Friday, July 11, 2008

stereotyping for fun and profit

You've probably heard of the blog called Stuff White People Like. I looked at it a few times, chuckled a few times, but found the writing fairly painful to endure and promptly forgot about it. Later on, I saw a New Republic piece which nailed the blog as so much vapid self-congratulation:
Basically, this joke breaks down as "Congratulate a white person and they will feel smugly good about themselves." It's the perfect go-to punchline for Stuff White People Like, because it's really what the site is all about. Because if there's one thing white people really like, it's pretending to poke fun at themselves while actually being allowed to feel superior.
That one rang true.

But while TNR article touches on the incoherence in the blog's catalog of "White" stuff, it still views the blog surveying a mostly a white phenomenon. Not true. A good majority of the white stuff aren't properly white at all, but mostly commonplace observations about upscale urban liberals, who are majority white, but not monolithically so. So we have a potpourri of yuppie signifiers, crunchie activities, and mostly banal cultural observations that might've tied together if the blog focused on lampooning the smug dilettantism of the affluent liberal set (which it does do to some degree) instead of framing itself as an exercise in White Studies.

To be sure, maybe a third of the entries I've read are amusing and well-observed, but many more are too obvious and/or idiotic. And the execution just isn't there. For one thing, the tone's all wrong. It seems to strive for mock-anthropological didacticism. But instead of adopting the commanding, voice-of-God tone of Wikipedia (which would actually make the blog far funnier), the writer sounds like an amiable frat boy describing the quirks of his Calico to a flummoxed cat-sitter ("Furball gets startled by the sound of toilet flushing after midnight, so if you have to use the toiler past midnight, you should wait until the morning to flush".) Here's a typical sentence from the unremarkable "Moving to Canada" entry: "For example, if you are watching TV with white people and there is a piece on the news about that they do not agree with, they are likely to declare “ok, that’s it, I’m moving to Canada.” Snarky and knowing might work here. A po-faced Margaret Mead send-up would be better. But beats me why you'd adopt this semi-articulate tour guide voice. But I guess if you're looking to attract douchebags, Young Republicans and other dim-wits, it serves its purpose.

This blog evaporated from my memory until today, when I was skimming through a newly posted (and as it turns out, utterly tiresome) crit-studies attack on this blog in the American Prospect. That's when I learned something astonishing: this mediocre blogger was rewarded with a $300,000 book deal. I mean, the Barack Obama is Your New Bicycle guy I can see. That site is pretty clever (and the McCain site is wittier: "John McCain has an extra gallon of windshield washer fluid if you need it.") . Though it's unclear how a blog-gimmick can translate into book form, dude's pretty witty. Here, I just don't see how this blogger comes up with a book that'll sell outside of Urban Outfitters.

(It's possible I find that blog especially annoying and stupid because I'm a film-fest attending, wine-sipping, sushi-munching, bike-riding, coffee-slurping, scarf-wearing, NPR-listening, NYT-devouring "awareness" fiend with an Obama '08 bumper sticker on my Prius who can sometimes be found in a stiff, arm-folding position at indie shows. Just to be sure, I checked out the (entirely worthless) "Stuff Asian People Like" knock-off, and discovered I have next to nothing in common with my Asian bretheren. Guess it's possible I'm a self-loather aspiring to be white and didn't know it -- until these illuminating web sites revealed the errors of my way.)