Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Stuff White People Still Like

The sequel to Stuff White People Like, Whiter Shades of Pale, happily arrived in my stocking as requested.  It did not disappoint.  Seeing that Christian Lander repeats himself to a certain extent, I'm tempted to just rehearse my first review.  Instead, like Lander, I'll intensify and update what I said the first time around.

Touring North America for the last book, Lander visited favorite white destinations from Ahseville to Vancouver, and learned that "as much as all white people are the same, in many ways they are slightly, superficially different."  Lander's Trojan horse conservatism is only amplified in the sequel.  In the first book, #18 was Awareness, "meaning the process of making other people aware of problems, magically causing someone else, like the government, to fix it." In the second book, #18 is Taxes, love for which "reaches an apex in college, when [white people] begin reading Marx and the Frankfurt School."
During this time white people will be at their most fervent about the need to redistribute wealth among all the classes.  Amazingly, this zeal wears off at the moment when white people receive their first real paycheck.  This love of taxes may abate on a personal level, but in public they can never complain about taxes being too high, for fear of looking like the wrong kind of white person.  Instead, they must accept their tax burden and ask for more, like Oliver Twist asking for more gruel.
In the first book, we learned that white people hate corporations (#82), granted these are not Apple, Target, Ikea or Whole Foods, all companies which make stuff they like.  The sequel naturally extends this to Google (#61) "Thanks to a middle school reading of the book 1984, virtually all white people have an intense fear of a 'big brother' type of organization...  A white person can think nothing more frightening than some strange company holding all of their information and using it for their own benefit.  That is, unless that company happens to be Google - then everything is fine."  In the first book we learned that "White people like Barack Obama because they are afraid that if they don't they will be considered racist" (#8).  Now we learn, in an entry on Washington D.C., that Obama is in fact the first white president (though Jimmy Carter came close).  

New in this volume is the focus on the arts.  Contemporary art is like wine:  A subject that white people would like to master, but which requires too much work.  This sends them to more accessible artists like Bansky or more realizable arenas of connoisseurship like single malt whiskey.  In Short Stories (#36), we learn the essence of white creativity: 
To really capture the minds of white people you must write a story that doesn't really go anywhere so that when they are finished reading they will be left with a sense of confusion about what they have just read.  To a white person, a feeling of confusion is the expected response to all forms of "good" art.  (For example, next time you are at an art gallery look at the faces of the white people there.  Though they will never admit it, they all wish that paintings would come with a timer beneath them to let them know that they have appreciated the art for an intelligent amount of time.) 
As before, some items on Lander's list take us into more sensitive territory. We already knew that white people love religions their parents don't belong to (#2), for they "will believe in any religion that doesn't involve Jesus."  This time, in an entry on Thailand (#91) Lander ups the ante considerably:
It is literally impossible for a white person to travel to Thailand and not return as a Buddhist...  Buddhism meshes quite well with white people since they interpret the religion as a reaffirmation that everything they are doing is just great and they'll be fine in the afterlife.  For a white person there is no better spiritual awakening than one that tells you that you were right all along...   When white people are told that a key tenet of Buddhism is that all suffering is caused by desire, they understand immediately that they have been so depressed because they want the Eames chair that they can't afford.  Finally religion is put into terms they can understand.
In sum, Whiter Shades of Pale maintains its freshness, continuing to isolate aspects of a carefully crafted identity that one perhaps needs no longer tire oneself in cultivating.  Lander, best of all, does not seem to have let success go to his head.  "I want to thank every person who reads Stuff White People Like, and every person who has ever created a spin-off site.  I can't believe I got to do this twice."

Speaking of spin-offs, one could consult the Christian versions, follow the hipster Christianity debate, etc., but ad fontes!  It all started, and continues, with Lander's demographics.   Lander has shown that in seeking to distinguish themselves from the crass suburban "American dream," white people (not a race, of course, but a class) have created a new one that is materialistic without being able to admit it.  This phenomenon is not happening, it has happened.  Lander, and those riding his coattails, have merely pointed it out.

For what it's worth, I'm not sure the admirable Jamie Smith, defending the sincerity of his students by castigating McCracken, fully grasps this.  Materialism has metastasized, and there are no longer any automatic points for not going corporate or aspiring to live in a McMansion.  "Poor by choice" hipstamatic whiteness, like suburban affluence, is now a parallel American dream.  The church needs distinguish itself from both (while having representatives in both contexts as well).  Perhaps it's no coincidence that being a Christian, and - most particularly - a conservative one, remains a fast track to otherness, providing near complete immunity from Lander's satire.  Not that uniqueness is an unquestionable goal.  Holiness, however, is.