Whiter Shades of Pale: The Stuff White People Like, Coast to Coast, From Seattle’s Sweaters to Maine’s Microbrews is Christian Lander’s follow up to his bestselling book Stuff White People Like: The Definitive Guide to the Unique Taste of Millions.
In the introduction to Whiter Shades of Pale, Lander states “When I began Stuff White People Like back in January 2008, my knowledge of white people was limited mostly to my twenty-nine years of being white. But I had traveled a good bit and spent four years in graduate school, so I was still in a pretty good position to observe the habits of the modern white individual.” And so the saga was born, both in print and in the virtual world at stuffwhitepeoplelike.com.
The “inspiration” for Whiter Shades of Pale was the book tour for Stuff White People Like: “It was an eye-opening experience that helped me realize that as much as all white people are the same, in many ways they are slightly, superficially different”. Whiter Shades of Pale examines these “differences” in a brilliantly satirical fashion.
From Boston, Massachusetts to Detroit, Michigan to San Francisco, California (with quick stops in college towns in Canada and Europe), Lander outlines, explains, and shows “the white”. For the textually challenged, each section begins with a visual aid. Detroit’s visual is merely a house with a sign reading “Moved to Chicago”. Austin, Texas’ visual is a gentleman sporting a t-shirt that states “Keep Austin Weird”. Part of Lander’s caption replies: “Shirt translation: Keep Austin Rent Low for White People Who Don’t Want to Work Full-time.”
Each section also includes an introductory page that provides an overview, lists of strengths and weaknesses, and divulges the “secret shame” of each geographical location. Nothing is off limits. The overview of Detroit, Michigan reads, “There is some evidence that white people used to live in Detroit, but it is currently the subject of debate. There are also rumors that white people with no money or simply meager trust funds (referred to in white culture as “artists”) are beginning to move into the area. But this remains unconfirmed.”
Some of the strengths include “might know a black guy” (Atlanta, GA), “able to survive in small places” (New York, NY), and “can hold liquor” (Boston, MA). Weaknesses: “lack of protein has led to muscle atrophy” (Asheville, NC) and “crippling debt” (Los Angeles, CA). Secret Shames include “prefers pizza from New York City” (Chicago, IL) and “only cross-country skis out of peer pressure” (Minneapolis, MN).
Most sections include two to five detailed descriptions of, as the title suggests, stuff white people like. In San Francisco, California, it’s “Girls with Bangs”, “Hating People who Wear Ed Hardy”, “Swimming”, and “Google”. In College Towns Throughout the United States, it’s “Facebook”, “Where the Wild Things Are”, ”Cult Movies”, “Long-Distance Relationships”, and “The Big Lebowski”. “Old Maps” and “IKEA” are the two items mentioned in the European section, while Lander maintains that white Australians like “Thailand” and “Hipster Weddings”.
Rounding out the book are textboxes covering subjects like the “Ideal TV Lineup for White People”, which includes Curb Your Enthusiasm, Seinfeld, and Battlestar Galactica, and a fun flow chart labeled “How to Win Arguments with White People”. Some of the best suggestions: “I read it in the New Yorker” and “You don’t know the answer because you went to a second-tier college.”
Full of zingers, one-liners, and well-crafted wit, Lander’s observations make for a great book, and a book that can be appreciated on several levels. On one hand, it’s just plain funny. On the other, it’s a satire and all good satires have a point. But the point of Lander’s work might have just as much to do with class as it does race. Consider Lander’s explanation of the unpaid internship phenomena: “Throughout most of the world, when a person works long hours without pay, it is referred to as ‘slavery’ or ‘forced labor’. For white people this process is referred to as an internship and is considered to be an essential stage in white development.” The passage continues, “if you present a white nineteen-year-old with the choice of spending the summer earning $15 an hour as a plumber’s apprentice or making $0 an hour answering phones at Acme Production Company, they will always choose the latter.”
Still, many of his observations are so spot on, it’s difficult not to laugh out loud, even if you are laughing at yourself. Perhaps my favorite came from the section titled “Perfect White Party Games”. Here are the instructions for the game Ice Test: “Say the words ‘All right, stop, collaborate, and listen’ and wait for white people to fill in the rest.”
It takes a special talent to satirize The Onion (or at least its readers) and to make sea salt, hummus, disinfectant, sweaters, and berry picking not only interesting but humorous. Lander, however, manages to do just that.