Over the last few years reality-show casting calls have become almost as much of a cultural commonplace as the shows themselves — the familiar scenes of hundreds of anxious strangers converging on a street corner with their résumés, their headshots and their A games, hoping for some kind of immortality or at least a more interesting career.
But few such casting calls have looked like the one that began in the wee hours of Saturday morning in the West Village, where Jeff Lipsky, a 37-year-old painter and digital artist from Tyngsboro, Mass., unfolded his New England Patriots lawn chair and camped out for the night in front of the White Columns gallery, first in line to audition for a new reality show being created for Bravo. Produced by Sarah Jessica Parker, the show, which doesn’t have a title or a broadcast date, will try to do for the contemporary art world what the cable channel has done for the worlds of fine cuisine (“Top Chef”) and fashion (“Project Runway”): discover young, or maybe even middle-aged or old, unknowns with the talent to command the attention of both a television audience and a serious audience in the creative field to which they aspire.
The 13 finalists eventually chosen — from among hundreds who have already auditioned in Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago and now in New York — will compete for a gallery show, a cash prize and a sponsored national museum tour, though the producers have not revealed how much money is at stake or which museums or galleries will participate.
By living in a spirit of forgiveness, we not only uphold the core value of citizenship but also find the path to social membership that we need. Happiness does not come from the pursuit of pleasure, nor is it guaranteed by freedom. It comes from sacrifice: that is the great message that all the memorable works of our culture convey. The message has been lost in the noise of repudiation, but we can hear it once again if we devote our energies to retrieving it. And in the Judeo-Christian tradition, the primary act of sacrifice is forgiveness. The one who forgives sacrifices resentment and thereby renounces something that had been dear to his heart.
But all that said, I want to go back to the point that this is a useless argument. Here’s my prediction: not one person in a thousand is going to be confronted with a statement whose core idea they agree with and say, Yep, that’s too snarky. They’ll either say along with Sternbergh that that’s good snark or (what amounts to the same thing) they’ll say it’s not snark at all but rather legitimate irony or sarcasm which the target of the criticism richly deserves. When faced with actual examples of critical language, almost everyone will approve of that critical languge if it’s directed against their (political, social, artistic, religious) enemies and disapprove of it if it’s directed against something or someone they approve of. Democrats will lament Republican snark, Republicans will lament Democratic snark, world without end. Why even bother having this conversation?
I’ll confine myself to this one statement: whether snark is ever a good thing or not depends on what you want to achieve. If you want to buld solidarity among people who already share a set of core convictions, or if you just want to blow off your own built-up steam, then snark might be a good thing. If you want to find ways to get people who disagree with each other to come to some mutual understanding, and perhaps even agreement . . . not so much.