Snarky quotes from Simon Amstell

Simon Amstell: So Penny, you used to do a fashion column for the Daily Mail, didn't you?
Penny Smith: Yes I've done many strange things in my time.
Simon Amstell: So what does one wear to a lynching?

"Jordan's third favourite tit and second favourite twat - it's Peter Andre!"

Simon Amstell: They tried to make me go to rehab...
Amy Winehouse: I said no no no
Simon Amstell: Correct. But in hindsight do you think yes maybe?

"Hello, 50 Cent here. People say my music is gratuitously violent and misogynistic - but what they don't realise is that I'm just talking about where I'm from. And where I'm from, everybody's a vile millionaire rapper and all woman are rubbish sluts."

Snarky Columnists (3) - Marina Hyde

Marina Hyde of The Guardian has a "peek at the diary of Peter Andre":

"Seeing the pictures of Katie canoodling with that cage fighter in front of our kids was the worst day of my life. "It was the worst day of my life," I told whichever magazine whose turn it was to get that hour's World!!! Exclusive!!!

I know people may be bored of our divorce now. Even I'm bored of our divorce now. "Even I'm bored of our divorce now," I told the BBC, breaking my silence again. "I think people want to get back to my music." The reporter said it was lovely I hadn't lost my sense of humour.

I called another mag. "Close pals say I haven't lost my sense of humour," I exclusively revealed.

Of course, my number one priority is that the kids aren't affected by all this. They need continuity. They need things to stay as normal as possible – and that means constant TV camera presence, playing their winsome part in paparazzi shots, and their parents discussing every aspect of their lives across a range of content delivery platforms. I'm not pitching for Celebrity Dad Of The Year – although it would be an honour to be nominated in the same category as David and Brad – but I think I've managed that."

Snarky, or fair enough?

"Critical Shopper" steps over the line

An article from The New York Times about the arrival of J.C Penney - an American department store - in Manhattan provoked outrage comment with its snarky emaphsis on size:

"Why would this perennially square department store bother to reanimate itself in Manhattan — in the sleekest, scariest fashion city in America — during a hair-raising economic downturn, without taking the opportunity to vigorously rebrand itself? Why would this dowdy Middle American entity waddle into Midtown in its big old shorts and flip-flops without even bothering to update its ancient Helvetica Light logo, which for anyone who grew up with the company is encrusted with decades of boring, even traumatically parental, associations?

It took me a long time to find a size 2 among the racks. There are, however, abundant size 10’s, 12’s and 16’s...and herein lies the genius of J. C. Penney: It has made a point of providing clothing for people of all sizes (a strategy, company officials have said, to snatch business from nearby Macy’s). To this end, it has the most obese mannequins I have ever seen. They probably need special insulin-based epoxy injections just to make their limbs stay on. It’s like a headless wax museum devoted entirely to the cast of “Roseanne.”"

Clark Hoyt details the response to the article here. He concludes: "The column raised an issue that The Times and other news organizations sometimes struggle with: What is the difference between edgy and objectionable? Or, as one reader, Daniel Harris-McCoy of Boston, put it: How do writers “navigate the fine lines between observation, satire and snark,” and when should editors step in to restrain them?"

Save the whales, Lose the Blubber

Animal rights activism group PETA sparked criticism last week with their snarky poster, featuring the slogan "Save the Whales, Lose the Blubber: Go Vegetarian" next to a picture of an obese woman in a bikini.

"It was a scene right out of Mean Girls, only it was adults, and supposedly those who are working toward the good of the planet," wrote an unimpressed Sarah Gilbert. The billboard has since been taken down and replaced with the less snarky slogan of "GONE: Just like all the pounds lost by people who go vegetarian".

Vogue model wins right to unmask snarky blogger

Snark practitioners around the world beware. If you thought you could rely on the anonymity of the internet, you're wrong. Last week Vogue cover girl Liskula Cohen won the right to discover the identity of a blogger who offensively called her a "skank" on the blog Skanks in NY.

As The Times reports, the blogger "Anonymous" wrote “I would have to say the first-place award for ‘Skankiest in NYC’ would have to go to Liskula Gentile Cohen." They went on to ridicule the model as a “40-something” who “may have been hot 10 years ago”, when she was actually 36.

Cohen sought the identity of the blogger so she could sue for defamation, and had her wish granted by a Manhattan supreme court judge who ordered Google to hand the information over. Justice Joan Madden rejected the blogger’s claim that the blogs “serve as a modern-day forum for conveying personal opinions, including invective and ranting”, and should not be treated as factual assertions.

Does this ruling put the future of snark in jeapordy?

Celebritology article sparks discussion about snark

Last Thursday, an article in The Washington Post prompted an online debate over the depths to which snark can descend. The article was about a "possible schizophrenic" claiming to have mothered Michael Jackson's three children:

"...Cruise claims to be the biological mother of Prince Michael, Paris and Blanket but not to have actually carried them herself. Not only that -- she says Jackson fathered a fourth child with her then forced her to give that child up to Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Which is probably ultimately okay, right?, since she also claims to have married Tom Cruise when she was nine years old..."

Some readers felt this snark was below the belt, but Liz Kelly (author) had some defendants:

"Ok, come on Liz. I'll go along with a lot of things, but clearly this woman is mentally unstable. It's not news, not gossip either. It's just mean."

"I cannot believe this appeared on a Web site even remotely associated with the Washington Post, much less on its actual Web site. Please, take this down, and put up something more appropriate."

"I'm quite surprised that some of the regulars are so offended by the post...The woman sought media attention and here it is...I am just amazed by the hypocrisy showcased regularly in these comments. You say you want snark and put up stuff that might get you assaulted were you to say it to someone's face and here you are crying about a post that is relatively tame. Wow, just wow."

"...the issue is not snarking, or that 90% of the stuff on this blog is not really news -- the issue is that at some point you have to draw the line on providing media coverage of mentally ill people."

"Is it safe to snark, can I come out now?"

The Jonathan Ross debacle - snark, or just plain rude?

The prank calls made by Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand to actor Andrew Sachs sparked national condemnation earlier this year.

Message 1:
Ross: He f***** your granddaughter…I’m sorry I apologise. Andrew, I apologise, I got excited, what can I say – it just came out.
Brand: Andrew Sachs, I did not do nothing with Georgina – oh no, I’ve revealed I know her name. Oh no, it’s a disaster.
Ross: If he’s like most people of a certain age, he’s probably got a picture of his granddchildren when they’re young right by the phone. So while he’s listening to the messages, he’s looking at a picture of her about nine on a swing….

Message 2:
Brand: Andrew, this is Russell Brand. I'm so sorry about the last message, it was part of the radio show - it was a mistake."
Ross: "It might be true but we didn't want to break it to you in such a harsh way."
Brand: "No, I'm sorry, I'll do anything. I wore a condom. Put the phone down. Oh, what's going to happen?"

Message 3:
Ross: "She was bent over the couch..."
Brand then improvises a song which includes the lines: "I said some things I didn't of oughta, like I had sex with your granddaughter..."

The calls resulted in a hefty £150,000 fine for the BBC, suspension without pay for Jonathon Ross and nearly 40,000 complaints. However, is it snark? If not, how do we differentiate between snark and other personal attack?

Krugman vs Ferguson: Obama and Felix the Cat

American blogger Paul Krugman asked "Are there no editors?" after Neil Ferguson wrote an article in the Financial Times that began:

"President Barack Obama reminds me of Felix the Cat. One of the best-loved cartoon characters of the 1920s, Felix was not only black. He was also very, very lucky. And that pretty much sums up the 44th president of the US..."

Ferguson defended himself in an article named "Why My Comparing Obama to Felix the Cat is not Racist," arguing that "Black cats are proverbially lucky" and "Felix the cartoon character was a black cat, not an African-American cat - in other words, he was not one of the (quite numerous) 1920s figures in popular entertainment that mocked the mannerisms of the descendants of slaves."

Krugman had this final note on the matter:

"For the record, I don’t think that Professor Ferguson is a racist.
I think he’s a poseur.
I’m told that some of his straight historical work is very good. When it comes to economics, however, he hasn’t bothered to understand the basics, relying on snide comments and surface cleverness to convey the impression of wisdom. It’s all style, no comprehension of substance.
And this time he ended up choking on his own snark."

Do we agree?

Is snark an empty discourse?

Hugo Rifkind challenges Denby's analysis of snark in his recent review:

"Snarking online bothers Denby mainly because of its anonymity. He finds it, he writes, redolent of the start of The Trial by Kafka — “Somebody must have slandered Joseph K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested” — but I suspect this is because he takes snark altogether too seriously. “Why hide behind a handle?” he asks. “The answer, of course, is that the anonymous writers are either ashamed of what they’re saying, or , alternately, quite proud of what they’re saying, but in either case they’re not eager to confront anyone directly.”

Exactly wrong, I’d say. Your classic snarker is neither proud of the substance of their message nor ashamed of it, but entirely indifferent to it. They care only about the joke. Anonymity lets you enjoy the clever words without having to worry about being taken to task for their meaning. That’s snark all over. It’s this emptiness — the essential glibness of snark — that Denby can’t seem to grasp. He wants snarkers to have motives, and they don’t."

Do snarkers have motives?

Snarky columnists (2) - Matthew Norman

According to Hugo Rifkind, the Independent's Matthew Norman is one of the only snarky British journalists around. Check out this article from the Press Awards Columnist of the Year 2008:

"So where is our Chancellor hiding?

He seems to be intent on going down as the biggest pussy ever to hold an office of state.

This is a Missing Persons Alert. Caucasian, mid-late 50s, slender build, snowy white receding hair, pitch black eyebrows, faintly bemused expression, not heard from in several weeks, If you should come across this man, who answers to the nickname of "Chancellor", please inform the authorities at once. Do not – repeat NOT – approach him directly. Although not thought to be dangerous, he may become alarmed and make a run for it. Well, it's worth a try, even if it's probably me being sentimental yet again. Much more likely, Alistair Darling is being held in captivity, in a dungeon beneath No 10, being repeatedly given a message which might, with a certain licence, be boiled down to "Shut it, you slaaag" by a combination of his colleagues.

There is a doppelganger – more than likely a form of android – that pitches up on the government front bench now and then. It's an uncanny likeness, and Mrs Maggie Darling herself would struggle to tell them apart, but there is a giveaway. Although it can nod its head approvingly at whatever gibberish a colleague is intoning, and even give the defiant boxer's false smile that belies the pain of suffering a direct hit from David Cameron, it cannot speak.

The disappearance of the real Alistair Darling is the most mysterious vanishing act since Agatha Christie. At a time of intense economic crisis, with apocalyptic OECD projections underscoring abysmal new figures about the economy's contraction, the man nominally in charge of economic policy is deafeningly silent."

Is the UK immune to snark?

Britain is too cynical to be troubled by snark, according to Hugo Rifkind in The Times.

"...not much snark in our papers, however hard you look. Nor on television, aside from Have I Got News For You? (although Jeremy Paxman sometimes comes close). And yet our conversation, day to day, oozes with the stuff. To bitch, to gossip, to backstab, to slag off, to unfairly lampoon — this is the essence of basic British chat. Indeed, when our public figures get in trouble for their jokes, this is invariably the result of habitual, insensitive conversational snark spilling over into the public sphere, where we don’t think it ought to be. Think of Jeremy Clarkson describing Gordon Brown as a “one-eyed Scottish idiot”, or David Cameron ridiculing ID cards by adopting a German accent, or Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand getting carried away on the radio, or Gordon Ramsay likening an Australian TV personality to a lesbian pig. Think of the Duke of Edinburgh, over and over again...

...So now you know. That’s snark. Is it coming here? Could be. But maybe pious, wholesome America was particularly vulnerable to this epidemic. If, as Denby says, snark is “spreading like pinkeye through their national conversation”, maybe that’s because the American national conversation didn’t see it coming, and is mesmerised by what it can do. But here, in sly, knowing, cynical Britain, I suspect that what they call snark has been the bedrock of our national conversation for years. Yeah. We’ll be fine."

Will we?

Scott Pack on Snark

Scott posts his quick review of the book on his blog:

Oh this is good. A measured, amusing and incisive attack on 'snarking' - the low-grade, insult-based journalism and humour which seems very much the rage at the moment. Essential reading for Nick Cohen and Tim Adams methinks. Oh, and probably for me too. (****)

Increasing awareness of snark

In The Book Design Review, Joseph Sullivan juxtaposed these two covers "with no snarky intention".

Why would Sullivan be so careful to differentiate his intentions - asking why TV is so often the "go-to design trope" for popular culture - from snark?

Snarky columnists (1) - Maureen Dowd

Denby flags up Maureen Dowd as a prime snark writer. Here is an extract from her Sarah's Secret Diary, written for the New York Times in mockery of Sarah Palin:

"No one understands me. It’s like I’m speaking some Eskimo dialect or something. Andrea Mitchell follows me all the way to Kanakanak Beach and I get a French manicure and set up this huge photo op for her, even though she spooked the salmon.

Todd and me are in our cool fishing bibs. Piper’s helping out on the boat. It’s an amazing day that shows how our Creator favored my beloved Alaska, gatekeeper of the continent, and makes a great shot for all the network reporters up here to milk. This progresses me away from my image as some kind of flaky “rogue diva” and back to my image as a tough huntin’ and fishin’ gal.

But Andrea makes such a darn big deal about how I’m quitting in the middle of my term.

“You’re not listening to me!” I snap.

She says maybe I didn’t want to go back to the nitty-gritty of Alaska politics after the bright lights of the national campaign.

“The nitty-gritty, like, you mean, the fish slime and the dirt under the fingernails and stuff that’s me?” I said. Awesome response, huh?!!"

Jonathon Little - The Kindly Ones

Sometimes a book comes along that is so divisive it causes a rift within newspapers. Such was Jonathon Little's The Kindly Ones, greeted by rave reviews in Europe when it was published in 2006. In The Times Review Anthony Beevor hailed the "epic novel" as "a great work of literary fiction, to which readers and scholars will turn for decades to come".

Peter Kemp, in The Sunday Times Review, thought a little differently: made available to English readers in a translation by Charlotte Mandell, The Kindly Ones will surely cause jaws here to drop with a different kind of amazement. For Jonathan Littell's 984-page book is so bloatedly inept that its reverential reception across the Channel seems barely comprehensible...

...The first of the book's numerous improbabilities is Aue's prodigious capacity to recall in profuse, minute detail all that was done and said (often in voluminously voluble speeches) more than 50 years earlier. Inability to forget isn't his only elephantine characteristic. Thumping ponderousness resounds through his mammoth monologue...

...Incontinence is a big problem for Aue, whose virtually incessant bouts of diarrhoea and lengthy nightmares about unstaunchable bowel motions are chronicled copiously (the one literary award this novel could credibly receive, you feel, would be for Most Loose-Sphinctered Fictional Narrator). All of this leaves Littell with a problem on his hands in trying to convince you that Aue is a kind of Everyman (“I tell you I am just like you!”) unluckily born into the wrong historical circumstances..."

Is a review this snarky ever justifiable?

David Mitchell has a snarky moment

David Mitchell, of Peep Show fame, had a lot to say about Sarkozy in his column for The Guardian on Sunday.

"Isn't Nicolas Sarkozy a funny fellow? All small and old and out of breath and falling over. Always struggling to keep up with his gigantic new wife: miserably champing on low-fat, chocolate- and cheese-free superfoods before dragging himself out for another exhausted scamper in the sweltering heat. But try as he might, he'll never be as tall or young as her. I wonder sometimes whether she's turning out to be quite as much fun as he imagined.

His desperation to come across as the youthful, fit, sexy, medium-height warrior-executive is so acute that last weekend it made him have a funny turn while jogging in the park and fall on his bottom.

I wish there was footage. Maybe he fell into a bin or got tangled with some shrubbery and lost a shoe. Maybe some kids' football strayed into his path and, in trying to pass it back to them, he toed it into his own face, staggered into a duckpond and had an undignified struggle with an angered goose. Maybe he slipped in a dog turd and skated along on it for several yards before falling face-first into a tramp's crotch. Anyway, after a little lie down in a helicopter, he felt better and now he's back to being in charge of France."

Snark or not snark? After all, The Guardian tells us comment is free.

Snark attack on Lily Allen

Readers of The Mail indulged (yet again) in some good, old-fashioned celebrity bashing last night. After an article called "Lily Allen paints on panda eyes for dinner" readers responded as follows:

"Vile talentless girl"

"She really is the most foul mouthed, awful, poor excuse for a singer i have ever seen - get yourself pulled together and take a long hard look at yourself before blasting every other celeb out there! Disgusting!"

"Maybe she got dressed and put her make-up on in the dark...she's got little talent and only got where she is because of her Dad. I wondered why she only seems to mix with middle aged men before remembering they're all her Dad's mates!"

"She's such a nothing and nobody that she's practically a black hole."

Ouch. Definitely appropriate considering the article was about her choice of makeup.

Sam Leith leads the anti-snark crusade in the Standard

Sam Leith hit out last night in The Evening Standard at snarky comments directed at Gwyneth Paltrow on the Daily Mail's website. The Mail article, "Veganism is SO last year", implies Paltrow's posting of a video showing her cooking roast chicken is incompatible with her "vegan sensibilities".

Leith is less interested in the story, however, than the "scratchy comments" posted underneath it by readers.

"A clever mechanism lets you see the “rating” of each comment — based on whether other readers have clicked to agree or disagree with the remark, and the handful of charitable comments were voted firmly into the red.

The most unpopular of all was: “I'm not a big fan of Gwyneth Paltrow but well done. It's good to see her doing something she enjoys.”

Top of the pops, instead, were angry vegans and bluenoses affecting horror that she was handling raw meat before making salad (“Great cooking tips if you want samonela !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”) [sic].

The bare judgment “She is so BORING!!” had an approval rating of 306. Not only had someone written this — someone with, presumably, more interesting things to do — but more than 300 people had taken the trouble to put their agreement on the record.

This woman had the temerity — the temerity, look you — to make a video of herself cooking a simple recipe. Then the brass neck to make it available for free to people who want to watch it. How very dare she?

You're boring, Paltrow. I watched your video from beginning to end. Twice. Utter waste of time. And you're unhygienic: I could have got food poisoning if I'd followed your recipe — but I won't, because I don't need you to tell me how to cook chicken, Miss Snootydrawers, and besides I know better than you about food hygiene too, so there. Now I'm bashing furiously away at my keyboard to tell you so.

Baffling. And, alas, a weathervane. We are living in an age of hate: we cross the street to find new things and new people to despise, and get our kicks from despising them in public. Why live a life of your own when you can spend your waking hours hating the lives of people you've never met?"