i cannot live without books
's website used to have a feature called "Snark Alert." Literary critics often use their reviews as forums for experiments in self-indulgent invective, discovering new ways to say 'this sucks' instead of identifying and supporting worthy creative endeavours. The Believer
trusts in the redemptive power of good art, and finds that disparaging the bad is not nearly as important as enjoying the good, especially since the bad is already so plentiful. Snark Alert affirmed the overall mission of the magazine and put overly and overtly negative critics ON BLAST
I would like to introduce a related concept, that of the Smarm Alert. This warning system seeks to identify odious examples of writing that's a tad too precious and blurs the line between oddity reporting and post-Onion
fake news creativity. I like learning curious facts about the world, and I appreciate elborate imaginings, but I find pieces that smear the line bewtween the two particularly annoying. For my first example, I offer The Believer's "History of Rock Music."
The piece gave a history of the rock harmonicon, a sort of stone xylophone invented in Keswick. Reading about an difficult and obscure musicial instrument would have been great, except that joke-y asides forced me to doubt the veracity of the whole article. How else was I to understand the suggestion that John Lennon was the first conceptual rock musician, since he didn't actually play any rocks? What about the 'nine milestones of the genre' subtitle?
Hardy-har-har-har. Is this thing for real or not? Seriously, I am obsessive compulsive and I need to know. Just answer me. Give me a sign. You think I am not smart enough to figure it out on my own, huh? Well, screw you cheeky bastards. C'mon. One little textual hint one way or another? ARGH.
ps-j/k. McSweeney's, you know i love you.
Visit the Keswick Museum and Art Gallery
to learn more about the rock harmonicon.
Read all of the Believer's online exclusives
, for they will brighten you day, your outlook and your mind. Who else is writing about Jamie Lidell, the social politics of everyday metaphor AND Reinhold Niebuhr?