Recently, Gawker posted an article about the prevalence of snark (definition) and smarm, its pedantically saccharine counterpart. It’s a tome of an article in which the author seems to paint all attitudes in terms of this dichotomy, but it’s worth at least a skim if you’re short on time. While I don’t think the world breaks down into simple dualities, it’s an interesting way to construct the question of tone and tendency.
I often find myself struggling not to fall into either trap, but it’s not easy. Snark is funny, and bonds people together. Smarm comes from a good place, but can veer so easily into faking it without ever making it, and takes a position of condescension just as much as snark does. Sometimes in my efforts to kill my naturally snarky impulses, I go a little too far and end up in the world of smarm. I tend to be overly sentimental and effusive with gratitude. Both of these attitudes stem from my insecurities, and neither are ideal. Snark is a defense mechanism which tries to hide those insecurities, and smarm is an off-putting over-share. Both are a kind of mask.
This year, my resolution is to try and find the right middle ground – I want to be radically sincere and shed that mask entirely. It’s scary to be true and forthright. This is an offshoot, or a refinement, of being brave, my resolution from last year, and an exercise in finding Aristotle’s golden mean. I think this blog is a great place to try it out – in fact, it’s something I’ve been working on already. I’ve posted recommendations and critiques of other blog posts with as much respect and sincerity as I could wrangle into words. I’ve started to try this in my academic work, finding ways to admire colleagues without supplication, and to ask critical questions rather than hoard my thoughts in negative feelings. I also want to bring this to other aspects of my life too.
I’ll leave off with the rest of my resolutions for 2014:
- To finish my NaNoWriMo novel. That means editing that 30,000 words I wrote and move forward to the end.
- To read more widely, and not just continually return to my favorites. This goes for entertainment reading as well as academic reading.
- Dance more. That’s always a good resolution!
That ought to cover it! Here’s to resolutions, a happy new year, and radical sincerity.
- ‘Snark vs. Smarm’ goes mainstream (politico.com)
- Why Tom Scocca thinks a culture of positivity helps the powerful (washingtonpost.com)