Snark: The First 2,000 Years

As you may have been able to tell from The New York Timesdiabetes series (following its series on gold), it’s Pulitzer season and everyone’s trying to jump on the multi-part bandwagon. Even MarketWatch’s Jon Friedman is bringing out the big guns with a three-parter on one of today’s most pressing media issues: Snark.

According to Friedman’s first entry on Monday, “snark” is “all the rage now.” It can be found in these venues:

Jon Stewart, Maureen Dowd, Mad magazine, the Onion, National Lampoon, Spy, Andy Borowitz, the style and songs of John Lennon and Bob Dylan, ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm,’ the Washington Post’s Style section, Art Buchwald, Gawker, Don Imus, (for better or worse) Howard Stern, the Wonkette, Dana Milbank, Christopher Buckley, Page Six, Dave Barry, Jim Bouton’s landmark book ‘Ball Four,’ Dana Carvey’s impersonations of President George W. Bush on ‘Saturday Night Live,’ the ‘Naked Gun’ movies, and P.J. O’Rourke.

And while we can’t resist pointing out that Dana Carvey impersonated George H.W. Bush, we do like how inclusive Friedman’s definition is: Snark’s a big party, and everyone’s invited!

Today, Friedman chats with “snark’s Godfather” Kurt Andersen and tomorrow, as he’s breathlessly promised from the start of the series, he’ll be “singling out the leading practitioner of the style.” We’re sure everyone in Medialand is holding their collective breath for that one (Hi, David! Nice haircut, Greg!). Meanwhile, we thought we’d take a look at some of history’s great snark practitioners and put Friedman’s important series in context.

Biblical Times:
· Doubting Thomas tries to be all smartass about Jesus’ resurrection. (Snarky quote: “The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.”)

Twelfth Century:
· Teenagers invent “the dozens,” a game named after the century in which you mock someone’s mother. (Snarky quote: “Your mama’s so poor, she couldn’t afford a barber and died of Black Plague!”)

Thirteenth Century:
· Dante Alighieri writes his famous trilogy, La Divina Commedia: The Devil Wears Prada. (Snarky quote: “Worldly fame is but a breath of wind that blows now this way, and now that, and changes name as it changes direction… jackass.”)

Fourteenth Century:
· Geoffrey Chaucer adapts his blog into the blovel, The Canterbury Tales. Contemporaries immediately call him a “sell-out.” (Snarky quote: “The guilty think all talk is of themselves.”)

Sixteenth Century:
· Machiavelli releases The Prince in 1515. (Snarky quote: “Of mankind we may say in general they are fickle, hypocritical, and greedy of gain.”)

· Martin Luther launches his proto-blog, disses the church 95 ways to Sunday. (Snarky quote: “Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, ‘Peace, peace,’ and there is no peace!… LOL!”)

· Nicholaus Copernicus does a piss-take on the old geocentric vision of the Solar System. (Snarky quote: “The Solar System revolves on Earth… and monkeys might fly out of my butt!”)

· Miguel de Cervantes mercilessly mocks deluded would-be knights and the short fat guys who love them. (Snarky quote: “Every man is as God made him, ay, and often worse.”)

· William Shakespeare writes a bunch of plays, proving himself to be the ultimate cleverer than thou asshole. Some dare ask if Shakespeare even existed, making him the JT LeRoy of his day. (Snarky quote: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”)

Seventeenth Century:
· New Amsterdam founded in 1625. The fifteen original blocks eventually become the center of the snarkiverse.

Eighteenth Century:
· In 1740, Frederick II becomes king of Prussia and is dubbed “Frederick The Great.” Bloggers at the time declare him “not great” and “so-so.”

·Thinking he is being clever during the French and Indian War, 1754-1763, Lord Jeffrey Amherst gives Native Americans smallpox blankets in an act many consider a form of genocide. (Snarky quote: “Well, excuuuuuuuuuse me!”)

Nineteenth Century:
· Punch magazine is launched in 1841, eventually featuring writing from Thackeray (including his future Reese Witherspoon vehicle, Vanity Fair), and others. (Snarky quote: “There’s going to be a seismic change. I think it’s the end of the age of irony…Things that were considered fringe and frivolous are going to disappear.” Whoops, wrong Vanity Fair.)

· Ambrose Bierce begins publishing his Devil’s Dictionary as a serial in 1881. (Snarky quote: “MISFORTUNE, n. The kind of fortune that never misses.”)

Twentieth Century:
· In 1917, Marcel Duchamp displays a urinal, calling it a fountain. (Snarky quote: “Art is like a shipwreck .. it’s everyman for himself.”)

· Harold Ross launches The New Yorker in 1925. The magazine becomes the home of snark lumaries like Dorothy Parker (the Kathy Griffin of her day), Wolcott Gibbs, Rosanne Barr (editor for a brief time), and Andy Borowitz. (Snarky quote: “Yes! Send me a year of The New Yorker (47 issues) for only $47. I’ll save 76% off the newsstand price!”)

· The Marx Brothers jump from Vaudeville to the silver screen with 1929′s Cocoanuts. (Snarky quote: “Believe me, you gotta get up early if you want to get out of bed.”)

· Abbott and Costello run circles around Frankenstein’s Monster with their clever wordplay in 1948. (Snarky quote: Costello: “Well that’s gonna cost you overtime because I’m a union man and I work only sixteen hours a day.” Abbott: “A union man only works eight hours a day.” Costello: “I belong to two unions.”)

· Paul Krassner begins publishing The Realist in 1958, combining journalism and counter-culture satire. (Snarky quote: “Pope John Paul would be more popular if he called himself Pope John Paul George and Ringo.”)

· Esquire launches its annual “Dubious Achievement Awards” in 1961, forever inverting the classic set-up/punchline joke equation. (Snarky quote: “Why is this man laughing?”)

·Mad Magazine introduces “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions,” by Al Jaffee. Young people everywhere learn sarcasm. (Snarky quote: Citizen: “Did I do something wrong, officer?” Cop: “No, today we’re giving tickets out for doing things right.”)

· Stanley Kubrick and Terry Southern collaborate on Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb in 1964. (Snarky quote: “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!”)

· In 1966, John Lennon declares the Beatles bigger than Jesus. Doubting Thomas pops up, says “Pshaaa… I doubt it.”

· Topps introduces Wacky Packs in 1967, bringing a satirical anti-consumerist sentiment to the kids while creating its own consumer phenomenon. (Snarky quote: “Weakies: The Breakfast of Chumps!”)

· In 1969, some Harvard Lampoon editors convince Weight Watchers founder Matty Simmons to fund National Lampoon. (Snarky quote: “If Ted Kennnedy drove a Volkswagen, he’d be President today.”)

· A Canadian named Lorne Michaels brings Saturday Night Live to American television in 1975. The show languishes for 30-plus years until two white guys rap about The Chronicles of Narnia in late 2005.

· Starting in 1982, David Letterman satirizes the conventions of a big network TV talk show within the context of a big network TV talk show—albeit, one airing after midnight. (Snarky quote: “Charlton Heston admitted he had a drinking problem, and I said to myself, ‘Thank God this guy doesn’t own any guns!’”)

· HBO introduces Not Necessarily the News in 1983. America promptly forgets it exists until Comedy Central launches The Daily Show in 1996.

· Performing as Joe Isuzu, actor David Leisure mocks the glibness of television advertising in ads for Isuzu. (Snarky quote: “If I’m lying, may lightning hit my mother.”)

· Dennis Miller is given a syndicated talk show in 1992. It’s cancelled in two seasons.

· Dennis Miller is given a weekly talk show on HBO in 1994. This one runs on-and-off through 2002.

Twenty-first Century:
· Dennis Miller is tapped to comment on NFL Monday Night Football in 2002. He lasts two seasons. (Snarky quote: “Rams head coach Mike Martz looked at last year’s defense and thought it was pretty offensive, so he ripped it apart like a ‘raptor on a pork chop.”)

· Gawker.com is launched in 2002 with financial analyst-turned-writer Elizabeth Spiers as its editor. (Snarky quote: “It’s Tina Brown Day at Gawker.”)

· VH1 imports the BBC’s I Love the 80s series and unleashes a viral strains of clip-’n’-quip shows on America, enabling standup comedians, B-level actors, “journalists,” and Michael Ian Black to mock popular culture. (Snarky quote: “Give me short skirts, give me roller skates, give me ‘Xanadu.’ I’m a happy man.”)

·Maer Roshan launches Radar in 2003. It folds after two issues. (Snarky quote: “There is nothing like unemployment to give you a little perspective.”)

· A. Whitney Brown realizes the apotheosis of a career spent in snark by launching a free blogspot blog. (Snarky quote: “Fox is announcing they may have discovered traces of Jimmy Hoffa’s DNA at the site of his alleged murder. Who’d have thought they’d find Hoffa before they did Osama?”)

· In 2005, Maer Roshan relaunches Radar. It folds after three issues. (Snarky quote: “When we started work on this issue, the police were searching people on the New York subways, a serial killer was on the loose in Miami, and Whitney Houston was planning another comeback.”)

· The new Dorothy Parker, Kathy Griffin is censured for accusing Dakota Fanning of having been in drug rehab.

Matt Haber