Wednesday, August 13, 2008

This Post Is Dedicated To Every Whinging Blogger, Purist and Seinfeld Wannabes...You're Not Smarter Than The Rest Of us, You Are us!

We saw this blogger and new author interviewed a few times during our holiday. I thought he was hilarious. And of course, he is a Canadian, which just seemed to make sense he was talking about this kind of stuff with his friends at work, started a blog, then got a book deal. Lander said he was talking with a guy at work about the series The Wire and one of their co-workers said he didn't trust any white people who didn't watch The Wire. Which Stagg and I found very funny, and probably wise! Stagg didn't think an American might have such an open conversation begin at work...but I don't know...he thinks the United States is more segregated than Canada. One of the reasons I think the blog/book is brilliant is because it exposes the fact that there are all these people out there, trying to be "purists" or "authentic' and just how mainstream that desire is...people believe they are unique and their humour and irony and criticism is unique...when's perhaps impossible to be unique and "special"., often using music and pop culture as a venue to show how "authentic" they are...a huge pet peeve of mine...

Here is an interview from The New Repulic:

The website Stuff White People Like has inspired a new bestselling book, along with misgivings that its satire is ultimately toothless and flattering to its target Yuppie audience. Over sushi and an expensive vegetarian sandwich at a Washington, D.C., Whole Foods, author Christian Lander discussed his message, Barack Obama, indie rock, and the white quest for authenticity.

The New Republic: Was there a particular message you wanted to get across with Stuff White People Like?

Christian Lander: Yeah, the message is that this generation isn't impressed by wealth anymore. It's not about a bigger house or a more expensive car. It's about more "authenticity." And there is a competitive aspect to this. There's a sense of superiority that comes with saying "I don't need an SUV" or "I don't need an 8,000 square foot home.

Still, the site strikes me as a being pretty cynical. You're pointing out that what you think makes you unique is actually shared by everyone else in your class and from your background.

White people are a group that loathes the mass media and the idea of mass culture, but are being forced to recognize they are a part of a mass culture. This [he points to the aisles of Whole Foods] is a mass culture. It's interesting to see that so many people for so long believed that this is uniqueness. But it's sold the same way as every other product out there. Matador Records makes money at the end of the day, just the same way that Universal does.

As you've pointed out elsewhere, Stuff White People Like has as much to do with class as to do with race.

Any person of color who likes stuff on this list has been accused of being white at some point in their life. And a lot of people think I'm racist for saying that. But when I grew up, people of color who liked this stuff were called "banana" or "Oreo" or "coconut." And fundamentally, all of them were generally of the same class.

Well, that brings up a question I wanted to ask you about Obama and "post-racialism." A New York Times article the other week suggested that the idea of a post-racial America might be exclusively a white perception, and that blacks in this country feel that an Obama victory wouldn't do that much to heal old wounds.

White people want overwhelmingly to believe that their class and their group--the upper-middle-class left--is color-blind. It's sort of interesting to see that desperation for post-race emerge out of this group.

Is this solely because of white guilt? Or is there a "coolness" factor at play here--with tolerance being a way to prove how hip you are?

There is a coolness factor to it. And there's some kind of idea of competition--that you can find a way to become authentic enough to buy your way out of whiteness. "Oh, you married an Asian girl and you adopted a kid from Africa. That cancels everything out. You taught in Japan, too? You're a person of the world. You're not actually white." There is this sense that through travel and marriage and adoption you can buy your way out of being white.

One theme you return to is that when white people try to be more "aware" of social issues or more "just," they often end up coming off self-righteous.

The white solution to problems reminds me of that South Park episode with the underpants gnomes: step one, collect underpants; step two, question mark; step three, profit. There's a missing step. Like with a "Save Darfur" t-shirt. It's fantastic to give some money to this cause. But what's going to happen? T-shirts embody it all: "I've given money and I'm telling you what I've done." The concept of anonymous charities is completely lost on this generation. It's like a tree-falls-in-the-forest thing: If a white person does something positive and doesn't tell you about it, does it happen? This comes from the competitive aspect of it.

Are you rebelling against the culture of our generation?

Yeah, but how can I do it? I indict myself on every post. Our generation is pretty selfish. We're all gifted. We're all special little children. And it's hard to break away from that. Where does all of our generation want to work? In all of these "look at me" professions, like media. High prestige, low-paying professions. And there is selfishness to that. We do honestly want to help, but we also want to be recognized as helping. And there's this weird thing about mass culture. I think that's why everyone latches onto indie music, for example. It's like: "I need to desperately feel like I'm not a part of this sinking ship. That I'm a part of this smaller lifeboat that's going to make it." And then this leads to a crisis of authenticity that has people like us fighting for hours over who liked Cut Copy first. Ultimately, as this search for authenticity becomes a real thing, it just becomes a circle-jerk. What can we do? What else can you do but become selfish in a situation like that?

One of my favorite posts is the one in which you dissect white folk's love for irony, as exemplified particularly in the phenomenon of the trucker hat. Are you afraid that your site will go the way of the trucker hat?

Oh, it will. And it should.

The Truth Will Not Set You Free article from The New Republic about Darfur, and Darfur literature.


Gardenia said...

I wonder if the search of authenticity really means search for our "real" selves - the selves without the mask. Do you think the author is thinking that in trying to become "authentic" we put on someone else's or a duplicate mask? Ah, I'm still stuck back on Tolle and "Infinite Love and Gratitude."

I really would wish it would be black authors who wrote books like this!

One of my guilty pleasures is a tanning salon owned by a black man (that I suspect is in the business to meet women - oh suspicious me) but I often wonder what he thinks of us pale folks in there trying to get darker.......

but then I feel "special" because I am partially a woman of color - a black woman I worked with once pulled me aside and told me not to ever trust a "white person." "They's treacherous." Wish I knew what people of color REALLY think about us.

Oh well, just random thoughts from a random mind.

Stagg said...

Everybody is hip...and that's not cool!

hurling frootmig said...

"what white people like"

what a title for a book/website!

i wonder exactly how far he'd get trying to publish that in the uk?
i fear people would condenm it before even reading it! as they tend to do with most things.
the daily mail newspaper would love it though.
i've had a quick flick through the website, and i'm going to go back when i have more time. just the brief glimpse proved entertaining.

Candy Minx said...

Gardenia, great question. The thing is, the Tolle book is basically a revisit to Hinduism and Buddhism but written in everyday common language. With a practice liek meditation in Hinduism or Buddhism, what often happens to the practitioner is a dropping away of concern over what their "status" is in society...almost the complete opposite of the compulsion to be "unique or individual".

The idea of "authenticity" in pop mainstream consciousness is well, I believe what Lander is referring to is...the motives and desire of certain people to "not be mainstream". There is this idea that's been kicking around for a couple of decades that anything mainstream is "sell out" or not "pure" or "original". The idea that if a mainstream audience likes something or has something is banal.

This is a sad state of affairs because music is out there for everyone. It may have been "true" that f someone liked Perry Como, they were with the "establishment" a few decades ago. But it's not like that any more. Music and artists are not a reliable source to project one's identity or belief system as "unique" anymore. Probably because of globalisation, the internet, our tastes re actually being exposed to each other rapidly.

For could go find some obscure music form and style. And listen...this is what people who are obsessed with "unique" or "purist" or "hip" try to do.

The so-called hipsters try to get tattoos that are special to them, they believe they are citting edge because they listen to some garage band, or don't eat popular food, or try to get gourmet coffee...but go see the select "rare" music live. You will find there are all kinds of other people who also want to discover or listent o obscure unique music too! There are hundreds of people who want a tattoo to make them special and different and "authentic".

There is nothing "wrong" with wanting to be special, or to have tatoos, or to track down unusual rare music. That is all cool. BUT it is NOT what defines cool or hip.

AND...hundreds, maybe millions of people are doing the same thing!!! Those so called "alternative" or archaic bands are going to have sold out shows.

We are all "special" and we all want o feel specilal...but we are doing it at the ame time with the same kinds of resources.

I hope I am making sense.

Stagg, in so many ways...that is it exactly! We know people who try really hard to be luddites and out side the mainstream. They listen to crazy ass archaic music. They think we'll go see this crazy band live. Turns out the joint is full! Because they all are already mainstream. The whole world is mainstream.

I wonder why that is a bad thing...when actually it might be the pathway to non-violent conflict resolution...

Hurling, some people are offput by the title of this blog and book, but it's actually I think, ultimately a positive exercise in cultural observation. I think the book is suggesting thaat our actual interpersonal conflicts or differences are based in economy rather than skin colour. And I think the author found a great way to communicate his observations through humour!

Gardenia said...

LOL, are you saying, boy, is she confused? I wish I were succinct like Stagg!

Candy Minx said...

No Gardenia, not at all. I loved your comment. Sometimes there are so many words that incorporated into daily language. I think the usage of "authenticity" came from existential philosophy somewhere back last century, but not sure.

the idea of trying to be special or not mainstream is a funny concept because everybody wants to feel that, is what I believe his message in the book is about...