In our era of the Internet – an era in which memes and chain emails alike cross from screen to the world and back again – has the encroachment of snark from the internet undermined our ability to properly mock those deserving of mockery in so-called meatspace?
Compare and contrast two entirely unrelated pieces – the first by John Birmingham at The Sydney Morning Herald suggesting the correct punishment for (convicted racist) Andrew Bolt should not be the imposition of legal punitives, but rather mockery:
People like Bolt do not need to be suppressed. They need – they desperately need – to be mocked. Mocked for their ignorance. Mocked for their paranoia. Mocked for their delusions of adequacy.
And I think there’s something very right and true about it – the law does not persuade opinion, powerful opinion persuades opinion. And so I was left wondering, why isn’t the mockery more forthcoming? I doubt it’s for fear of defamation and reprisals – there’s always a way around such laws in any case, viz. satire, legitimate criticism, etc.
And so it wasn’t until I read the next piece that I began to wonder if our resistance to mockery is actually a cultural one. See how Mel Campbell reviewing this week’s Q&A episode for Crikey describes the twitter ‘snark’ culture arrayed around that program:
The Twitter commentariat is possibly the worst thing about Q&A. What began as a well-meant gesture of inclusiveness has deteriorated into a scramble to be zingy enough for one’s tweet to be displayed onscreen. Snark is the enemy of intellectual rigour because it refuses to engage with an idea, preferring to reject it through mockery. It’s quite possible to watch Q&A without properly listening to it, concentrating instead on collecting retweets for your asinine gags about the panellists and questioners.
Which is a relatively common sentiment to see expressed about anything of the internet. When we consider that the net is getting more ‘real’ with every passing day, and that the barrier between ‘the internet’ and ‘the real’ is an increasing permeable one, we’re left with some pretty significant questions about the internet’s cultural effects. When “haters gonna hate” becomes a truth universally acknowledged, whither the ability to mock those like Andrew Bolt? How do we make the mockery stick to those that truly deserve it? Or is the answer that only the truly deserving, accurate criticism and mockery will endure in the wash? But if that’s the case then we might as well throw around whatever we like and see what sticks, which is clearly only going to lead us back into the “haters gonna hate” meme.
So is there a place for tactical mockery? Political mockery? The judicious application of scorn? Does the “haters gonna hate” meme need retiring? We’re steering remarkably close to something like a rhetoric of memes.