In less than a year, the blog Stuff White People Like went from being an obscure satirical blog to a full-fledged tour de force, probably worthy of its own entry: white people like Stuff White People Like, since they are fans of both self-deprecation and irony1.
Here’s the gist of Stuff White People Like:
- Take a concept, idea, or item whose consumption or practice might be attributed largely to Caucasians
- Have author Christian Lander write a snarky entry about it
This phenomenon was a blog before it was ever a book, and while I recognized many portions of the book as straight transplants from their web counterparts, I was surprised to find that while the book consists of 150 entries, the current website archives have only 1112, meaning that this print effort wasn’t merely a copy & paste job in the hopes of garnering a quick buck before this phenomenon drops from the cultural zeitgeist like a rock from a zeppelin. After all, how long can that threadbare “[race] people are like this; white people are like this” shtick wear before people stop paying attention to it? I guarantee you that everyone who reads Stuff White People Like are in fact white people, reveling in the delicious irony of it all, entirely oblivious to the fact that Lander is on many levels calling his readers shallow, opportunistic savages and not at all kidding.
Here’s the general idea behind a typical entry:
- Take an idea that is currently trendy—for instance, organic food or non-traditional grocery stores like Whole Foods.
- Imply that only white people shop there, thereby relegating other minorities as either too brutish or too pragmatic to bother. The implication leans toward the latter, but of course the former is a persistent and worrying undercurrent.
- Describe the the item in such a way that paints educated whites as vain, shallow, selfish, self-absorbed, ridiculous, or downright stupid for subscribing to said idea.
- Give the ostensible reader advice on how to handle said subject when interacting with a white person.
When I first starting reading entries on Stuff White People Like, I chuckled and thought “It’s funny because it’s true3.” But as time went on, and moreso after reading this book, I find the whole concept a little uncomfortable and a little unsteady in its own irony. Lander is unabashedly white, and so he feels largely comfortable in making fun of white people. But of course what he’s describing isn’t really “whiteness,” but various and unrelated segments of society which many incidentally be largely white. Look at the listing either on his website or in the back of the book: chances are, you’ll relate to between a third and a half of them and briefly marvel at Lander’s astute observations before you realize that, like the hack who writes the horoscope in your daily newspaper, taking generic traits and making broad portraits out of them is neither particularly clever nor particularly accurate. At best, it resides on the level of a funny sketch comedy routine that’s reiterated on successive broadcasts until it’s no longer funny or relevant.
One can only imagine if Lander (white) had chosen to compile Stuff Black People Like and done a caricature of black people, replete with watermelons and fried chicken and the vagaries of rap music. Certainly that would have engendered outrage and attacks on the accuracy of the article. But since white people are both easily and politically-correctly lampooned, this little cash cow came down to haughty Caucasians and their silly preoccupations with the trendy and (more disconcertingly) the difficult-to-obtain.
I suppose what I’m ultimately trying to get across is that I’ve become somewhat uncomfortable with the whole paradigm under which Lander operates. Are we any further removed from the hackneyed 1980s “white guy/black guy” standup routine that wasn’t even funny in its original incarnation? The fact that I chuckled and nodded my head at a few of the entries here acknowledges that Lander is at least marginally correct in lampooning some of the excesses of…… what? Is it really “white people”? Perhaps “rich people”? “Educated people”? I fear that all the folderol of this may be boiled down to the same tired argument that most Republicans trot out during election years—that is, one of “authenticity.” That is to say, what makes an X person as opposed to the rest of the Y and Z rabble? Replace “White people” with “Democrats” in many of these articles and you have an instant caricature of a coastal liberal plucked straight out of a GOP brochure, supposing for the sake of parity that such things as drinking espresso drinks, speaking foreign languages, or being sensitive to racial issues are inherently unamerican, unmasculine, or overwhelmingly pretentious.
Yes, I find some of the book funny. I’m more worried as to why and the implications of abstracting the few passages that made be laugh out to what humor like this says about demographics as a whole. On a more practical note, for those of you considering buying or checking this book out from your local library, I’d suggest first perusing the website to see if you care at all for this kind of humor. Most of the book is nothing more than a reprint of the entries on the linked blog, sometimes even incorporating its spelling or grammar errors. I don’t see the financial incentive to buy it4, but its perhaps worth getting your hands on if you aren’t a follower of the web-based incarnation.
- The latter is a featured entry in the print version which I’m reviewing; the former is not, though I surmise that it’s only a matter of time before it appears on the web site.[↩]
- My admittedly crass guess is that the rest of the book will slowly appear on the website as book sales dwindle.[↩]
- Simpsons, #127[↩]
- This may explain the fact that there is one library inside my entire statewide system that circulates this book[↩]