Gawker has a long form piece up about the cultural shift of attitude against snark (for example, Buzzfeed recently announced their refusal to post book critiques that are anything less than positive). Writer Tom Scocca warns that this shift has opened the field up to an even worse “quick schema of superiority,” something called “smarm.”
Smarm is a kind of performance—an assumption of the forms of seriousness, of virtue, of constructiveness, without the substance. Smarm is concerned with appropriateness and with tone. Smarm disapproves.
This kind of reaction against critics is a new way of avoiding taking responsibility and of invalidating the critic. It’s an exaggeration of the “haters gonna hate” mentality; where any kind of criticism is blown off or dismissed because it merely isn’t more praise. While not all negative comments should be taken to heart, they should be given the time to be acknowledged and evaluated. They may have some kind of point you hadn’t thought of before
The evasion of disputes is a defining tactic of smarm. Smarm, whether political or literary, insists that the audience accept the priors it has been given. Debate begins where the important parts of the debate have ended.
Read the rest of Scocca’s piece for a more detailed explanation.