Shark Bite Review: Stuff White People Like: Books about themselves
September 8, 2008 | Reviews
Hipster Navel Gazing through a tattered Vintage T.
(This article originally appeared in a July Books edition of The Globe & Mail)
Stuff White People Like would certainly make the podium if there were a Book Olympics for Controversial Titles. Along with bronze and silver medalists The Trouble with Islam and The God Delusion, SWPL remained affixed to my lap whenever I ventured outside my apartment or onto public transit (incidentally, trying to find a comfortable spot to read on a crowded bus in rush hour will shake the foundations of anyone’s core beliefs).
Stuff White People Like the book, came hot on the heels of LA-based Canadian author and former copywriter Christian Lander’s 33 million-visited website of the same name (a figure that I, a fellow blogger, would reach if my children’s children’s children were to upload content five times a week as stipulated by my will).
‘Whitey’ Lander, a Ph.D. drop-out, (in exactly what, the book jacket doesn’t say, but a safe bet would be critical theory) takes us on a solipsistic blue state urban safari of sorts here. Dinner Parties, Public Radio, Authenticity, Whole Foods, Having Gay Friends, Microbreweries, Co-ed Sports and my personal favorites, ‘Standing Still at Concerts’ and ‘Public Transportation That is Not a Bus’ coming under his thorough, squinty eyed (with glasses, natch) hipster analysis and self flagellation.
Stuff White People Like is very droll navel-gazing, where a vintage T would be hiked up to remove the lint, and when it’s spot on, it’s very funny indeed: “White people don’t like stuff that’s easy to acquire’, or ‘White People like to live in these [up and coming] neighborhoods because they get credibility and respect from other white people for living in a more ‘authentic’ neighborhood, where they are exposed to ‘true culture’ every day….they are like modern day Lewis and Clarks, except that instead of searching for the ocean, they are searching for old houses to renovate.”
Graphical charts are especially inspired, with a ‘Gentrification Timeline’ that seems particularly Hog Town Toronto-influenced and includes ‘Announcement of Planned Starbucks Opening’, ‘Protest of Planned Starbucks Opening’, ‘Starbucks Opens’, a ‘White Career Guidance’ trajectory that includes ‘producer of organic dog food/vegan caterer’ and an uproarious fill-in-the-blanks White Globetrotter mass email from a fictional, but all too real, backpacker abroad.
Lander’s muted Canadian roots are also present in an entry entitled ‘Assists’, which references both The Great One Wayne Gretzky and Canuck MVP baller Steve Nash. Lander writes ‘In basketball, passing is a must, so that white guys can carve out a niche’.
Much like stand up comic Jeff Foxworthy did for ‘Red’ states with his ‘Redneck Dictionary’, Lander does for ‘Blue’ with this Caucasian nomenclature, albeit with a more satirical bent than Foxworthy’s ‘Climbing up a water tower with a paint brush and a bucket of paint to defend your sister’s honor’ backwoods shtick. Faux reactionary Stephen Colbert thrives on similarly racially charged material as well and the Comedy Central host is always on the lookout for ‘a new black friend’.
Working equally contentious territory was www.blackpeopleloveus.com, a site run by a hopelessly melanin-deficient mock yuppie duo ‘Sally and Johnny’, varsity sweater-clad chardonnay aficionados who pose for pictures with black friends and have fake testimonials from them, like “I work with Johnny, and sometimes he stops in the middle of our corporate hallways, but instead of shaking my hands he gives me a fist pound and says “what up.” He’s so in touch with the street, it’s astonishing.”
In the entry on raunchy comic Sarah Silverman, Lander says:
“Her whole shtick is about saying really offensive things! But it’s OK because she’s pretty and has a small voice so it all sounds so cute! Get it? It’s not offensive, because when she says racist or sexist things she knows they are offensive. So it’s OK.”
No doubt that many will find this offensive too as Lander’s blog and now book, have become lightning rods for controversy. His SWPL blog entries are inundated with hundreds of reader comments, many of which are from frenzied anti-Semites and raging bigots of all stripes from the bowels of the blogosphere. Straw Man ‘Well, what about black people who…?’ rejoinders also come from Angry White Males, none of whom, ironically (yes, there is a section for ‘Irony’ too) are targets of this book, but who would enjoy a whole barbecue of this liberal skewering.
Even copycat sites have sprung up such as Stuff Asian People Like and Stuff Black People Like, using taxonomy once reserved for stereotyping them, reflected back at the white majority—unsettling to a Caucasian reader, not only due to white guilt, but because the targets of their send-ups are not of the dominant elite/majority (or at the their inane, skinny-jeaned, modern-furniture buying, studying abroad, coffee-drinking offspring).
Therein lies the problem with Stuff White People Like. Unlike the tumultuous online debate, none of these issues is addressed either in either chapter essays (there are none of each) or in an introductory one. It would be interesting to have been provided some context rather than a giant list the publisher deemed worthy of standing on its own, or maybe that’s just my inner ‘grad school’ guy seeking endless explication instead of just kicking back and enjoying.
Christopher Lombardo is the co-author of The Man Who Scared a Shark to Death and Other True Tales of Drunken Debauchery (Penguin) and one half of www.thesharkguys.com. He also scored a ‘40%’ in the ‘how white are you?’ survey