There’s been something eating away at me lately – and I blame Friends.
More specifically, I blame Chandler Bing in Friends. The influence of that programme, now forever stuck in a feedback loop of re-runs, has given birth to a cookie cutter culture of identi-kit Internet personae. Key signifier: snarkiness.
Chandler Bing, you’ll remember, was the smart, sarcastic one with low self esteem. Now everyone with a couple of AS levels and a chip on their middle class shoulder has a role model to follow. The problem is that, somewhere along the way, it got bent out of shape. Chandler is funny. Snark-o-lytes are just mean. Mean in spirit. Mean in intent. Mean, nasty, crowing and mean.
Where once people displayed their erudition and intelligence using charm, wit and wordplay – now we have snark instead. Snark is part sarcasm, part sneer and it’s all fake. Being snarky is a pre-emptive “fuck you”. It’s a smear of concealer on the acne of aggression. It’s the little voice inside every academically bright, socially inept indie kid that says “I’ll show you! I will show you all!“.
Out here in virtual space, snarkiness is really easy. It has its patterns and syntax, its chants and mantras; easily reproduced, recycled and repurposed. The Internet is a petri dish of snark.
I have a theory about this. It’s very simple. In school, the people who are most disenfranchised are the nerdy folks. Your poetry geeks, your maths dorks. Physically oppressed, storing up a bunch of nasty in their heads. Set ’em loose on the Internet though and suddenly that playing field is much less bumpy than it was before. You, yes you with the above average SAT scores and awkward gait – wanna be King of the World? Wanna kick some butt?
“I am snark”, whispers Satan in your ear, “Use my ways to make your vengeance known. We’ll settle up later, little one”.
With its illusion of anonymity, online snarkiness is an apparently victimless crime. Wheeling off cocky bon mots like some dial-up Dorothy Parker, the snark practitioner wounds with words and moves on. Tap tap, tappity tap – *ZAP*.
And you know what? I’ve been sucked into it myself. I’ve been snarky. Nay, more than snarky – I’ve been downright rude. Obnoxious, odious and ‘orrible. It’s just too easy to let the grit in your shoe bug you when there are no barriers between keyboard and screen.
Once, it was all modems and baud rates around here. Back then snark still seemed big and clever. Now? Now it’s just passe. Snark is the puffball skirt of humour – the mullet of mirth. It’s time for a backlash, for a return to showing how clever you are by actually being clever; how human you are by being humane. It’s time for us to re-learn that being funny doesn’t require a figure of fun. It’s time for a charm offensive.
Friends, I reject the ways of snark. I renounce Chandler Bing as my role model and adopt Phoebe Buffay instead. I’m moving my Bill Hicks and Denis Leary DVDs to the back of the cupboard and rewatching Eddie Izzard. I will, once again, become a gentleman of gentle humour – as real men should be.
That is, until some MySpace dick twiddler cusses me up in Second Life. Then I’ll tear him a new arse-cavern with a selection of pointed, pithy epithets. Tap, tap, tappity tap – *ZAP*.