Books

Stuff White People Like: A Theory of the Liberal Leisure Class

Kelly Roberts
Christian Lander doing stuff he likes.

"Look at our generation … Stuff is all we have … It's not a display of wealth. It's about a display of authenticity and taste."


Stuff White People Like

Publisher: Random House
Subtitle: The Definitive Guide to the Unique Taste of Millions
Author: Christian Lander
Price: $14.00
Length: 224
Formats: Paperback
ISBN: 9780812979916
US publication date: 2008-07
Amazon

You’ve probably heard this one before, but I have to begin at the beginning anyway. A few weeks after starting Stuff White People Like, a blog satirizing upper-middle-class liberals, primarily the American version and including the green-centric and hipster mutations, copywriter Christian Lander found himself at the forefront of the “Internet famous”. The success of the blog (over 47 million hits at the time of this writing) made the eyes of the scouts over at Random House flash with dollar signs, and the publishing giant hastily offered him a pile of money to put out a book, cheaply constructed but with expanded content, of the same name.

Since its July release Lander has been interviewed by The Onion’s A.V. Club, Salon and CBS, among others; has given a talk at Google headquarters (no exercise ball-chairs were harmed during the event); and, in early September, he crossed over into the dreaded (to white people) mainstream with an appearance on Late Night with Conan O’Brien.

The book/blog is essentially a numbered list of things (“stuff”) that Landers, who is white (you knew that), thinks most hilariously represents his demographic. The entries are delivered deadpan throughout, as if he were writing a how-to manual for outsiders trying to infiltrate and exploit (financially, usually) white culture. Here’s an example from Threatening to Move to Canada (#75):

Though they will never actually move to Canada, the act of declaring that they are willing to undertake the journey is very symbolic in America's white culture. It shows that their dedication to their lifestyle and beliefs is so strong that they would consider packing up their entire lives and moving to a country that is only slightly different from the one they live in now…

Be aware that this information can be used quite easily to gain the trust of white people. Whenever they say, “I’m moving to Canada,” you must immediately respond with “I have relatives in Canada.” They will then expect you to tell them about how Canada has a perfect health-care system, legalized everything, and no crime. Though not true, it will reassure them that they are making the right choice by saying they want to move there.

Stuff White People Like (SWPL hereafter) can be incredibly funny and, excepting the oblivious and the hopelessly self-righteous, those who can identify with it at all might just learn something about themselves—like how obnoxious it is to think Vintage (#49) clothing makes them “authentic”, or how ludicrous it is to think a Toyota Prius (#60) is somehow (1) good for the environment, and (2) affordable to the overwhelming majority of people who drive cars.

And those who find it funny might, like me and many other commenters, account for it along these lines: “This is totally me, but not really. I mean, sure, I can’t help Standing Still at Concerts (#67) and think Living by the Water (#51) is awesome, but at least I’m not one of those smug, composting yuppies with that stupid Apple (#40) logo tattooed to their ankles—I get stuck behind those assholes every time I go to Coffee Bean (Coffee is #1) for my iced mocha latte.”

That’s why it’s important that Lander’s stuff isn’t mutually inclusive. “White people” who attend Film Festivals (#3) do not necessarily Make You Feel Bad for Not Going Outside (#9), and so on. So the outdoorsy environmentalist justifies himself against the film school hipster, the film school hipster justifies himself against the wine-tasting yuppie, who justifies himself against the pop culture savant—or any hybrid of subcultures in between, really—and all, by believing they alone are living rightly, unique beings irreducible to stereotypes, prove themselves guilty of the class elitism at the heart of Lander’s satire.

They're the right kind of white people, don’t you know; they are resplendent individuals who simply cannot be determined by their economic status—they are above class. It’s a free will philosophy that, unfortunately, is not extended to the `wrong’ kind of white person (the kind from Kansas that votes Republican, or the kind that discovers `your’ obscure band after it gets popular), and is especially not extended to the poor person of any color who is uniquely unqualified to afford shopping at Whole Foods (#48), or to afford food at all (more on poor people as automatons in a minute).

I should make it clear that SWPL is not, by any means, a mean-spirited screed. “It’s comedy first and foremost,” Lander says of the book in his Onion interview (The Onion made it on the blog, finally, at #109); and when asked how he decides what makes it on the list, he replies, “Me. It’s a mirror.”

He admits that there’s some anger behind the comedy—it is satire, after all—but it’s not the kind of anger you might expect from someone giving his class, mostly the 40 and under subset, its first proper comeuppance. “Look at our generation,” he says. “What do we have left? Stuff is all we have… You’re just as guilty of the keeping-up-with-the-Joneses' mentality as your parents or grandparents. It's not a display of wealth. It's about a display of authenticity and taste. And so it's just my anger about that competition. And what I'm angry about is, I just can't stop myself from doing it.”

Lander may have a point, but I find it odd that, instead of getting angry at the legitimate follies he exposes—egoism, hypocrisy, conspicuous consumption, self-righteousness—he gets stuck in the web of his own blog, and hates on himself because he can’t keep from committing these follies. Not Being Responsible for Their Actions is surely something else white people like, but only when they fail; “any time that a white person succeeds it is entirely because of their hard work and natural talent” (from Therapy, #146).

But, to be fair, Lander is a comedian, and comedians generally make a living by not biting the hands that clap for them. Delving seriously into the deeper, more subversive criticisms in SWPL presents a looming catch-22, as he would have to make unironic judgments on his customers, thus implicating himself (unironically) in the circular process of elitism he created. But there comes a point at which calling out a behavior or a belief goes further than the humor aisle, whether he (or Jon Stewart, or Stephen Colbert [their respective shows are #35]) cares to admit it or not.

Take this, for instance, from Hating Corporations (#82): “When engaging in a conversation about corporate evils it is important to never, ever mention Apple Computers, Target, or IKEA. White people prefer to hate corporations that don’t make stuff they like.” One can’t get much closer to the bull’s-eye than this, and I doubt that Lander, the next time someone claims to have achieved enlightenment after reading Naomi Klein’s anti-corporate, anti-globalization manifesto No Logo, won’t realize the Irony (#50) of the fact that the book was an international bestseller published by a multinational corporation. In other words, I assume he learned something through the process of writing the book/blog, just like I learned something by reading it.

Next Page

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less
Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

Next Page
Related Articles Around the Web
Film

Subverting the Romcom: Mercedes Grower on Creating 'Brakes'

Noel Fielding (Daniel) and Mercedes Grower (Layla) (courtesy Bulldog Film Distribution)

Brakes plunges straight into the brutal and absurd endings of the relationships of nine couples before travelling back in time to discover the moments of those first sparks of love.

The improvised dark comedy Brakes (2017), a self-described "anti-romcom", is the debut feature of comedienne and writer, director and actress Mercedes Grower. Awarded production completion funding from the BFI Film Fund, Grower now finds herself looking to the future as she develops her second feature film, alongside working with Laura Michalchyshyn from Sundance TV and Wren Arthur from Olive productions on her sitcom, Sailor.

Keep reading... Show less

People aren't cheering Supergirl on here. They're not thanking her for her heroism, or even stopping to take a selfie.

It's rare for any hero who isn't Superman to gain the kind of credibility that grants them the implicitly, unflinching trust of the public. In fact, even Superman struggles to maintain that credibility and he's Superman. If the ultimate paragon of heroes struggles with maintaining the trust of the public, then what hope does any hero have?

Keep reading... Show less

The Paraguay-born, Brooklyn-based indie pop artist MAJO wraps brand new holiday music for us to enjoy in a bow.

It's that time of year yet again, and with Christmastime comes Christmas tunes. Amongst the countless new covers of holiday classics that will be flooding streaming apps throughout the season from some of our favorite artists, it's always especially heartening to see some original writing flowing in. Such is the gift that Paraguay-born, Brooklyn-based indie pop songwriter MAJO is bringing us this year.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image