You start a blog, get noticed almost immediately, and — within two months — have a six-figure book deal. That’s every white person’s dream.
And it’s not so broad a statement as it might seem. When Lander says “white person,” he doesn’t just mean “checks ‘white/Caucasian’ on the affirmative-action info box.” In fact, the Stuff White People Like Facebook quiz — with such questions as “What do you consider a fair price for a sandwich?” and “How often do you Yoga?” — set my whiteness level at 43 percent, “officially, not white.” And my name and complexion are pretty unambiguously European.
By “white person” Lander actually means the young, urban, elite white person. I am the “wrong kind of white person” — the kind that listens to heavy metal, goes hunting, and occasionally finds Larry the Cable Guy amusing (git-r-done!).
In brief, hilarious items, Lander documents his subject’s behavior and tastes. He’s light-hearted and funny, but he’s also precise, and he has something to say about our future leaders.
The site — and the book, about two-thirds of which comes verbatim from the site — presents itself as a guide for those seeking to infiltrate “white people” culture. Here’s some advice for foreign folks attending white dinner parties: “It is strongly encouraged to bring a gift . . . if you are able to bring a particularly rare dish from your culture, you will be the star of the party. . . . If a white person says they have eaten the dish before, it is best to respond by saying, ‘You ate a watered-down version. They don’t even sell this to white people, it’s that intense. Even I had to show ID.’” In other words, foreigners can ingratiate themselves to liberal whites by providing a “multicultural” experience.
Lander claims that many of the featured items come from his own preferences: “The things I post are all the things I like too,” he told the Los Angeles Times. This might be true of the more fashion-oriented entries, like scarves and plaid, but there’s a strong undercurrent of derision flowing through Stuff White People Like. The book’s subtitle, “The Definitive Guide to the Unique Taste of Millions,” takes a jab at the fact that legions of Ikea-shopping, thick-framed-glasses-wearing snobs all think they’re something special.
He also confronts “white people’s” never-ending fear of the “racist” label. He’s caught on to the fact that liberal whites have a sort of ethnic friend checklist: Black friends, for example, “can be used as physical evidence that white people are not racist.” The entire text of the “Barack Obama” entry reads, “White people like Barack Obama because they are afraid that if they don’t they will be considered racist.”
The drive for diversity includes the gay-rights movement as well, because “white people” “can blend in at rallies and protests and spend an afternoon feeling the sting of oppression.”
This fits into the book’s broader theme of “white people’s” drive to be holier than thou — not holier in the wrong-kind-of-white-person church sense, of course, but holier as in more attuned to environmental issues, more into obscure music, more fashionable.
So as a phenomenon, Stuff White People Like is quite something. But unfortunately, it doesn’t measure up as well as a book. As already mentioned, there isn’t a whole lot of new material for those who’ve read the site. The book, being a book, also lacks the site’s “White People in the News” feature, which highlights current newspaper profiles of people who fit the site’s stereotypes to a T.
To be fair, some of the 50 or so new entries are pretty clever, even if they don’t have quite the spark of the earliest Internet posts. “If a white person says something that doesn’t seem to make sense and they slightly change the sound of their voice, chances are that they are quoting something from The Simpsons,” Lander observes, both correctly and amusingly.
Also, this kind of humor is best consumed in small bits on a daily basis, as one would read a comic strip — the book is basically 150 blog posts in a row, with a few added charts and graphs. Read continuously, the shtick gets old well before the half-way point.
That said, Lander has in a remarkably short time proven himself to be a talented, witty, and biting social critic. The blog-to-book transition is a little rocky — if one can indeed call re-printing one’s blog in paperback a “transition” at all — but he’s a writer worth keeping an eye on.
– National Review associate editor Robert VerBruggen edits the Phi Beta Cons blog.