Rather than fairness, give me truth…

Although times are changing, satire remains to be the ultimate vehicle for criticism, perhaps inspiring change, but in the very least directing the public’s attention to a more critical view of our world. Because the internet is so widespread today, satire is quickly sweeping in a vast audience that is both attending to criticism and gladly offering its own; giving satire the popularity it has today. But as satire becomes a more and more popular outlet for criticism, could it turn into something that is polluting humanity with snark, “a nasty, low, and snide reactive kind of response” to something one does not approve of, as Gawker’s Tom Scocca puts it.

Scocca is a clear supporter of satire, and retaliates at the idea of satire having too much snark with a term he calls “smarm,” or an opposition to critique that remarks the “snarkiness” of the critic as being overly rude and low, and unnecessary. Scocca points out that “smarm aspires to smother opposition or criticism, to cover everything over with an artificial, oily gloss.” Artificial, because such is the outcome of saying something when you have nothing truly nice to say.

Although perhaps some poor soul is offended at the things you say in your critiques, at least it isn’t artificial; there is honesty. And honesty is genuine, but smarm seems to have little of this quality. Thoreau once said “rather than love, than money, than faith, than fame, than fairness… give me truth.” This fits well with Scocca’s argument I think, because it seems to me that people who use smarm are the fairness police: they argue that criticizing someone just isn’t very nice and that you could hurt somebody’s feelings by being snark. And as for satire, it exists for the purpose of pointing out flaws in a system, or for pointing out the truth as the critic sees it.

So, it seems that while snark is hurting feelings, it is at the same time a vehicle for sharing the truth, and who cares if some poor soul is offended? Scocca defends satire because he believes it to be very useful in our society, and quotes Harry Frankfurt while referring to the idea of smarm:

The fact about himself that the bullshitter hides…is that the truth-values of his statements are of no central interest to him; what we are not to understand is that his intention is neither to report the truth nor to conceal it.

“Smarm should be understood as a type of bullshit, then,” Scocca goes on to say, “it expresses one agenda, while actually pursuing a different one. It is a kind of moral and ethical misdirection. Its genuine purposes lie beneath the greased-over surface.”

So it seems that while the fairness police are genuinely concerned with people’s feelings, satire is here to stay because it is useful in driving the vehicle of opinion, and the vehicle of truth. Accepting the world as it is because it would be mean to say otherwise never got anyone anywhere. So, “rather than fairness…give me truth.” Satire is not giving anyone any fairness, but perhaps it is carrying an underlying layer of truth.


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