As for the author’s detection of racism and sexism, I would argue this kind of prissiness makes inevitable the rise of “snark.” (…)
But, in the broader culture, the Denbys of America’s conviction that everything is “coded racism” may partly explain why a glibly anodyne, detached pseudo-cool is now the only safe mode of satiric discourse.
Nevertheless, it is surely ironic that a writer who coos at every opportunity his appreciation of irony (“the most powerful of satiric weapons”) seems to lack the vital precondition for irony—the ability to imagine the other. Why is Bush so obviously a buffoon and Gore so profoundly a “serious man”? Well, because Denby voted for one and despises the other.
Say what you will about the creators of the British magazine Private Eye, to whom he devotes considerable space, but they’re equal-opportunity jeerers. In American terms, Richard Ingrams, Private Eye’s founder, would be reviled as a homophobe, a racist, and an anti-Semite. When co-owner Peter Cook’s comedy partner Dudley Moore went off to California in the late 1970’s to romance Bo Derek in 10, Cook was sympathetic: “I suppose if you’re a lower-middle-class midget from Dagenham with a club foot, being a Hollywood star must seem quite a good deal.”
Forget insults like these to the vertically challenged and limbically impaired through which the contemporary ironist must, as in matters racial and ethnic and orientational, perforce tiptoe on eggshells; the snark too far for Denby is Private Eye’s dissent from pop-culture orthodoxy. It was, he says, an “astounding mistake” to mock the Beatles because, after all, Sgt. Pepper is (stop me if you’ve heard this before) a “revolutionary album” with “its startling layered and textured sound.”
Oh, dear. Is that some half-remembered cliché from Hi-Fi Groover’s “100 Eight-Tracks You Must Hear Before You Die”? To the contrarians at Private Eye, the universal acclaim for the Beatles was all the more reason to lob a shoe. Forty years on, Denby’s civically virtuous, conventionally wise irony circuit is obliged to operate without narrower constraints.