Trolls



At Booksale I came across Snark by The New Yorker film critic David Denby. As is expected from a critic, it's nonfiction--I didn't have to skim past the cover to consider it as interesting. What it's about, I'm not sure (no idea about snark as a concept, honestly) but I rarely spot good nonfiction, and the last time I read one was in 2012, upon chancing Zombification by NPR's Andrei Codrescu which I bought because it stupidly reminds me of The Death of Dr. Lazarescu. No regrets, as it's a good read as well.

Subtitled It's mean, it's Personal, and it's destroying our conversation, Denby starts Snark in his most personal tone. He hates snark both as a writer and as someone who admires Obama and considers free speech and democracy his advocacies. The way he defines it, snark is a kind of language that's "lazy and parasitic", in that it only reuses terminologies and references snuffed out by exhausted readers, flavors it with the juiciest of rumors, in order to fulfill its purpose of misleading everyone. (Just like Buzzfeed and Gawker is!)

In a gist, his point: it's fine to talk about something that everyone else is talking about, as long as you say something novel about it. Denby is all for writing that's fresh and creative, characteristics that snark will never have. If anything, snark wants to distract us from the relevant matters, destroying what he calls in later chapters as "the national conversation" (or in social media, the trending hashtag).

He extensively compares snark with satire and irony, and he goes the whole nine yards, back to ancient times (Archilochus and Hipponax, Juvenal) and contrasts this to what snark is in the modern times (Tom Wolfe, Private Eye, Spy). Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark proved to be a good introduction, inspiration and springboard all at once, with the line "For the snark is a boojum, you see" the chorus, the concept binding the Greeks to the New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd and to Stephen Colbert. In his personal reading of nonsense poetry, Snark, Denby points out, wants its target to vanish into thin air.

I started reading it during the holidays, and was startled that my wife found the book as refreshing. She said it's different (as a work of nonfiction) in the sense that its language is light but witty. True, and it's commendable in that department. It's a good way to start the conversation about a language that, well, ruins the conversation.

The more I read the book, the more I get the feeling that snark is the unofficial language of forums and comments sections and Reddit threads. Snark, I'd like to think, is the air online trolls breathe. It fits the bill, actually: trolls are committed to play around, mess around with straight-faced commenters, and shift the conversation with recycled GIFs and meme. Trolls spit snark on the comments section, oftentimes aimlessly and anonymously, and it's as nasty as a hate crime. Denby chants this all throughout the book: what separates snark from satire, irony and other forms is that it's never creative unlike the latter--which gives us the discerning eye to weed out trolls from harsh but well-intentioned pundits. Snark has zero literary merits. Trolls, armed with their unoriginal language, have to be ignored.

Heads

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” - Edgar Degas

Reader #18-20

09/17/2014 Man in his late forties scribbling notes on his notebook and his book. A Quick and Easy Guide to Food and Wine by Gene Gonzales, thumbing his way from "dill" to "mache" interspersed with more scribbling. He was lanky and sullen, his face a bit hollow, with the look of an ancient Chinese vendor, or, as I later surmised upon hearing his destination, a college professor in crop science.

09/30/2014 The text she previously sent on her cellphpne was Ikaw Po Mr Panfilo Loncanco, Kamusta ka na? to which the guy responded, Eto. Pogi pa rin. She was in her fifties, with short boyish red (cellophaned) hair parted at the right, gold ball earrings, thin gold necklace, a ring on her right middle finger, set with diamonds, in the form of a... poinsettia. Uniformed, clutching a fake magenta Tory Burch bag, a matching shawl thick with embroidered patterns, and a magenta pair of eyeglass, she was reading Stardust by Neil Gaiman at page 42, just a page before Chapter 2 of the paperback edition before she stopped reading, lay down her head and gave in to the trip's dizzying motion.

06/09/2014 Llewelyn character. Thick novel. Cellphones on, watching Game of Thrones, playing metal, texting, or Subway Surfer. Cubao has passed. Vans brown checkered shoes, blue Jansport bag, blond wooden beads worn on the neck, long wavy hair of a man reading intently. I wasnt able to recognize him or his book right away.

Qualms

Ants. That was what I scrawled as a mental note before sleeping last night. Most of the fiction I have read in the past does not have a place for ants--or for human behavior triggered by ants. Films like Stranger than Fiction and Erin Brokovich have invested in human behavior, in anthropology; rarely is this topic fleshed out in fiction, or if they do, it would sound completely unnatural--staged, even. A scene where a character shakes off ants from a piece of leftover biscuit is a good finger exercise. (It reminds me of Calvino's The Argentine Ant, which is unbelievably thorough in transforming action and behavior to paper.)

First e-mail



My son's first e-mail: a drawing he made on one of those iPad apps where kids can share stuff to some random person. Glad to have received it this morning; totally made my week! ‪

Humans of New Year

Not a fan of making New Year's resolutions, though at the back of my mind I have one: write more. Partly because this post hit very close to home. True: in college, I was looking forward to graduate and write more; now, with a family and a job in tow, I couldn't write anything substantial. I'm not blaming my having a family--if it weren't for them I wouldn't have gone looking for a rewarding job in advertising. This is a matter of focus, of keeping tabs on my priorities, which I've failed to do ever since I graduated in 2012. Maybe that's why I've been wanting to study again, though not in the field of creative writing. (I've long since given up my dream of becoming a professional writer, for the fear that I might run out of words.) Maybe this is nothing but a phase akin to that of Rimbaud? Better to stop the pity party and write less as long as the writing gets better and wiser.

Capers



I didn't watch Argo right after it was filmed in the U.S, or even after it got rave reviews all over the web. Actually, I was just fortunate to come across the film on HBO last year; it was good, though there's no justice to file it as one of the films people come across while flipping channels. By the time I was skimming through today's HBO schedule, I knew it's time to finish Argo right from the start.

Just a few words before the praises: about the whole shebang that the film is historically inaccurate-- true, it is, but this should be out of the question since the film is based loosely on a clandestine operation (Canadian Caper); the film and its creators have the freedom to alter, edit out, exaggerate or even create characters or situations; otherwise, it's a documentary.

One of the marks of an excellent thriller is the pacing, the unfolding of the scenes: it should be seamless, one riding on top of the other, to create this overwhelming feeling of suspense and helplessness, that lack of control I felt while watching Transsiberian (a friend and I had to pause the film on my laptop to smoke cigarettes and discuss about what might--and shouldn't--happen). Though I already knew about the confrontations, the last-minute delays, the cliffhangers, the happy ending, seeing things unfold in Argo all over again is just pure adrenaline rush--to the point that my wife was half-worried, half-wondering about my being engrossed in the film. ("You looked like you're going to have a heart attack.")

Why are people so bent about the whole fiasco it was based on? Should the film even stay faithful with what it's based on? A thriller should be keen on timing, not on historicizing; Argo had me stuck on the sofa, breathing erratically.