Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Sneer

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.‎

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