One of my students today observed that she has felt, already, a lessening of the snarky tone she's heard and read all around her pretty much all her conscious life. I think she believes that tone will be at an end, that sincerity, rhetorical calm, un-irony will wash over the language. My guess - still plenty of the snark in me, I suppose - is that it will last a few months. Snark is here to stay.
I want to ponder this. Eight years of an awful presidency has generated the super-skepticism - the hypersatirical state of public political (and to some significant extent cultural) commentary - and that, in the most general way, makes sense. Harding and Coolidge certainly created, or at least contributed to, Roaring Twenties ironic hilarity, flapperistic farce.
But this era of snark happened to coincide with the emergence of the web, the proliferation of voices, the radical democratization of the commentariat, 1000 blogs blooming, social networking in which your "Friends" are your ready audience for daily expressions of your "status," podcasts made in the breakfast room recorded on a Radio Shack microphone plugged into a $600 computer. Bush + web 2.0 = snark.
Obama in part succeeded because of this interactive social revolution, and his movement would by no means want to put it all back in the bottle. But can the tone change? Can sincerity coexist with the ubiquity of these voices?
Howard K. Smith did a news report on "the Beat revolution" in 1960. Smith intended to be even-handed, although today his commentary and questions (in interviews) will strike us as amazingly condescending. These poor deluded children. Charming, but oh how misguided. My favorite moment in the report is a 56-second segment from what must have been a longer, perhaps much longer discussion with a teenaged girl - who had fled her square suburban parents and had migrated to Venice, CA. Listen to her. I'm entranced by her utterly sincere critique of American conformity, in the high sweet tone that anticipates the classic flower child of seven or eight years later.
Yes, speaking of Dickinson... The sculptor, maker of media art and film (and who specializes in public art) Lynn Tomlinson created a series of very short 35 mm films. One of these is an animation of the Dickinson poem, "I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –". Go here and click on the third-from-left little thumbnail below the main screen.
EMILY DICKINSON WEBINAR
live video feed on KWH-TV
November 10, 7 PM
hosted by Al Filreis & Jessica Lowenthal
at the Kelly Writers House
Join us for a live interactive online discussion of the poetry of Emily Dickinson. The discussion will be led by Al Filreis and Jessica Lowenthal on Monday, November 10, at 7 PM (eastern time). The session will last about an hour; we will discuss several poems in detail; participants will be able to pose questions and responses by email and phone.
To participate in this session, you'll connect to our KWH-TV live video feed:
No need to read or prepare in advance of the session. We will guide you through the poems during the program.
RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org. Those who register will receive further instructions and guidelines before the event.