October 22, 2014

In Defense Of Snark

The recent announcement that Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party (USA), creator of the New Synthesis ™, and the only dude with the chops to save our species from collapsing into barbarism and lead it into the bright communist future would be making his first publicly announced appearance in the US in over 30 years has occasioned some comment.

After decades of exile, rumors of sightings, and long, long recorded speeches purportedly delivered in secret conclaves, it was hardly surprising that there would be skepticism and humorous commentary by that small section of the left that remembers him or has followed his career.

Then, though, his acolytes in the RCP advanced a bridge too far. Earlier this month, an anonymous article on their website promoting his upcoming talk at Riverside Church in Manhattan compared the chance to attend with a hypothetical opportunity to see Jimi Hendrix play live in his prime. (Read it here.) As TV Guide used to say: Hilarity ensues.

So brutal (and funny) has been the mockery that the online edition of RCP organ Revolution now contains a little slogan box proclaiming

Damn, can't these folks get anything right?

The culture of snark strikes me as a positive and transformative development in the youth culture of the 21st century. The last couple decades of the 20th century were dominated by cheap irony. Everything was equal because everything was worthless. You could do any stupid thing you wanted and simultaneously embrace it and proclaim your superiority to it. Wear a backwards gimme cap with a confederate flag on it and blast Public Enemy out of a boom box. Cheer, ironically, at ultra-patriotic films while stuff blew up. Or people. If you were around and paying attention then, you know what I mean. Irony's slogan is a world-weary "Whatever" with a knowing smirk.

Snark may share an evolutionary ancestry with pure irony, but the two occupy very different branches on the tree of worldviews. Its apostles in our era are Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. It is not a declaration of the equivalence of everything, because it has a place to stand—a standpoint, if you prefer. The snark stance carries with it the idea that things don't have to be as they are, and, further, that there are forces responsible for them being as they are or getting worse. Those forces should be mocked, be exposed and be opposed. They are the target of snark.

I'm not saying it's revolutionary. It's not. Hell, it's not like I've thought through this little exercise in cultural typology in any deep or systematic way. It may be entirely wrong-headed. But until argued out of it, this is where I stand.

And if that means being snarky about "the Jimi Hendrix of the Revolution," so be it.  At least I'm not wearing the peculiar little pin of Avakian the RCP made--the tiny featureless, text-less one which bears the image known as The Blob--trying to make some kind of contentless ironic statement.

Read more!