I used to think that a sneer was a facial expression -- turning up the nose -- implying contempt, disgust and derision. I have come to realize that a sneer also appears in written form: it can be a scornful turn of phrase, a tone of disparagement or even a single mocking word. But the thing that distinguishes a sneer from other forms of loathing is that it combines contempt with an air of superiority. The “sneerer” possesses so much confidence in his own cleverness that he assumes that all clever people must agree with him. No rational argument need be presented in order to justify the sneer. It stands on its own as a self-evident truth. And if you dare object—well, watch out. You’ll be viewed as a mindless boor who never learned to use his brain. Perhaps worst of all, you’ll be sneered at too.
So what is all this sneering about? It’s about many things—the suburbs, religion (other than primitive tribes), SUVs, shopping malls, June Cleaver, chivalry, polyester, red meat, discipline, carpeting, plastic bags, politicians, iceberg lettuce, florescent bulbs (to name only a few).
Now, as a Jew with a well-developed sneer detector, I’ve noticed that the sneer has increasingly crept into one particular venue: journalistic articles about Israel. For example, I was recently reading what started out as an informative piece about one of the first Israeli hit songs to gain an international audience, the song “Tzena Tzena”. The author ably traced the origin of the song and described how it grew in popularity, until it eventually reached the number 2 position on the American charts. But the article did not end with that factual observation. At the end of the article, there it was: a sneer—subtle yet condescending—about how the song idealized Israelis and helped propagate the (supposedly false) notion of their attractiveness. The author states, “With its romantic depiction of young women lusting after righteous male soldiers, the song fulfilled the expectations of Israel held by many American Jews in 1951”. Now I don’t mean to sound over-sensitive, but why is it that Israelis cannot be allowed to take pride in a successful song without having it pointed out that it promoted a romantic myth? And why are American Jews being blamed, as if they concocted the myth in order to make themselves feel good about themselves? Are Jews not allowed to take pride in anything?
Now it may be that the author did not intend it as a sneer at all, and was merely reflecting an earlier zeitgeist: that in those days, Israeli soldiers were considered righteous, and that woman lusted after them for that reason. But this assumes that we now know better. We (the clever of today) know that there is no glory in being a soldier and any woman who thinks so is foolish. If one wanted to argue this point, then surely it can be done through the presentation of persuasive facts. But with a sneer? To my mind, that’s cheating.
I have come to the conclusion that the sneer should come out in the open and declare its position candidly. If it has validity, then it should be forthright about it. And prove it with evidence. It is not enough to merely turn up your nose--whether it is in person, or on paper. A sneer after all, is merely a form of mockery. And mockery is only a slightly classier version of a snub.