As Chairman of the Board at Thyme magazine, I am thrilled to welcome you to this year’s award of Sneer of the Year. And by Jove, didn’t we have a vigorous and close-run contest to decide who would win? I suppose the reason why it is more difficult to award Sneer of the Year these days is that, fortunately, we now have many more accomplished sneerers than we used to; every ego-maniac and narcissist who feels offended by the slightest criticism is a prime candidate to become an accomplished sneerer, which has been a wonderful boost to the sneer market. Moreover, sneerers of today are much better qualified and throw themselves into their task with much more enthusiasm than their predecessors. That is because, until a few years ago, people did not automatically sneer when they could not get their own way. Today, they will sneer at virtually anything. Our opinion leaders in schools, academia, and the media, not to mention the masses of balanced and responsible commentators on social media, will rightly go into hysterics if they don’t get their own way and they quite reasonably feel that bigots with a different opinion do not deserve to live, let alone be given respect for their narrow prejudices and perverse opinions. So, these days it is a hard call to decide who wins Sneer of the Year because, as Jimmy Durante said, ‘Everyone wants to get in on the act’. Accordingly, this year, as well as Sneer of the Year, we will be Awarding a Runner-up and also a Third Prize.
Half the fun in announcing this award is keeping you in suspense, so we will start with the Third Prize, which goes to Senator Penny Wong because of the unique twist she has given to the sneer. Hers is no ordinary sneer, no mere expression of contempt, because she has added several unique features of her own which have enhanced and improved the entire notion of the sneer. Pre-eminent among these optional extras are the prolonged eye-rolling and gasping that she musters, especially in Senate committees, together with the facial expression of resigned exasperation and wounded innocence that she carries off so well. It is indeed a cruel twist of fate that she is forced to spend her life among people who are little better than cretinous children who refuse to see the obvious and need it explained to them in words of one syllable before they can understand the most elementary proposition, for instance that she is right and they are wrong. For a while there, we thought Bill Shorten might pip Penny at the post in view of his skilfully demonstrated despair that people did not want to be taxed into bankruptcy and engineered into unemployment. But with a final flurry of sighs and a skilfully executed double moan, she fell over the finishing line for a justly deserved third place.
Runner-up is the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin. Here again, his sneer is the basic one, but he has added the unique quality that issues in which he is involved are not matters of opinion but matters of fact, that he is the sole judge of facts and that they will always be decided in the same way, namely his way. His real charm as a sneerer is that he is able to do this and smile at the same time, suggesting that although you are clearly a fool for believing him, what choice do you have? Thus, when he says there are no Russian soldiers in Crimea but only volunteers on holiday in case any bushfires should break out there, that is a fact. Likewise, it is a fact that Russia had no part in shooting down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, the wholesale doping of athletes, the poisoning of ex-Russian spies, the rigging of elections and the regrettable disappearance of most political rivals. And those facts are made the more factual by the superior air in which they are announced to be such. Facts are therefore as he asserts them, and they are accepted as facts, sealed with an alluring sneer and henceforth unchallengeable. This also is a great reform which we welcome.
But despite the new perspectives that have been given to the sneer by these newcomers, we have returned to the simple, unadulterated sneer when it comes to anointing our Sneer of the Year. And, when that is the criterion, there can be only one serious contender, Ms Greta Thunberg from Sweden. Others ridicule her, but here at Thyme we worship her. Her sneer is the original article, unadorned by extraneous considerations. It has the three qualities that we look for in our annual search for the genuine sneer: pretension, contempt and hatred. She has the pretension that only she has the wisdom to see the death march of climate change, contempt for the notion that anyone could dare hold a different opinion and hatred for all who might hold it. Here at Thyme, we love Greta because she is such a purist. She is The Day of the Triffids and Lord of the Flies rolled into one. That messianic glint in the eye and the twisted jaw are the final touches. And how unfair it was to accuse her of inciting violence when she said recalcitrant politicians should be put up against a wall. That Swedish proverb means only that they should be put on the spot. It no more incites violence than the Iranian proverb that when you lower a homosexual into a vat of boiling oil, he sees the strength of your argument. We are therefore so proud that Greta will carry this banner for the coming year; we know that the sneer is safe in her hands and that our award, prestigious as it is, is only the precursor of the day when Greta is justly awarded a greater prize: the Nobel Prize for Peace.