The idea of success, or of successfulness, hangs over the whole subject of smarm. It is not true, after all, that the crisis of postmodernity has left us without any functioning system of shared values. What currently fills the space left by the waning or absence of traditional authority, for the most part, is the ideology and logic of the market.
Market reasoning is deeply, essentially smarmy. We live, it insists, in a world that is optimized by the invisible hand. The conditions under which we live have been created by rational needs and preferences, producing an economicist Panglossianism: What thrives deserves to thrive, be it Nike or sprawl or the finance industry or Upworthy; what fails deserves to have failed.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this general idea: that the collapse of traditional institutions (as Tom Scocca puts it in the essay this quote is from, “the literary inner circles, the top-ranking daily newspapers, the party leadership”) has led to a meritocratic values system, where what’s popular is always self-evidently “good.” The essay is probably about 20 percent too long, but it’s an important take-down of the modern Internet monoculture that can be so frustrating for writers, musicians, and creative types in general.