Scocca defines smarm as, "Scolding, couched as an appeal to goodness, in the name of an absent authority...Smarm is a kind of performance—an assumption of the forms of seriousness, of virtue, of constructiveness, without the substance. Smarm is concerned with appropriateness and with tone. Smarm disapproves." All perhaps to some degree true of smarm, but equally true of his own essay. Scocca is goodness incarnate - willing to stand against the powerful and successful for the little man, a humble Gawker editor, a less famous writer than his nemeses, appealing to his own invisible authorities - good taste, but even more than that, great justice. Earnest criticism for great justice is not snark. Maybe, because it's sharp rather than lugubrious like smarm, we can call what Scocca has produced here "smark." But snark is criticism with style, wit, and no heartfelt commitment to a Good Cause beyond good writing. And this thing is not that thing.
Here is Scocca smarking at Eggers:
It is no accident that he is addressing undergraduates here...He is explicitly performing, for an audience of his inferiors...It is also no accident that Eggers is full of shit. He is so passionate, and his passion has such rhetorical momentum, that it is almost possible to overlook the fact that the literal proposition he's putting forward, in the name of large-heartedness and honesty, is bogus and insulting."It is also no accident that Eggers is full of shit" - that line is the sum of the wit contained in the entire essay. The rest is precisely passion with rhetorical momentum in defense of a bogus and insulting proposition - that it is our moral duty to fight the power! By using our words! To attack everything and everyone more powerful, famous, or highly-praised than ourselves because they're probably up to no good! Goodness is in obscurity, until that's exposed to fame, and then it immediately goes sour. Well, how far down can that proposition go? Look at this, Tom Scocca, here I am, a two-bit blogger who cowers in the shadow of the internet empire you run, and I am sticking it to you! I expect an appreciation ASAP (in the form of some publicity, preferably).
One more thing, on smark and authority. Scocca makes a big stink about the "collapse of traditional authority," that much longed for specter of order which has always existed only in this exact state of subsequently-lamented collapse. As if there was ever any "traditional authority" that put to rest quarrels over whether A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is worth reading or the tweets of politicians are to be taken seriously.
Smarm hopes to fill the cultural or political or religious void left by the collapse of authority, undermined by modernity and postmodernity...What currently fills the space left by the waning or absence of traditional authority, for the most part, is the ideology and logic of the market.Really. I am waiting for some diligent medievalist to uncover a palimpsest of some diocesan priest's observations about the discourse of the day - "Oy, ever since Pope Gregory riled up the monarchs of Europe, all authority has collapsed! We are bereft! Left to decide for ourselves whether the passing minstrel show is any good and what to name our children. Some among us have styled themselves "critics," purveyors of taste without credentials, and they have attacked the previous such purveyors for their suspect ties to the neighborhood gentry, and now the whole place is up in arms, the simple people knowing not whom to believe about minstrels and the best names for their children."