A while back, someone on Twitter publicly shared an image of someone else’s book cover with a comment to the effect that it was a really bad cover design. I responded by saying, “This is mean,” and then immediately deleted my reply. I figured that I was just causing more negativity. They are probably a cool person in general, and people do stuff like this all the time. It’s the fact that we do it all the time that I want to talk about.
When we make fun of people for things that do no harm—their clothing, their weight, their amateurish book cover designs, their unbearable lack of awareness to their own flaws and failures—we call it snark. Many of us proudly self-identify as “snarky,” as if it means we are clever, rebellious, and keen observers.
What we call snark went by a different name when we were in grade school: being mean. Some kids were mean in inventive ways, and it didn’t make it any better.
Snark is in a different category from direct attacks on social media. People target women in particular, and if a woman expresses a strong opinion that gets shared widely, she’s likely to be the target of vile name-calling as well as numerous threats of death, violence, and rape (some of them, I’ll add from personal experience, horrifically detailed.) Some people also threaten women’s children, and in one case, someone threatened a mass shooting if the woman spoke in public. Some women get targeted with vicious attacks for being the wrong color or body type and having some success, or for having a famous father who committed suicide.
Snark obviously isn’t as bad as that. But it is more pervasive. “Nice” people do it. Lots of people do it.
Snark isn’t inherently clever.
I’ve worked with talented professional humor writers for years and years. It’s difficult to make a great joke that’s goofy, insightful, or makes a leap of logic you didn’t expect.
Saying something mean about someone is the easiest thing in the world. Everybody who can talk or type can do it. You can find something mean to say about anyone or anything. The people you can’t stand, the ones you believe are Bad and Hateful People, are awesome at this.
Snark is rarely rebellious.
The internet runs on contempt. It’s the most conventional tone you can take. Moreover, snark tends to be in the service of upholding conventions: either those of society at large, or those of your own peer group.
Snark isn’t a product of keen observation.
“Look!” it says. “I found someone failing!” Well, everybody is failing and messing up and falling short, everywhere, every day of their lives. It wasn’t that hard.
When we’re snarky on the internet, the target of our contempt may never know that we are inviting others to have a superior laugh at his or her expense. (Or they might find out! Maybe they’ll find out about it at what was already one of the worst times of their lives. Maybe it’ll go viral, and hundreds of thousands of people will join in on mocking them. LOL!)
Even if they don’t, the internet atmosphere of scorn and derisive laughter hurts lots of people. It makes them feel worse about their bodies, their status as a single person, their unpopular faith that brings them comfort, their stupid mistakes, and hundreds of other things that are a part of who they are.
It makes them feel scared to share their art, singing, songwriting, or poetry with the world. Finished work is open to criticism, of course. But where creativity is growing, snark is the herbicide threatening to stamp it out.
I’m not writing this because I’ve never been mean on the internet. No, it’s the opposite of that. I’m writing it because I’m trying not to do it any more, and despite my conscious effort, I might do it again! Maybe writing this will help me live up to what I think is right, because nobody likes to be a hypocrite, and we liking people finding out that we’re hypocrites even less.
I’m a social media addict, and I’m determined to pull way, way back on the time I spend chatting back and forth online. (Obviously, the blog is the exception, haha.) It’s time that could be better spent on my other goals, and a steady stream of contempt (mixed in with outright hate and doomsaying in a poisonous stew) doesn’t help with those goals, either. Spending less time on the internet in general will make it easier not to fall into bad behavior.
I think snark does damage to the person dispensing it – the snarkoteur, if you will. If you mock those around you, it’s difficult to have a generous view of yourself.
On the other hand, if you stop making fun of people, it’s going to be harder and harder to ignore the fact that you, yourself, are actually fine as you are and deserving of respect and love. That might be a deeply uncomfortable concept for some people to deal with at first, but I think it’s worth it in the end.