For a good year now, Justin Huft and I have been writing a debate column called “Snark vs. Snark.” The premise was simple — take a topic, add a dash of satire, a heaping spoonful of cynicism and a whole lot of opinion, and format two equally absurd, equally sarcastic perspectives on an issue that just might touch on the truth. And while I’m not questioning the value, the enjoyment or the validity of those articles, I am beginning to think they’re a part of the problem.
Think about the past — America was always looking forward with optimism. Hope. We had the frontier to claim and map and explore. We had new lands to visit (albeit with some pretty unethical results). In the latter half of the 20th century, we even had the fucking moon. But now, what do we have? What’s our frontier?
The Internet. The extremists on 4chan, the cynics on reddit, the whiners on Tumblr. The overarching attitude online is one of rank bitterness and inclusivity. Judgment. A burgeoning desire to lampoon the norm and simultaneously abuse those who refuse to follow it.
Now, I’m not going to go on a rampage lambasting cynicism for all of the problems of this (or future) generations. There is a hell of a lot of absolutely sincere people out there that are doing absolutely no good whatsoever, and there is a pretty decent number of sarcastic jackasses who, overall, help to make this world a better place. But a world where that’s the prevailing attitude? To always be cynical and looking on the pessimistic side of things? How can a world function like that?
The great inventors and visionaries of the past, the philosophers and politicians who really set out to change things, had to believe that they could change things. That there was more to be done than simply sitting behind a computer screen and down-voting dissenting opinions with a neck-beardy “Meh.”
Right now in Turkey, there’s a revolution happening. Ordinary men and women, college students and retirees alike, are standing up against an oppressive government. People’s skulls are being cracked by exploding tear gas canisters. Compressed water guns are being employed to bring civilians expressing basic human rights to their knees. The Turkish media isn’t saying a damn thing about it, either. There’s hardly a gloomier current event to examine.
And yet, these people are not surrendering to snark. There are boys and girls in Guy Fawkes’ masks, but this isn’t an ironic revolution. The truncheons of the riot squads are real, but so are the cries of the revolutionaries. The groups of strangers who gather together to pull a fallen comrade from the ground as the tear gas spreads. The students who rescue a stray dog from a gaseous street and treat its swollen eyes and nose with bottled water, cleaning dried blood from its fur. The unnamed woman who stands before the SWAT teams with an open tray of pastries — not a peace offering, but not a “fuck you,” either.
Because this isn’t Occupy Wall Street; this isn’t a disjointed hive-mind anti-establishment plea of littering and loitering. This is people fighting for fundamental human rights peaceably, and then stopping mid-protest to clean up the streets that the cops filled with their blood and garbage.
What I’m trying to say is, the revolution in Turkey is a good thing; its methods, its motives, its overall attitude of positivity in the face of unimaginable adversity. It’s an example of proactive optimism instead of passive pessimism.
But this is not to say that sarcasm does not have its place. I’ve had a good deal of fun being a snide Narcissist with Justin Huft, but if his Juvenalian Judgments this week makes any decent points, they come from a place of sincerity — even if their tone may not be as such. Irony is the spice of life, after all, and the cutting cynicism of a class clown or a talented comedian will always be not only welcome commentary, but a valuable part of our society. The trouble comes when this is the prevailing attitude, when pernicious, self-defeating cynicism or bitterness take ahold of the intellectual majority (or the entire majority).
The attitude of society’s revolutionaries and redeemers, its pundits and politicians should be that, in the end, when all of their work is done, that all will be well.
Ryan M. Cady is a third-year psychology and English double major. He can be reached at email@example.com.