Before I explain why Time magazine has launched me into today’s entry, I figure I must explain why I read Time magazine. But before I do that, I figure I should mention that I cannot escape The Whistler. I’ve mentioned him before, as the guy who’s been working on my neighbor’s backyard for five months now. Every single day he whistles for his entire eight-hour shift, right outside my window, right next to my desk. He hasn’t stopped whistling his non-song since 2002. He’s whistling right now. Sometimes I whistle along with him. This morning he sneezed mid-whistle and I blessed him.
And now our grocery store has hired a whistler, and the past two times I went shopping he’s been behind me, stocking and whistling, alternating between singing a song in Spanish and whistling a song that doesn’t exist. The only way to get him to stop singing is to ask him a question about a product, which makes him start talking for fifteen minutes about potatoes.
Why so much whistling, Los Angeles? Is it because the weather is nice outside? Why do you have to ruin it? “You’re ruining it for everyone!” (That’s a bit from that Kevin Murphy book I read last week. It cracks me up. How people just get so upset about things and declare they’re ruined for everyone. I love saying it now.)
Anyway. Time. I read it and I have a subscription to it because it makes me feel like my dad’s reading me the news. It’s all from his cranky perspective, not really telling me the news so much as showing me pictures and reminding me that there’s news out there, news that I probably don’t understand, news that bores me and lulls me to sleep. It makes me feel like a kid. And yes, my boyfriend turns the magazine face-down every time he sees it on a table because he finds the covers to be exploitive, offensive propaganda. And yes, the whole concept of Time is: “Isn’t the world scary? We’re all going to die. Better find religion.” But anyway, it reminds me of my dad, and it’s tax deductible, so I get Time every week and read it about once a month.
So yesterday I was reading the back page, which was trying to be some kind of gossip column, I guess, filling us in on what’s happening with reality television and celebrity life. And since it’s “cool” to be “snarky” and use inferred “quotations,” this page decided to toss in a few jokes.
Which leads me to today’s topic. “Snarky” does not equal “Being an asshole.”
“Snarky” isn’t the same thing as “mean-spirited.” It also isn’t “rude,” “uncalled for” or “offensive.”
My point: A blurb about Jennifer Garner and Scott Foley splitting up. It’s called “She’s Licensed to Dump.” Just ignore how that’s not even funny, and check this shit. (I’m quoting it because I’m pretty sure that about .03% of people that read my website read Time.)
“She’s the high-flying superspy of Alias. He’s a lawyer on that show…what’s it called? Not J.A.G., the other one. Can this marriage be saved? Apparently not: Jennifer Garner and Scott Foley have split up. Maybe it was envy; his career isn’t exactly thriving post-Felicity. Maybe it was because she has a jaw like a man’s. Or maybe it was the fact that she could kick his ass without fraying a cuticle.
“Maybe it was because she has a jaw like a man’s?”
This is called “being an asshole.” The comment isn’t funny because it’s not supported by anything, and doesn’t really make any sense, as he obviously loved her alleged man-jaw enough to marry it and kiss it over the years. You don’t tell your friend after she breaks up with someone that you always thought her boyfriend was ugly. That’s insulting to everyone involved. That’s saying she had bad taste. And if the picture that went along with this had a big man-jawed Jennifer, then maybe it’d be funny, but it’s a pretty picture of this pretty girl. Maybe if they said over the years she’s acquired a man-jaw, after having molding her body to the image we all demanded in order for her to be in Daredevil. But not this left-field insult.
Secondly, it’s not like these people have been tabloid fodder, asking us to take potshots at their relationship. This isn’t Kid Rock and Pamela Anderson.
If my writing becomes disjointed here it’s because The Whistler has just started using a buzzsaw on some wood just outside my window. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to work and soon I will have to leave my house and find a coffee shop where I will pay money to work.
And then the “fraying a cuticle” joke is just a way of saying the same thing they said in the first sentence: “She’s making more money, and she’s a girl!” So that’s not really adding anything, nor is it funny.
To have successfully snarked the break-up, one only needs to mention Ben Affleck. Or even Colin Farrell. These two people allow us to mock them publicly, taking shots at their drinking, their sex lives, their career choices. Jennifer Garner and Scott Foley haven’t bothered any of us with their lives. They haven’t asked us to give them any more attention than they deserve. I can’t believe they busted out with a man jaw. I’m not reading Us Weekly, I’m reading Time. And if this magazine wants snark, they’d better hire someone who knows how to do it right.
Good snark follows a Homer principle: “It’s funny ‘cuz it’s true.” It’s the “Oh, no, you di’in’t,” factor. It’s what you were thinking and maybe twisted just a bit, but it’s still based in fact. And snark doesn’t work unless the object of the snarking has asked for it. People don’t snark on Jessica Lynch. People snark on France. Do you see the difference?
I’m not comparing Jennifer Garner to Jessica Lynch. If Jennifer Garner wanted me to, then she’d be ready for snarking.
The show What Not To Wear is a perfect example of this. In the British version, the two ladies coaching the fashion-challenged victim really want the woman to walk away a better dresser. They tease some of her fashion choices, but only after the woman has seen herself on television and hid her face in her hands in horror. Then collectively they blame the pants, or they blame the sweater. Like when a toddler knocks into a table and everyone scolds the table for getting in the way of the kid.
But the horrible American version of the show has two people trying to American Idolize the show. They snark on the poor people who’ve already been nationally exposed on television in their underwear, goofing around when they didn’t know they were being filmed. And then they start insulting the person, calling her a fat witch, or an ugly troll. A hobbit. They don’t blame the clothes, they blame the wearer. And that person didn’t ask to be the object of the jokes for a full hour. The clothes did. The clothes are Ben Affleck.
Your pants that make you look fat? They’re Ben Affleck. Your ass? That’s Jennifer Garner.
Maybe your ass did get a little fat, but it was only because you’ve been working so hard on your career, or trying to help your husband’s career. Then Ben Affleck comes around making your ass look even fatter, and your husband leaves because he thinks you’ve got a big fat ass.
Snark isn’t the bully in school pointing at the weak, quiet kid and shouting, “Hey! She smells! Hey, everybody! All day, let’s not talk to her. Turn your desks the other way.”
Snark is when your teacher says you’ll have to study many hours of Moby Dick and then turns to face the board right when you say, “Instead of the many hours of just dick that you’ve studied to get to your tenured position, Miss Tenured…position…”
You understand without me having to make an example up on the spot here, right?
I write for a site that does snark for a living. And there are people who hate us. Hate us. Fill pages upon pages of forums and livejournals with bitter, spitting fury. It’s interesting how many of them hate the site because they have to deal with each other, having to read opinions they violently oppose on a public forum. They hate having to read something they disagree with. And the ones who hate the recaps, they hate the fact that someone’s made a joke out of something they love unconditionally.
Television may be your fat ass, but most of the shows on it are Ben Affleck.
And those shows don’t love you like you love them. That’s what good snark does — it points out when the networks are treating you like a stupid child. You deserve more, and good snark shows that you’re intelligent enough to ask for it, to call out for it, and to mock the shit they tried to serve you instead. You should embrace the snark, demand better snark, and refuse to read bad snark. This shitty snark of Time magazine has made me angry because I’m seeing someone do a bad job in a place where people could get the wrong idea about snark. Because I have something invested in the world of snark. I want people to appreciate and understand what I do. I don’t want them to think I just snot some drivel all over the place and demand people laugh at it.
Those of you who love your television shows, you should demand the same quality. Don’t just love it because it’s there. Don’t embrace it because it’s on and being on and existing is better than being cancelled and gone. When they don’t live up to your expectations, when someone could sit down and watch one episode and get the wrong idea (that it’s a piece of poorly-written shit), then you should snark it. You should be just as passionate about getting used for your love as you are passionate when the show gets everything right. You love puppies, right? You love your puppy so much you’d get hit by a car for it. But what happens when your puppy pisses on your bed? You shout “NO!” right in its face, and maybe even kick it outside for a little while.
That’s what we do at Television Without Pity. We housetrain your television. And yes, it’s hard to see someone yell at a puppy, but if you don’t train it when it’s young, then it’s going to be a crazy, uncontrollable, maniac dog. It’ll be a mess. It’ll be Saturday Night Live. Or Friends. Or Queer As Folk. And dammit, I watch those shows every damn week, It’s painful and makes me feel cheap and easy.
So don’t be afraid to call it when you see it. Don’t be scared to express your opinion. It doesn’t make you less of a fan if you don’t like something. I don’t go see every Johnny Depp movie. Nor have I seen anything John Travolta’s done since Primary Colors. Having standards doesn’t make you a snob.
I can’t put up with shitty snark anymore. You see the difference now, don’t you? Lorenzo Lamas. That’s shitty snark. Jim Mullen. Shitty snark.
I’m just one person. I can’t change the world. But maybe, just maybe, I could improve the face of comedy, just a bit. Just give it a little more dignity. A place where “poop” isn’t always the punchline. A world where television is more entertaining than degrading, and magazines hire actually funny people to write their snarky columns.
It’s not exactly John Lennon’s vision of world peace, but maybe it’s a start.
On a sidenote, Jason Mewes is filming an HBO show where he tries to kick heroin. I wish I could have seen that pitch meeting.
“Okay, dog, so I’m fucked up, right? But like, that’s fucked up, right? So I’m going to try to be less fucked up on HBO. And if you could kick it right after Six Feet Under, that’d be hella cool, bitches.”
“Yes, yes. We see where you’re going, Jason. But we need to see real heroin. Actual heroin. Could you not give it up for the first three weeks? And maybe inject it between your toes?”
“Aw, fuck that shit. I’ll put that shit in my eyes. And check it — I’ve learned how to snort through my ear holes.”
“That is impressive. But we’ll have to put you on after Sex and the City.”
“Oh, could one of those bitches sit on my face while I kick heroin? That might help.”
“I think this is the beginning of a very long and successful relationship, Mr. Mewes.”
Sex and the City. Almost finished, now. Then I can read birthday present books, which are always the best books. Goodbye, birthday week. You were fantastic.