“We’d all love to change your head
You tell me it’s the institution
Well, you know
You better free your mind instead.”– John Lennon
New words are invented every year. The word snark itself was added to the dictionary in the 19th century, but it obviously does not have the same meaning now as it did then. This is another common phenomenon in the English language. It’s hard to say when that shift happened, but snark is something you see frequently on social media.
I normally detest the axiom that “both sides do it” because I usually find this thinking as lazy and disproportionate. However, there is no more proper way to address snark in the political sense. However, it goes well beyond politics and into everyday life. In some sense it is simply poking fun and as long as everyone is in on the joke I guess there is no harm. Everyone that has been on the business end of one of those jokes knows that’s not really the case.
I saw two examples in the past couple of days that drove this point home and to be perfectly fair I will include one from each side of the political spectrum. There is one particular woman on Twitter that I follow because we are all a part of what could be labeled “Astros Twitter.” For those not in the know on these things that’s just a fancy way of saying we all follow the Astros and therefore follow each other because we want to see what others have to say about the Astros.
The group has become a little closer in the past calendar year because the Astros took a ton of abuse through the cheating scandal. Astros twitter therefore took on a pack mentality where we circled the wagons and defended each other. I’m admittedly not as active on Twitter as many others, but I also admittedly do a lot more reading than tweeting.
Anyhow, this woman has become increasingly fixated on Joe Biden. Every time he speaks she pounces on every stammer and stumble. She sees it as “proof” that he is suffering from dementia. Point out salient facts about his stuttering issue and you get a lot of noise coming back. I’d say more than half of her political tweets have immediate pushback from others on Twitter correcting her on the facts. Of course, this is normal when you look across Twitter.
What isn’t normal is what is happening to her. In the past year we have gone from occasional political tweets interspersed with tweets about life and sports to a majority of tweets being about politics and Joe Biden specifically. At some point we begin to worry not about the content of the complaints but the frequency. Naturally, some were doing this when Trump was president. So, it’s not a partisan thing. It’s a human thing. Is the hyper focus making you happy?
Of course, I say that knowing full well that a majority of my posts here were about the ex-president up until January 20th. So, admittedly there’s a fine line. Some people on the left crossed that fine line when they poked fun at numerous speakers and performers at CPAC. CPAC is an annual event where conservative politicians and celebrities get together to hear speeches and discussions about conservative issues.
Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once said that he could not define pornography but he knew it when he saw it. In a similar way, I can’t define the difference between spirited commentary and hurtful snark, but I know it when I see it. We saw it this week when those on the left descended on the poor girl that opened CPAC with the national anthem. It was a brilliant study in snark if there ever was one.
The treatment failed a simple two-pronged test. First. has she done anything wrong? I suppose you could claim she has based on the fact that she was there. However, that’s a stretch. Is someone that has said nothing responsible for the views of those in attendance simply based on his or her own attendance? That’s a hard bar to cross. I’m not sure how old this girl was and whether she was watching all of the speeches in rapt anticipation. Maybe she sung the anthem and then went home. Maybe her parents brought her there and volunteered her because they thought she was talented.
This brings us to the second prong. How would have any of us have done in a similar situation? This is a difficult question. Could I sing the national anthem and stay on key? Maybe. Throw me into a room with hundreds of people and cameras and the odds go way down. I still remember the time I tried out for the high school pop show. The tryout didn’t go nearly as well as the rehearsals.
It’s the same phenomenon as game shows. Trivia seems simple from the comforts of our living room. Put us under the bright lights and in front of the camera and with real money on the line and those same trivia questions become that much more difficult. Even if the girl sucked beyond what any of us would suck we have to ask ourselves what we are getting out this exchange. Do we really need to tear someone down and demean them to make ourselves feel better?
This is where the Biden jokes and the jokes about this poor girl intersect. We only know what we saw and heard. We don’t know why. We don’t know if either was overcome with nervousness. We have no way of knowing how Biden’s stuttering impacts him at different moments or how this girl wound up being on stage in the first place. Admittedly, the line between fair game and cruelty can be blurry. A lot of it depends on how public a face the victim has. Another part depends on whether they knowingly put themselves out there like that. The final part comes down to what we get out of the exchange. Are we putting someone down to make ourselves feel better? If so, what does that say about us?