STUFF WHITE PEOPLE LIKE
The Definitive Guide to the Unique Taste of Millions
By Christian Lander
Random House, 211 pages, $16.50
Stuff White People Like would certainly make the podium if there were an Olympics for controversial book 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, not to be confused with the light opera, arrives hot on the successful heels of L.A.-based Canadian author and former copywriter Christian Lander's 33-million-visitor website (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, PhD 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 with Dinner Parties, Public Radio, Authenticity, Whole Foods, Having Gay Friends, Microbreweries, Co-ed Sports and, my favourites, 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-shirt would be hiked up to remove the lint. And when it's spot on, as in "White people don't like stuff that's easy to acquire," or, "White people like to live in these [up and coming]neighbourhoods because they get credibility and respect from other white people for living in a more 'authentic' neighbourhood, 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," it's very funny indeed.
Graphic charts are especially inspired, with a Gentrification Timeline that seems particularly Hogtown-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 a hysterical fill-in-the-blanks White Globetrotter mass e-mail from a fictional, but all too real- sounding, backpacker abroad.
Lander's muted Canadian roots are also present in an entry titled Assists, which references both The Great One and Victoria's MVP hoopster Steve Nash. Lander writes, "In basketball, passing is a must, so that white guys can carve out a niche."
Much as standup comic Jeff Foxworthy did for "red" states, with his Redneck Dictionary, Lander does for "blue" states with this Caucasian nomenclature, albeit with a more satirical bent than Foxworthy's "climbing up a water tower with a paint brush and bucket of paint to defend your sister's honour" backwoods shtick. Faux reactionary Stephen Colbert thrives on racially charged material as well, and the Comedy Central host is always on the lookout for "a new black friend."
Working similarly contentious territory was http://www.blackpeopleloveus.com, a site run by 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, such as, "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 many will find this offensive too, as Lander's blog, and now his book, have become lightning rods for controversy. Interestingly, Lander seems to know he causes offence and is okay with it. His SWPL blog entries are inundated with hundreds of comments from the bowels of the blogosphere, many of them from frenzied anti-Semites and raging bigots of all stripes. "Well, what about black people who ...?" rejoinders also come from Angry White Males, none of whom, ironically (yes, there is a section for Irony) are targets of this book, but who would enjoy a whole barbecue of this liberal skewering.
Copycat sites have sprung up in response; Stuff Asian People Like and Stuff Black People Like, using taxonomy once reserved for stereotyping them, reflected back at the white majority. They're unsettling to a Caucasian reader, not only owing to white guilt, but because the targets of their send-ups are not the dominant majority, or at the very least, their fatuous, skinny-jeaned, oversized-sun-glassed, modern-furniture-buying, studying-abroad, coffee-drinking offspring.
Therein lies the problem with the book version of Stuff White People Like. Unlike the tumultuous online debate, none of these issues is addressed either in either chapter essays 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 co-author of The Man Who Scared a Shark to Death: And Other True Tales of Drunken Debauchery and one half of http://www.thesharkguys.com. He scored 40 per cent in the "how white are you?" survey.