Monday, January 13, 2014

Where we are in 2014

While following B&G Review's worthwhile pursuit of CBS sports trolls, I was pointed to this essay by Tom Scocca published by Gawker last month. 

It's a long essay and I want you to read it so I'll shut up in a minute.  But Scocca basically presents the grand unified theory of what's wrong with our politics and media right now.

Saints fans at the end of 2013 are wondering about the team's championship "window of opportunity." Similarly, I believe the brief window the internet granted us to counteract the commercial authoritarian haughtiness that pollutes our culture and politics is closing. The reason that's happening is because "the internet" is ceasing to be the domain of alternative media and becoming one with the larger commercial media.   This article goes a long way to explaining the nuts and bolts of how that manifests.
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.

If negativity is understood to be bad (and it must be bad, just look at the name: negativity) then anti-negativity must be good. The most broadly approved-of thing about Barack Obama, in 2008, was his announced desire to "change the tone" of politics. Everyone agreed then that our politics needed a change of tone. The politicians who make speeches, the reporters and commentators who write the articles expressing the current state of political affairs, the pollsters and poll respondents who ask and answer questions about politics—in short, the great mass of people who do anything that could conceivably generate something that could be called a "tone" of politics—all were dissatisfied with the tone.  

One of the silliest or most misguided notions that David Denby frets about, in denouncing snark, is that "the lowest, most insinuating and insulting side threatens to win national political campaigns." This is more or less the opposite of the case. What carries contemporary American political campaigns along is a thick flow of opaque smarm.

The essence of "snark" is the indignant calling out of bullshit.  If you're in the business of selling bullshit to people, you probably don't care much for "snark" or critical thinking at all for that matter. And commercial media is all about selling bullshit.  And commercial media is coming to dominate the internet. Hence the growing ubiquity of "smarm."

Buzzfeed may call it "No haters" but in New Orleans we call it, "One Team One Voice One City" and it's getting more and more insidious by the day.  

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