Snark me up, Mr. Scott


In a world where bad snark is so common and good snark is so rare, I hope that, as traditional news papers go under, the market will find some way to save film critics like the NYT’s A. O. Scott. Scott’s review of Martin Scorsese’s new movie, Shutter Island, opens with this tremendous first graf:

“Shutter Island” takes place off the coast of Massachusetts in 1954. I’m sorry, that should be OFF THE COAST OF MASSACHUSETTS! IN 1954! since every detail and incident in the movie, however minor, is subjected to frantic, almost demented (and not always unenjoyable) amplification. The wail of strangled cellos accompanies shots of the titular island, a sinister, rain-lashed outcropping that is home to a mental hospital for the CRIMINALLY INSANE! The color scheme is lurid, and the camera movements telegraph anxiety. Nothing is as it seems. Something TERRIBLE is afoot.

Sadly, that something turns out to be the movie itself.

This is Gail Collins-level snark. And the most important thing about snark is that it’s performance art, not rhetoric. ‘Snark’ — the combined form of “snide” and “remark”, with connotations of  sarcasm, biting wit, snorting, and fantasy imaginary animals — is what the people want. Now, I haven’t see Shutter Island yet, so I can’t comment on whether or not Scott’s review is accurate, but as a performance piece, it is pitch perfect. As a movie slob, I enjoy just about everything from Water World on up, so I’ll probably enjoy Shutter Island and end up disagreeing with the actual content of  Scott’s review. But that won’t stop me from emailing the review to my friends and blogging about it here.

And that’s what’s so powerful about snark as a genre. It’s catchy, like the plague, and makes for perfect link bait. That’s a big difference from straight-up news, which is never the kind of thing I read and say to myself, Coup in Niger! Man, I gotta send this one out to the guys. As the newspaper business continues to shake up, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot more organization around cultural and political criticism of the snarky variety as a money-generating activity or a traffic-driver, while leaving the straight news to some sort of civic-minded, non-profit, or loss-tolerant group.

Long live the snarkfest.


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This is a group blog. JSC5 currently writes from the US. JSC7 writes from behind the Great Firewall of China.

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