments? Really?!