snark: too big to fail?

Walter Kirn’s review of David Denby’s book Snark is pretty fun reading:

He wants to correct and restrain, using scholarship and logic, perhaps the keenest, most reflexive, prehistoric and anarchic of simple human pleasures, short of eating or achieving orgasm. The act of laughter, this would be. Or, for Denby, the act of low, illicit laughter — laughter enjoyed for the wrong reasons and provoked by the wrong lines. Whether laughter for the right reasons is even possible, given humor’s subversive, corrosive history, is a difficult philosophical question, of course, but Denby feels that it is. This follows from his belief that the impulses to giggle, grin and cackle (and the various means for stimulating these impulses) can be, and ought to be, consciously aligned with civic virtues and literary standards, lest our society laugh for no just cause, at jokes that aren’t witty enough to laugh at and that may even be plain stupid and malicious.

Yet, I think there is something missing in the book (which I haven’t read, of course) and the review. Snark is a good shorthand for humor that works on a sophisticated level, as sort of an end in itself. I think snarkiness is the Credit Default Swap or Mortgage-Backed Security of the cultural world– an instrument so complex and disconnected from anything valuable that it creates dangerously inflated markets for worthless exchange. Like a book Snark and the snarky review of the book Snark (and definitely a blog post about both!). So, from now on (much like the painfully earnest site SnarkMarket), I’m only going to use the term snark ironically.

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