As a Bostonian, I have an ingrained sarcastic style. Nearly all Bostonians, and especially the ones born and raised here, and certainly all the ones who remember a time when Boston sports were full of sham (no wow), have a similar sarcasm built into their DNA. It developed as a defense mechanism to protect us from the cold, hard defeats we’d learned to live with in the sports world. It was a layer of protection from the winters when we’re cooped up in the house, angry at each other because Mother Nature forces us to stay in our quarters.
The Boston Personality
A lot of people outside the City of Boston used to struggle with my Boston personality, mistaking my dry sarcasm for truth. When I lived in Southern California and North Carolina, there were many times someone would apologize or get upset when I said something, not realizing it was a joke or “witty” comment.
I don’t blame them. Our sense of sarcasm is derived from the British and their dry sense of humor. It’s often tough to tell when we’re being sarcastic and when we’re being genuine.
When I first started writing online back in the late 90’s, it was quickly apparent that this sarcastic bit of my personality would be extremely difficult to portray correctly online. Heck, it’s tough to spot in person, even by other Bostonians, so it’d be nearly impossible to spot in written form.
I experimented with all types of ways to keep my sarcastic side. From quickly explaining when someone misunderstood me to preparing ahead of time and marking my sarcastic quips with <sarcasm></sarcasm> tags to notify everyone before hand that the words between these tags are not to be interpreted literally.
Eventually, I gave up and realized that online, it’s best to skip the sarcasm and speak literally. That way there’s no room for misinterpretations. Sure, it sucks a little bit to push aside a part of my personality, but as anyone who knows me in real life will tell you, it’s probably for the best as I tend to overdo the sarcasm.
When Sarcasm Attacks
Still, it pops up here and there, mostly as a way for me to deal with an upsetting event or to poke fun at something without having to think of a joke. For instance, after last night’s Terrible Thursday for Boston sports (the Red Sox lost in extra innings, the Celtics lost a close playoff game, and the Bruins lost in Overtime to end their playoffs run), I updated my facebook status to:
thinks North Carolina is a stupid, smelly, ugly state that doesn’t even like hockey, nay, scratch that I know they don’t like hockey. Boo you Hartford Whalers, boo you. Still, go TarHeels.
Now, I think it’s clear to most of my facebook friends that the above is complete and utter sarcasm, apart from the booing of the Hartford Whalers (aka the Carolina Hurricanes), but wonder if people who don’t really know me might take offense at the statement. My facebook profile is completely and utterly public, meaning anyone can view it. Some Carolina residents might stumble upon my status and think I’m genuinely calling the state “stupid, smelly, ugly”.
I lived in Chapel Hill, North Carolina for over two years so clearly I didn’t hate it. In fact, I loved Chapel Hill and though it was a beautiful part of the country filled with smart (and for what it’s worth, attractive) people. But, a potential employer or client or any person on facebook who does not know me might not realize that the status message is oozing with sarcasm. They might think I’m mean spirited, petty, and someone apt to fall into fits of random rage over sports.
To Be or Not To Be…Sarcastic
My friends know the comment is sarcastic to the bone but these people who don’t know me might read it literally. Are these rare moments where I allow that sarcastic side to do its thing OK? Or is the potential damage to my personal brand not worth it? After all, I doubt anyone who’d find that comment offensive, dumb or childish would go out of their way to contact me to see what the real deal is. They’d just skip over me and move on.
All this talk and wondering about sarcasm comes from a conversation I had with a fellow Bostonian over Twitter. She had sent me a direct message to let me know that an earlier tweet was sarcastic (sounds just like something I used to do!). I replied back saying no worries, since I know that 90% of the population in Boston are wicked sarcastic.
But does the rest of the world realize that? Heck, even I wondered a bit about some of her tweets. I figured most of them were sarcastic, but of course did not know for sure.
And that’s the problem with sarcasm online. It’s very tough to pull off in a way that leaves you feeling confident that the other side knows the tone was sarcastic. It’s why I try to limit my sarcasm and try to be conscious of how I communicate online. In the end, I feel it makes some of my writing a bit dry, but at least it’s not misunderstood.
Now, I know that there’s tons of satire and sarcasm all over the internet. The Onion is one of the most popular sites online and it’s filled with nothing but satire and sarcasm. But is there room for sarcasm in our blogging, our tweeting and the other forums where we interact and communicate with each other? Should those of us with a sarcastic side try to play it down or should be let our freak flags fly without a care in the world?