Friday, 6 December 2013


Tom Scocca exposes anti-snark hysteria for what it truly is—a "type of bullshit" or "a kind of ethical and moral misdirection"—and in the process coins an excellent term: 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?
Daniel Mendelsohn sees evidence of smarm in his classroom:
One of the courses I like to teach is a Great Books course that’s mandatory for first year students, and after I read their first papers it’s always very clear to me that they have no model, no template for what a critical essay is supposed to do—what (or how) you’re supposed to be arguing when you’re writing about a text or a movie or anything. They don’t understand there is a rhetoric of criticism—that there’s a stance you have to have, that you have to position yourself, that you don’t just blather about your impressions or your “opinions” or, worse, your “feelings” about a work. They literally have no idea, at first, what the point of being critical is—no doubt because, in part, they are being raised in a culture where a bland, everything-goes, multi-culti niceness is the paramount virtue. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Smarm = why Canadian literary and intellectual circles are pure Hell, and why until I get tenure I'll have to do all my venting anonymously. Actually I'll have to do so after that too in order to have any chance of promotion. Or getting published.

Having to deal with smarm all day, pretending to buy it and (sometimes) being forced to speak it myself = why I drink.