A Brief History of Snarky Redux

The Best of the Zola System

I have mentioned snark, snarky humor and snarky boys frequently this month.  These are topics I have written about since the beginning of the Zola System. 

On 5/31/08, I posted my first blog on snark; it remains a personal favorite.


A Brief History of Snarky

The First Essential Scary Truth

I thought I learned about arrogance from the Old Man.

“Your father admired your arrogance,” Jerry Stein said during his eulogy for my father. I sat back and nodded, filled with self-satisfaction.

The Old Man was absolutely contemptuous of the surroundings and people in Bloomfield Hills. At the neighborhood New Years Day party, the main focal point was the College Bowl games, specifically the Michigan game. People milled around, screaming and second-guessing Bo Schembechler’s game calls. I found Aron sitting by himself stroking his chin. I was familiar with that look; Dad was looking into these people, sizing them up. It was a look that scared the hell out of everybody who saw it.

I walked over to him and asked, “What’s going on?”

“I could own all these people, every one of them. They would starve and their kids would never go to college. I’d do it in a heartbeat but I know it would upset your Mother.”

That was the arrogance the Old Man instilled in my brothers and me.

But every kid in the neighborhood had the same inflated sense of self- importance. The American middle class in the ’70’s and ’80’s wasn’t just the arena of the factory worker or small shop proprietor.  It had evolved. Our parents were college educated; they owned their own companies or worked in major corporations. Their expectations for their children were high, getting into college wasn’t good enough, and our folks wanted doctors, lawyers and captains of industry. We were sent to gifted and talented programs and encouraged to be as creative as possible. We were spoiled, coddled and told we were special and different in school and at home. On a family vacation to Beverly Hills, CA, Mother took me shopping on Rodeo Drive. I looked at the high-end stores and snorted.

“We have all of these stores in Birmingham,” I said.

Mother openly wondered how she could have raised such a brat but she was kidding. The more dismissive we were, the more we grew in our parents esteem. We were encouraged to be snarky.

“Snarkiness is contempt before investigation,” says Jon Winokour, author of the The Big Book of Irony told the New York Times. “It’s just a pose that rejects everything in its path.”

One 1982 July night at the Claridge Casino and Hotel in Atlantic City, while the Old Man was beating the house at Baccarat, I saw our humor on TV for the first time. I saw Late Night with David Letterman.

I had read a lot about the Letterman show but was never allowed to stay up late enough to see the show. Letterman was considered a young Don Rickles, an insult comic with a new twist: snarky. Unlike Rickles who would go over to the subject of his assault and give them a big hug, Dave was mean, dismissive and judgmental.

I was hooked from the first monologue. My friends and I would stay up and see who and what he would skewer nightly. With all the weird characters he brought on, it was like seeing Bugs Bunny beat up on Elmer Fudd in real time. His snarky humor was a match for the sensibilities of our middle class adolescence. David Letterman was one of us, a middle class midwestern boy. He had our arrogance. We responded by staying up late to watch the show every night we could, discussing how Letterman ripped Larry Bud Melman the night before was considered the high point of homeroom small talk.

As we’ve gotten older, my generation hasn’t out grown our snarkiness; it’s taken over as our major personality trait. We are a group of emotional cripples unable to express any feelings except our own contempt. My generation may have been cute but bratty adolescents, now we’re bitter, caustic adults disparaging what we don’t like, which is almost everything. We are slackers who place our views of correct society above achievement and getting on with life.

A few years back, I broke up with my beautiful, loyal girlfriend Darla for Amanda, an aspiring fashion journalist. Amanda broke up with me three months later.

Our exit interview was a contentious scream fest on my stoop. I asked her why she wanted to break up with me.

“There has to be someone better out there for me Alex,” she said. “The right man still has to be out there.”

Although upset at her snarky comment, I gave her credit then as I do now. It was the same reason I left Darla for her.


A quick reminder: my dear friend Susan Crain Bakos is judging a contest for blogger Dom Rose of Club DD entitled What is Your Porn Star Name? First prize is a deluxe sex toy set from Babeland.  If you win and tell Susan you found about about the contest from the Zola System, I will take you to the Subway Inn for a drink.  The deadline for entries is June 30, 2009 so go to SexyPrime and check out how to enter.

The link:


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