Jumping The Snark
By Josh Kilmer-Purcell
It appears we've lost another cherished gay tradition to the straight mainstream. Like plucked eyebrows on men, Abercrombie & Fitch, and anal sex, our hetero pals have decided to co-opt another valuable piece of our homo heritage: snark. And straight teen boys, who never really got the hang of tweezers, aren't handling snark very well either.
I'm not saying gay men invented snark, but our long proud history of bitchery, insults, and backhanded compliments is indisputable. In fact, one of the earliest recorded queens, Aristotle, noted, 'A subject which will not bear raillery is suspicious.' And no one comes close to our gay literary forefathers in the mastery of snide commentary. Posthumously outed T.S. Eliot said of one of his fellow fag writers, 'Henry James has a mind so fine no idea could violate it.' Gore Vidal called Truman Capote's death 'a good career move.' And snarkmaster Oscar Wilde once described an acquaintance by asserting, 'He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends.'
On television, gay men like Paul Lynde and Charles Nelson Reilly satisfied game show audiences everywhere with their teasing put-downs. Will & Grace's Jack McFarland and Will Truman sparred playfully whenever they were in the same room. And the Internet gave rise to even more homo-snark dominance. Love him or hate him, Perez Hilton's fame was built on his (hopefully sturdily reinforced) smart-alecky foundation. His cutting approach has since been adopted by nearly every other celebrity gossip site. Arguably the greatest purveyor of snark on the Web is Gawker.com, which was founded by perhaps the bitterest (and I mean that as a compliment) of all homos, Nick Denton.
But somewhere along the way, we gays lost the reins. Ever since some geek first coded the HTML for a comment box, snark has been growing in mass-market popularity to become one of Western culture's chief forms of public discourse. The democratization of bitchery has watered it down to the point where it's barely recognizable as anything but garden-variety mean-spiritedness. Reading through the sad attempts at witty repartee on conservative political websites like FreeRepublic.com is disheartening. And as for TV, the pitiful stabs at banter between Simon Cowell and Ryan Seacrest (above) are the only reason I occasionally believe Seacrest is heterosexual.
It seems that the vast majority of anonymous commenters on forums and blogs have somehow confused cutting wit with cutting down. Earlier this year an advertising executive committed suicide several days after an anonymous industry blogger posted a snarky blog entry about him, followed by the obligatory anonymous Greek chorus hurling additional insulting comments. When fingers started pointing at the unidentified blogger, he/she responded with a post saying, in part, 'I do not give myself enough credit to think that a blog posting can cause a lucid, intelligent man to jump from a building.' To which I'll snarkily respond, 'C'mon. If you won't pat yourself on the back, who will?'
Perhaps straight people need to be educated on the history of snark. We gays have been using the snide remark as a form of endearment for centuries. My dearest friend Bill hasn't said a nice word about me in years, and I admire him for it (given how hard it is for him to say any words without slurring). My friend Pat insults me via e-mail almost daily. It would be nightly as well if his favorite local park restrooms had wireless.
Maybe that's the difference between the Vidals, Capotes, and Crisps of the world and the armies of anonymous blog commenters. An anonymous snark is like an anonymous fuck. Marginally satisfying, a little pathetic, and forgotten within minutes. Truly memorable rivalries exist not to vanquish the other side but to embolden the recipient to volley back. However, it's impossible to retaliate against a faceless (and probably hairless, chinless, and waistline-less) attacker. As Oscar Wilde explained (snarkily, of course), 'A true friend stabs you in the front.'