Monday, January 09, 2006

Snark is All The Rage!

I always crack up when someone uses the term "all the rage," because, from what I'm seeing, the "rage" is merely a bunch of hype to get folks to think everybody is doing a particular thing. Yo! It's a freakin' buzzphrase, people!! and it's usually perpetuated by some dope who wants you to buy his amazing new product
Now, given that small factoid, here's a complete re-print of Jon Friedman's 'Snarky' journalism is all the rage now
Commentary: Accent is on commentaries, not reporting
from MarketWatch (and via Mediabistro)

I've re-printed the entire piece because permalinks to stories at MarketWatch notoriously go off-line quickly and are hard to find again. Friedman does give a wonderful synopsis of snarkiness and blogs, as well as the origins of snark (see Mark Twain.)

NEW YORK -- Thanks largely to the advent of the Internet blogs, "snarky" commentaries are sweeping the craft of journalism.
Partly because the snark movement is still so new, it's tough to pin down a definition for the species. But how's this one? If something is funny, edgy, topical and opinionated -- without resorting merely to being caustic or sophomoric -- it could probably be called snarky.

"A snarky attitude can be found everywhere now, except in the New York Review of Books," quipped Kurt Andersen, New York magazine's media critic. Spy magazine, founded by Andersen and Graydon Carter, now the editor of Vanity Fair, put a face on snarky humor in the 1980s.

Crucially, TV, print and even those hipper-than-thou Web journalists are anything but pioneers. It could be contended that other pop-culture chroniclers - filmmakers, stand-up comics and late-night talk show hosts, for instance - have been snarky for decades. It has taken a while for many journalists to catch up.

Once, way, way back during the 20th century, journalism was measured by such quaint qualities as dogged reporting and meticulous fact-checking.

But the rise of the blogs has changed plenty about the craft. Blogs have caught on because they serve the public's desire for immediacy, opinion and entertainment.

The blogs seem to want desperately to be hailed as the anti-MSM -- that is, the non-mainstream media.

Bloggers have been prominent players for only a few years - with the turning point coming in 2004 when they exposed the inaccuracies of CBS' report on President Bush's National Guard record. But they feel slighted because the establishment media have shortchanged their contributions to journalism.

Snarkiness can be loosely defined as demonstrations of criticism, particularly when the target is the establishment, either in the government, the military, corporate America or the dreaded media.


When did it all begin? Who was the first purveyor of snark? Of course, it wasn't only journalists who put their stamp on it. Perhaps it all began with Mark Twain.

The Depression-era Marx Brothers' movies certainly contained their fair share of it, as "Duck Soup" skewered politicians and "Horsefeathers" lambasted higher education. Charlie Chaplin, likewise, mocked the establishment.

Andersen suggested: (Long-ago New Yorker Editor) "Harold Ross was the Godfather of Snark."

Snarkiness gained strength with the work of Harold Hayes and George Lois at Esquire in the 1960s.

Television shows had a high profile. Johnny Carson (and Jack Paar, before him, to a degree) made much of his reputation based on his ability to poke fun at politicians of all stripes.

In the modern age, I conjecture, true snarkiness has its origins started with the political humor of the likes of Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl. David Frost, the British satirist and television-interviewer-to-the-stars, and the humor of the early 1960s show, "That Was the Week That Was" (aka "TW3"), were forerunners to the "Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour."

Television snark reached its apex on October 11, 1975 at the introduction of Chevy Chase's sarcastic treatment of the news during the "Weekend Update" segment of "Saturday Night Live." The show has managed to keep up the tradition wonderfully over the years. These days, the cleverness of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler of "SNL" shine through.

David Letterman's late-night show on NBC, beginning in the early 1980s, threw a light on snarkiness, too. Letterman combined a certain irreverence with his quirky style.

Through the years, many people (in and out of journalism) have set a standard for snarkiness. In no particular order and in varying degrees of effectiveness, the list includes:

Jon Stewart, Maureen Dowd, Mad magazine, the Onion, National Lampoon, Spy, Andy Borowitz, the style and songs of John Lennon and Bob Dylan, "Curb Your Enthusiasm," the Washington Post's Style section, Art Buchwald, Gawker, Don Imus, (for better or worse) Howard Stern, the Wonkette, Dana Milbank, Christopher Buckley, Page Six, Dave Barry, Jim Bouton's landmark book "Ball Four," Dana Carvey's impersonations of President George W. Bush on " Saturday Night Live," the "Naked Gun" movies, P.J. O'Rourke, James Wolcott, Woody Allen and "Catch-22."

Snarky journalism, especially when it's witty and not merely mean-spirited, has an important place in journalism. But it also poses a danger.

It's possible, if the movement continues to build more forcefully, that a generation of young journalists will take their cues and allow commentating to replace reporting.
Let's hope it doesn't come to that, though.

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