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. And who doesn’t want to be decent? The snarkers don’t, it seems. Or at least they (let’s be honest: we) don’t want to be decent on those terms….
Over the past year or two, on the way to writing this essay, I’ve accumulated dozens of emails and IM conversations from friends and colleagues. 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.
What is smarm, exactly? Smarm is a kind of performance—an assumption of the forms of seriousness, of virtue, of constructiveness, without the substance. Smarm is concerned with appropriateness and with tone. Smarm disapproves. Smarm would rather talk about anything other than smarm. Why, smarm asks, can’t everyone just be nicer?
Could Superman stop a kaiju? I need to verify the authenticity of my dream last night.