Stuff White People Like: the Satire of Postmodernists

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The Newest Stuff White People Like bookSea Salt. The Onion. Supporting the Troops but Not the War. Sushi. Christopher Guest Movies.


There’s a second Stuff White People Like book out now (titled Whiter Shades of Pale)(which includes many articles that aren’t on the website)(which is why not every item listed above (or below) is hyperlinked), and I gobbled it down in less than a day, laughing to myself (and at myself) while riding public transit (which wasn’t a bus), getting my laptop fixed in the Apple Store, and drinking a bottle of premium juice.


“The number-one reason white people like not having a TV is so that they can tell you that they don’t have a TV.”


Author Christian Lander came out of nowhere (Toronto, originally)(with no known writing credits). After being teased by a Filipino friend for watching The Wire so passionately, the two came up with the idea for the blog, registered the name with wordpress, and started writing posts in January 2008. By July the first book had come out (prompted by a $300 000 advance from Random House). By September the site had logged forty million hits. Lander is now based in LA, the living embodiment of the white person’s dream.


“It is literally impossible for a white person to travel to Thailand and not return as a Buddhist. This conversion is a powerful experience, one that will result in a potential trip to a temple when they return home, maybe reading a few farmers marketbooks, and the inevitable acquisition of a Buddha or a Buddha head.”

A more appropriate, though far less catchy title for the blog would be “Stuff Postmodernists Like.” Lander repeatedly differentiates the white people he’s talking about from “the wrong kind of white people” (who are never the butt of his posts: frat boys, conservatives and rednecks). He takes aim at college educated progressives, the kind of people who shop at farmers markets, listen to public radio, wax enthusiastic about Arrested Development and go on road trips to music festivals.


“White people love all activities that might enable them to ‘find themselves.’ Trips to India or wine country, going back to school, doing or not doing something for a year, eating ethnic foods, cooking, and so forth are just some of the many examples of white people finding themselves in hopes that the discovery will one day lead to a book deal or screenplay.”


I’d venture to say most people at the postmodern wave of development don’t think of themselves as postmodernists at all. It’s a point of view acquired by osmosis, usually through attending a university. It happened to me. I went from being a straight-edge TV watching Catholic suburban white boy with the accompanying moderate racism and homophobia to a vegetarian atheist marijuana smoking non TV owning university theatre student with gay friends, a really big iPhonepassionately believing all corporations are bad and all subtitled films are good. No one imposed these new values on me. I breathed them in from my environment and morphed into a new person in a few short years. It’s a natural and predictable progression. I’d gone through the earlier stages: Magic, as a kid (believing I could affect the laws of physics by wanting to), then Mythic-Membership (believing God could bend the laws of physics on my behalf, and that my group would go to heaven, all others be damned), then Rational (doing very well in high school math)(though still clinging to literal interpretations of various Bible stories)(different stages can coexist in a person), and finally made it to Pluralist/Postmodernist (celebrating the micro over the macro).


“White people are pretty conflicted about their culture. On one hand, they are proud of the art, literature, and film produced by white culture. But on the other, they are very ashamed of all the bad things about white culture: the KKK, colonialism, slavery, Jim Crow laws, feudalism, and the treatment of Native Americans.”


All this is to say that expressing the postmodern stage doesn’t mean having studied and agreed with any kind of manifesto or the writings of a cultural theorist listed as “postmodern.” It mostly boils down to believing that no one is better than anyone else. The “us and them” mentality of your parents’ religion is unfair, and bad. Racism is bad. Hierarchies are bad. Anyone oppressed by the old hierarchical system - ethnic minorities, women, Native Americans and any nation other than the one you grew up in (if you’re a White Person from Canada or the US) - are good. Stereotypes, generalizations and traditional roles are bad too.


New Balance running shoes“White people spend a lot of time worrying about poor people. It takes up a pretty significant portion of their day. They feel guilty and sad that poor people shop at Wal-Mart instead of Whole Foods, that they vote Republican instead of Democratic, that they go to community college or get a job instead of studying art at college.”


But there’s a great contradiction in that point of view, something Ken Wilber describes in The Marriage of Sense and Soul: believing that a system without hierarchies is better than a system with hierarchies is itself a hierarchical judgment.


So there’s an inherent tension in the postmodern mentality, and Stuff White People Like points this out brilliantly. White People affirm that they don’t believe they’re better than anyone else... and this makes them better than people who don’t believe this. The resulting pride gets buried deep down, but it seeps out in all kinds of ways.


“Every white person you meet thinks they are smarter than everyone they know. Because of this, there is nothing they hate more than someone who outwardly tries to prove that fact. Instead, they much prefer when people make jokes about themselves in an attempt to appear outwardly inferior.”


Many entries poke fun at the tendency to secretly pat oneself on the back for eating organic food, recycling, buying carbon offsets, or wearing New Balance shoes (made in New England and not a Third World sweat shop).


a white person doing yoga“When a white person brings a dessert from their local bakery to a dinner party, they are doing much more than just bringing food. They are bringing their neighborhood, their newly renovated home, and their sense of superiority.”


But it is a good thing to support fair trade labour, have multilingual children, celebrate diversity, or to continually expand one’s knowledge of the world by watching documentaries and traveling internationally. Yoga can keep a person in excellent physical shape, and bring mental and emotional clarity. And dammit, Mad Men is a great show!


“White people like to believe that they are still working class, or at the very least able to relate to the noble proletariat that frequents a dive bar.”


But the purity of these pursuits gets undercut when they’re undertaken out of a desire to show off to oneself and others how evolved we are. And empty gestures like appearing to enjoy classical music or thinking you’re saving the planet by driving a Prius should be popped. And self-aggrandizements - like letting people know you were into an indie band before they broke it big, or showing off that you have black friends - deserve to be deflated.


“To a white person, being a fan of a band before it gets popular is one of the most important things they can do with their life. They can hold it over their friends forever!”


bumper stickersI hope White People keep doing beneficial things for the world and for themselves, like riding bicycles, working for nonprofit organizations and reading books. Stuff White People Like is an excellent watchdog to help us examine our motives and make sure we’re doing these things because they’re genuinely good to do, not because they’ll make us the Che Guevara of our social group. Facing the truth about your motivations can help a person make a few steps on the gradual climb from postmodern to post-postmodern. And it doesn’t hurt when the prompts for this are really funny. And come in easy to digest posts, each about a quarter as long as this one.


“White people fear the death of print media because deep down all white people want to believe that it’s possible to make a living as a freelance writer.”


Clever, concise, insightful bastard!

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  • Comment Link Sarah Lockard Thursday, 23 December 2010 01:06 posted by Sarah Lockard

    “The number-one reason white people like not having a TV is so that they can tell you that they don’t have a TV.”

    Love this quote. It's true. So many times, I try to make conversation by bringing up a show that I like, and the person that I'm talking to says, "Oh, I don't watch TV." It makes me feel really bad about watching TV. For like five seconds. Because, come on, TV is awesome. Without it, what would we talk about?

  • Comment Link jumawood Thursday, 23 December 2010 05:41 posted by jumawood

    Here here Sarah! I say we start an entirely new pretense: those who shamelessly watch and enjoy tv and respond to all non-tv watchers with disbelief and pity.

  • Comment Link marjorie Saturday, 25 December 2010 00:04 posted by marjorie

    I don't watch t.v. and realize I miss a lot of good entertainment and information. I can't stand the interruptions of the commercials.

  • Comment Link SarahO Saturday, 25 December 2010 01:05 posted by SarahO

    Thanks for this TJ. Really funny, and useful stuff. I am consistently reminded of how important humor is in giving us space from the worldview we are embedded in. As you said, we absorb our way of seeing and being by osmosis, and often need to be shaken out of it by something like the humor in these posts.

    My partner and I both seriously cracked up at the sea salt. I actually love sea salt, but who knows why?! Clearly some unconscious product of my culture.

    And on the TV thread, I agree with the last post by Marjorie... commercials are demoralizing and I feel exasperated a lot of the time watching them. (sure you can get into a sociological analysis, but beyond that, more of a time waster than sitting in gridlock traffic, right?). Which is why PVR (pre-video recording) and TV on DVD are so useful. Gives us a way to stay connected without the commercials.

    Here's to the conversation.

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Wednesday, 29 December 2010 18:44 posted by TJ Dawe

    Being able to choose the fancy kind of salt implies a certain level of affluence and cultural priorities, I suppose. but it doesn't negate the fact that sea salt is good stuff! The danger, as is implied in pretty much every SWPL article, comes when buying sea salt is more a matter of pride and image than desire for good salt.

    I used to be exactly one of those people who haughtily disdained TV, and one of the things that helped me get over this was the technological innovation of watching shows on DVD and through downloads. no more commercials, no more flipping channels! And that prompted the networks to create better stuff, which could stand up to being watched outside the traditional TV format, in which shows were written, directed and edited in order to give a prominent place to the sponsors.

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