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Snark Attack

The WSJ had an interesting little piece on the “strange science of sarcasm” this week.   The thrust of the article was how does one convey snarkiness in a tweet or other social media venue.  The deeper thrust of the article was how best to analyze these messages to ascertain the best way to monetize them.  It seemingly would be a waste of money to pitch products (or political candidates) to folks who are mocking them, but algorithms can’t read intention the way we advanced humans can.   So a couple of inventive tweeters have created symbols to denote their intention:  (*S) which I guess is like a tongue in cheek?  and another that I can’t reproduce here, but it looks like an “eye” surrounded by a curlicue.  (You might be able to see it in the link.)

Maybe I’m a showing an intellectual bias here, but if your audience can’t tell you’re being snarky, you are just not doing it right.  To wit:  Jon Stewart and Jonathan Swift.

“The Daily Show” is usually the highlight at the end of my day, and I realize that there are a whole bunch of people who actually consider this program to be the equivalent of the local 11 o’clock news.  In a number of ways, Jon and his crack team of writers have stolen the news from the newscasters.  I hesitate to call these news-readers journalists, because television media has been so watered down and converted to “infotainment”  that I cannot recognize it anymore.  But you cannot deny the tongue-in-cheek nature of “The Daily Show”  as a perfect lead-in to “The Colbert Report.”  And if you can’t recognize that program as the purest of satire, then you need to put on the class dunce cap, go stand in the corner and think about that for a while.

Which brings me to my other satirical candy boy:  Jonathan Swift.  Mr. Swift introduced me (and all of Mrs. Sofield’s English class) to satire when we had to read “A Modest Proposal.”  For those of you who may have not been in class that day, the proposal is that it would be in the best interest of the Commonwealth if all the scruffy and unkempt Irish peasant kids were given up by their clearly unfit parents and fattened up to feed the Irish aristocracy.    I was astounded that some dude back in 1729 could write that, and a light bulb went off for me.  Could it be coincidence that adolescence is the beginning of the ability to detect and deliver sarcasm? :::eye-roll:::  There is no reason for our sarcasm sense to deteriorate with age.   And we should not enable people to get lazy by using emoticons to “read” it into our messages.  Forget the concept of making money from snark ~ like I said, if it isn’t obvious to the reader, it is the writer who needs to take another crack at the message.

Image courtesy of rashmanly.com
Image courtesy of funscape.com
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8 thoughts on “Snark Attack

  1. with all due respect to Messrs. Swift & Stewart, no discussion of snark, sarcasm & satire is comlete till we’ve discussed that 20th century satiric icon, the radio personality Jean Shepherd. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Shepherd

    My brothers and I were raised on nightly doses of Shepherd’s radio broadcasts on WOR 710 AM, as well as his hysterical short stories, and I think they were what made me ready for “A Modest Proposal” when Mrs. Sofield introduced it. Shepherd would play commericals on his show and just talk over them, poking fun the whole time – it helped me realize that just b/c a guy was selling something on the air, that didn’t mean he actually LOVED the product – in fact he might think the product was crap but was willing to cash the sponsor’s checks anyhow. This doesn’t seem very outrageous, but it was extremely influential on a kid going to junior high school in the early 1970’s

    1. Ah, yes, I do agree. Yet there was something fresh and earnest about Shepherd’s stories: “Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories” and, natch’ “A Christmas Story” come to mind. The man was a complex genius — the likes of which we don’t see today.

    2. I, too, grew up on Shepherd. We used to read his stories to my dad (and everyone else, I suppose) in the car on long trips. I was thrilled when, in one English class (Sofield’s?), one of his short stories was used to illustrate hyperbole. Hey, homework can be fun? Who knew?

      MJ, didn’t you call into his radio show with the answer to the burning question, “What does BVD stand for?”, or did I make that memory up?

  2. Fresh from my rounds of Tarot shopping on Ebay, I’m thinking someone needs to create a Tarot of Snark, or The Snarky Tarot, and feature images of some of these genius men and women of satire. Add Dorothy Parker, Phyllis Diller, … hmmm

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