Emerson urges his readers to follow their individual will instead of conforming to social expectations.
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. Upworthy, the next iteration, has gone ahead and made its name out of the premise.
There is more at work here than mere good feelings. 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.
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 it.
Snark is supposed to be self-evidently and self-explanatorily bad: 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. 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. 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.
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.
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 and defined.
Without identifying and comprehending what they have in common, we have a dangerously incomplete understanding of the conditions we are living under. 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.Take an inside look at the Writing Center: What Happens During A Writing Coaching Session.
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