Wednesday, January 21, 2009


CJR: Denby versus snark

Over at CJR, we've just unveiled Page Views, a Web-only expansion of the books coverage in the magazine. To kick things off, I interviewed David Denby about Snark: It's Mean, It's Personal, and It's Ruining Our Conversation. The tut-tutting subtitle says it all, but Denby does have a more nuanced view of his subject, and even includes a mea culpa moment: his chortling riff on Ben Stiller's face, which strikes me as less snarky than Arcimboldo-like in its ingenuity. (Owen Wilson threatened to beat Denby up after the original piece ran.) Here's a sample exchange:
Marcus: Were you returning fire in any sense?

Denby: There was no personal motive. I mean, I’ve been snarked like everybody else, but no more than other people. I just kept seeing the same kind of formulation in all sorts of places, including The New York Times. I sensed that Gresham’s Law was beginning to operate: because everyone wants to be funny in this country--which is actually very hard--the bad stuff was driving out the good stuff. And there’s going to be more and more of this, particularly because everyone in journalism is anxious. Older journalists are terrified of being left out of it, of not seeming hip, while the younger ones are battering at the gates trying to get in.

Marcus: You write that one of the optimum cultural conditions for snark occurs when “a dying class of the powerful, or would-be powerful, struggles to keep the barbarians from entering the hallowed halls.” Are traditional journalists such an embattled class?

Denby: I think so. I just feel this tremendous collective anxiety among established journalists that somehow they’ll be left out. There will be a game of musical chairs and they’re not going to get a chair. So one way of seeming to embrace new media, one way of staying in the game, is to get snippy and sarcastic and snarky. They’re certainly not encouraged to be more analytic, more intelligent. I adore Josh Marshall--he’s the best thing to come along in years. But for every one like him, there are five who are just fucking around, trying to grab a little piece of our attention.
You can read the rest here. And please do keep on eye on Page Views, where we'll be posting new reviews, interviews, and reportage at least once a week.

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