A noble wit? Yeah, right

Sarcasm is my weapon of choice.

I wield it like a god wields a hammer or a lightning bolt. I’m here to save the world. I give subtle jabs in conversation and devastating eye-rolls in audiences. I can hijack a whole room with one small sarcastic comment.

At least, I like to think so.

There are a couple million 20-something gods like me in this armor of wit, and we’re all saving the world together apparently. It’s a party.

But I wasn’t quite sure who exactly we’re saving it from, so last week I donned frames and pulled out my iPad to do some extensive research on sarcasm.

I found that most memes claim sarcasm’s diametric opposite is stupidity.

The memes usually feature biting text beneath a hysterical picture: “Sarcasm is the body’s natural defense against stupid” or “Sarcasm: intellect on the offensive.” To save our sanity – I mean, humanity – we need to wage war on idiots. You’re either sarcastic or stupid.

Pick a side.

It seems so noble. Deflating idiocy, delivering our minds from the morass of social media. But the more memes I read, the more I suspected that maybe for my generation stupid isn’t actually the opposite of sarcastic. Maybe they’re more like bickering half-sisters.

The next best thing
Maybe sarcasm’s real archenemy is creativity. Sarcasm’s nature is to feed like a vulture on what’s gone before. It gorges on dead words, dead ideas, dead logos. Sarcastic humor is never original: It doesn’t start dialogue, it ends it. It chronically undermines.

Actually, it does more than that. My favourite meme was “Sarcasm. Because killing people is illegal.” In other words, sarcasm is the next best thing to killing. It’s bloodless murder from miles away. It’s cutting people down with the constant escape route of “what? I wasn’t serious!” when everyone knows you were.

It thrives on distance – which may be why our conflict-avoiding society eats it up. We can’t say the thing itself or we’ll get in trouble, so we say it without saying it. I’d rather not be in your face, so I’ll rip your gut instead.

Sarcasm comes from the Greek word sarkasmos – “to tear flesh.”

Don’t get me wrong – sarcasm doesn’t run after actual violence. Rather, it exhaustedly hides from it through layers of irony. Our generation appears to believe that world is broken, everyone’s already tried to fix it, and our leaders are fumbling, big-mouthed idiots.

The only outlet left is sarcasm.

We’re tired. Bone-tired. And maybe gaining the sneaky suspicion that we’re not gods, and so we channel it in one of two ways.

First, we are insecure enough to fret about our not-like-a-god image and, like any ad-saturated consumer, quickly market ourselves as the wittiest in the room by proving everyone else an idiot. In my heart, that’s straight-up pride.

Or second, we rebel against the fakeness of a stuck-up, blind world by viciously seeing through everything and everyone until we suddenly find that we’ve seen through it all and are gazing at a void. In my heart, that’s despair.

So go ahead, be sarcastic. It can be funny, and it can be helpful. I think Jesus used it once or twice. But my resolve is to never let my sarcasm abort the creativity of a life-loving soul by hitching up with pride and despair.

That, after all, would be stupid.

  • Judith Dinsmore is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh, Pa.

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