New Book Strikes A Chord Making Fun Of White People
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
We'll talk to blogger and author Christian Lander about his new book "Whiter Shades of Pale: The Stuff White People Like, Coast to Coast, from Seattle's Sweaters to Maine's Microbrews."
Christian Lander will sign copies of his book, "Whiter Shades of Pale: The Stuff White People Like, Coast to Coast, from Seattle's Sweaters to Maine's Microbrews," on December 1 at 7:30 p.m. at Warwick's Books in La Jolla.
In 2008, Christian Lander founded the blog stuffwhitepeoplelike.com as an unscientific study of himself and other upper-middle-class white people. His humor struck a chord; the blog now has more than 71 million hits and Lander went on to write a 14-week New York Times bestselling book by the same name. We'll speak to Lander about his new book,
"Whiter Shades of Pale: The Stuff White People Like, Coast to Coast, from Seattle's Sweaters to Maine's Microbrews."
Christian Lander is creator of the blog, stuffwhitepeoplelike.com and author of the new book "Whiter Shades of Pale: The Stuff White People Like, Coast to Coast, from Seattle's Sweaters to Maine's Microbrews."
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and You're listening to These Days on KPBS. It usually takes a trained anthropologist to track the cultural habits of a large, mobile population. But sometimes a gifted amateur can spot trends and affinities among members of of a group, trends missed by academics, or maybe too weird to be studied by academics. Just such a gifted amateur is my guest, Christian landers. He is the New York Times best selling author of stuff white people like. And now he's out with a new compilation of his cultural studies called whiter shades of pale, the stuff white people like coast to coast from Seattle sweaters to Maine's micro brews. And good morning, Christian. Welcome to These Days.
CHRISTIAN LANDER: Good morning, thanks for having me on. I should warn you in advance that the last time I did an in- studio for NPR, something weird happened. So the first book, public radio was on the list as something white people liked. And I was doing an interview in Pasadena. And they -- they wanted me to read the entry on public radio on public radio, and I think it caused a rift in the space time irony continuum because the Chino Hills earthquake hit right in the middle of the interview. So I think I literally ripped the earth apart with the irony of reading an entry about that on the radio. So advanced warning.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I am not gonna risk actually having you read anything from this book, okay? So I think we're --
CHRISTIAN LANDER: I just wanted to let that warning get out.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I appreciate it. Now, Christian, how did you become an expert on white people.
CHRISTIAN LANDER: Well, it's radio so you can't see, I am white.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You are.
CHRISTIAN LANDER: I'm also Canadian.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Oh!
CHRISTIAN LANDER: Oh, a next level of white. You know, 32 years of being white and pretty solid -- but it was funny, how I became an expert specifically in white, its upper middle class liberal culture of that's white, and that's the joke of the white. So I grew up in this city in Toronto Canada, and in my lifetime, the type of white people that I grew up with were all middle class liberal people. I literally did not meet my first conservative until I was 22 years old, and it was at the university of Arizona that was the first time i met a conservative, and i couldn't believe it. I was, like, how are you this bitter this young? You still want to save the world at this age. The concept of a working class white person had ended in my lifetime. And so the only people left were literally yuppies. And so that was all that I encountered. I encountered plenty of people of other races and other backgrounds, but the only white people that I knew were these upper middle class liberals.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So when did you first discover that what you liked as a Canadian white person, upper middle class, did not always translate across cultural and ethnic lines?
CHRISTIAN LANDER: Well, I -- it's hard to say when I noticed that. It was weird. There was something really built in about it. So I went to this high school in Toronto called Jarvis Collegiate that was right in the middle of the city. Liberally it's an amazing testament to public education and how it used to work. The school's had problems since then, but it was the district high school for the richest neighborhood in Toronto of the poorest neighborhoods in Toronto and two other middle class neighborhoods and all the kids went to the same school, so we had Richard Barrera white kids we had poor recent immigrants in the country so we had just this huge mix at the school. And it was just sort of understood at the school, that if you liked anything on this list, that people would accuse you of you being white. You know what I mean? Like if you liked expensive sandwiches they'd be like, oh, you're white. And ultimately what they were really saying was just you were rich. And so I have all these stories about going to school with a guy who was a third generation Chinese Canadian, and he loved camping and he loved wearing shorts way too early, and frisbee sports, and all this sort of stuff.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: All the stuff in your book.
CHRISTIAN LANDER: All the stuff in my book, and every day at school he was just get called these derogatory terms like a banana or yellow on the outside and white on the inside. But the truth of the matter was, he was in no way ever ashamed to be Chinese of he was not trying to be white, he was just rich. And so that was sort of what -- that was sort of the distinction that was just sort of -- there wasn't a point when I realized. This is just how it is. And so when the blog was going, it was a continuation of this humor that me and my friend miles had started. We just considered this was normal humor. This is just accepted. And then I realized that this concept was still relatively new to a lot of the United States , and a little more radical just is something that I -- forgive my cultural ethnocentrism, thinking that everywhere would be like Toronto, really, it's not. That was one of the things that I think shocked me more than anything. Something that I accepted as a truth was just kind of new.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with Christian LANDER, he's author of the new book, whiter shades of pale, creator of the blog and book stuff white people like. Now, you thought you knew everything about white people. Until you took your first book tour.
CHRISTIAN LANDER: Yeah.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Tell us about that. Of.
CHRISTIAN LANDER: Well, I mean, it was -- I did my best to understand white people. And really, like, living in Canada, going to graduate school for four years, I'd done some extensive -- I studied abroad in Europe, I've done pretty extensive research. But yes, once I started the book tour and I started going around, I started noticing these tiny defenses between white people, and I started figuring out which cities were white cities. Bolder Colorado, Madison Wisconsin, Austin Texas, and people would say, how can you tell it's a white city? And I'm like, everywhere where property values out strip income is a white city. Because just -- the industry in bolder to the property values there, and how do you --
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, let's talk about some of the things actually in the book, whiter shades of pale. You said that you observed that white people complained about the death of print media.
CHRISTIAN LANDER: Yeah.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That caused a great dealing of hilarity in the news room, I've gotta tell you.
CHRISTIAN LANDER: It is one of the -- one of the, you know, it's one of our complaints because that's one of our favorite unpaid internships, which is also something that white people like. Soap it's a genuine path, but we're also, this is just one of my favorite things about white people, is that we're complain and we'll complain and we'll complain but we won't actually subscribe on a newspaper again. We won't actually pay for a subscription service, but it's so terrible that print media dying, [CHECK AUDIO] so it's one of those wonderful things about white people, complaining and not doing anything about it.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And you also talk about some special favorites of white people, like Monty python and the big Labowski. Tell us more about what would attract particularly white people to like that stuff?
CHRISTIAN LANDER: White -- humor is such an important part of white culture. Because like --
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Ironic humor.
CHRISTIAN LANDER: Ironic humor, and just being recognized as funny. Like white women tell this lie that a sense of humor is what they're looking for in a man. And we bought it. Hook line and sinker, and white men, we believe it. I've invested a lot of my time in this to meet women. Ultimately what they mean is height, when they say humor, what they want is a tall man. [CHECK AUDIO] so basically all white people draw their sense of humor from three sources, the Simpsons, the Onion, and Monty python. So if they say anything funny around you, you're like I'm gonna guess one of these three things, and if they say a quote you they completely don't understand, it makes no sense whatsoever, it's probably from big Labowski.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Exactly right. And you also have to warn that this is an asterisk here that white women may not really like Monty python too much because they're just seen too many bad interpretations and impressions from white men.
CHRISTIAN LANDER: Yeah, by the time a white woman's around 20, she could coggle together every line from the life of Brian just based on boyfriends and guys trying to pick her up at hipster bars.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with Christian lander, he's author of the book stuff white people like, he's out with a new book, whiter shade of pale. I just want to talk a little bit more about white people's fondness for unpaid internships, and how you say there's this idea that if someone were going to be paid $15 an hour to train as a plumber, they wouldn't take the job, but an unpaid internship especially at one of those print media things that are dying, they're there.
CHRISTIAN LANDER: Oh, yeah. They'll step on their friend's throat to get an unpaid internship at a film development company making photocopies. But taking an internship in a field that has a future and pays well, no, as white people, that's not what we do. We get English degrees.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, who is this book written for?
CHRISTIAN LANDER: Well, the book is written for -- it's humor, first of all. It's absolute satire of the travel guides and cultural guides and all that stuff. So at one level, it's definitely written for the people I'm making fun of. But on the other hand, it's also written for people who just don't get white people. Who are so confused by all the stupid stuff we do all the time. [CHECK AUDIO] so if you live in a neighborhood, and you're not white, and you see white people lining up for hours to get food, and norly you'd think it's a bread line, but no, it's just a fancy restaurant. And you try and understand where it comes from, but I think it's just for people who are ready for? Satire of the left and sort of sending up this upper middle class left wing culture.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Have you gotten any feed back from people who think there's something racist about this? Tell us about that.
CHRISTIAN LANDER: Yeah, I know, for anyone who's ever written anything on the interin the or even posted anything on the Internet, anonymity plus the ability to comment equals race war. Period, end of story. You put a video of your dog up, comment number three is an ethnic slur. That's just how it works. So when you you write something that actually deals directly with race, you are going to get a lot of flack. And without a doubt, all the of the flack that I get comes from right people. And generally it's more -- [CHECK AUDIO] how come it's okay to make fun of white people but it's not okay to make fun of black people or Latino people or Asian people? And I really don't have the time to explain why, you about I will just say that it is always, without a doubt to make fun of white people forever. In perpetuity throughout the universe. And I try to explain that.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You make that rule.
CHRISTIAN LANDER: I make that rule, you know socioeconomics makes that rule, the history of this country makes that rule, the history of western Europe makes that rule. It's always okay to make fun of white people. And so I have all these rants about the reason it's okay to make fun of white people, if you ever need proof, there is no ethnic slur against a white person that hurts. Period. Thea you willa. I know some people pretend to be offended by honky and cracker, [CHECK AUDIO] the old slurs against the Irish or whatever, it all worked out great for white people. The potato famine, it sucked, that was horrible, don't get me wrong, but it worked out great. Unless [CHECK AUDIO].
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You're still on that line for that expensive sandwich.
CHRISTIAN LANDER: Yeah, you're still waiting.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, I want to just pull out a couple of things from your blog and your now book, and have you talk about them a lot bit. That I particular he love, and one of them is about white people make you feel bad for not going outside.
CHRISTIAN LANDER: Yeah.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How often does that happen?
CHRISTIAN LANDER: All the time.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: All the time.
CHRISTIAN LANDER: All the time. I mean the role that guilt plays in white culture is out of this world. So one is the guilt about you spending all day watching television or playing video games or reading inside when you could go out and be hiking which is like the most noble thing a white person could possibly do is to hike. And I talk a lot in the book about noble deaths. For some reason, [CHECK AUDIO] and we officer this guilt stuff. It's the same reason why we go to classical music concerts, 'cause we feel guilty about not going then we go and we're bored out of our minds. Like can I leave now?
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And what is this stuff about heir loom tomatoes.
CHRISTIAN LANDER: Oh, yeah, we love -- you get heir loom tomatoes on a menu, you put at a farmer's market, it's gonna sellout right now. [CHECK AUDIO] so the closest we can get to, like, a vintage food is an heir loom tomato, because we can trace its history. If tomato seeds could have come over to the May flour, we would have been through the roof happy.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And mole skin notebooks.
CHRISTIAN LANDER: Yeah, we love these. White people love anything that sends a message to the rest of the coffee shop that you're the creative one. The Mac Laptop usually does the job. Hey, look at me. I'm creating art over here. Not looking at celebrity gossip. I'm creating art. [CHECK AUDIO] like a writer from the past, and I say in the book that white people like everything that old writers liked, typewriters, trains, suicide, heroin, all that stuff. We like it all.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And you also say white people like everything that old cranky white men like.
CHRISTIAN LANDER: Oh, yes, sweaters, scotch, complaining about things. [CHECK AUDIO].
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Christian, what kind of media do white people particularly respond to? I know that you've heard made the point that white people seem to like NPR a lot.
CHRISTIAN LANDER: Cause an earthquake over it.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What about the wire and what are their favorite TV shows.
CHRISTIAN LANDER: There's a bunch of them. But the easiest way to tell [CHECK AUDIO] so madmen, the wire, you know, so planos, all that sort of stuff, arrested development, like, early cancellation, we just love it. Of we can't get enough.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, have you actually heard from people who have said thank you? Now I understand?
CHRISTIAN LANDER: Yes, actually, I have. I've had a number of people who aren't white who come up to me, and they're just like, you know, it would have been fantastic if your book had come out before I went to college because I wasted like two and a half years trying to figure out these insane white people and what they were getting up to. You could have explained it all and I could have just jumped right now. So people have thanked me for explaining how ridiculous we are as a people.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, were you surprised that stuff white people like took off the way it did.
CHRISTIAN LANDER: Oh, yeah, absolutely, when I started the site in January of 2008 with my friend miles, and writing comedy and writing funny stuff is literally my favorite thing to do. I just do it because I love it.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Because you wish you worked at the onion.
CHRISTIAN LANDER: Yeah, of course I wish I worked at the Onion. That's a dream come true. About I started it because I thought I was gonna make miles laugh and I thought I was gonna [CHECK AUDIO] to make them laugh, and had no idea, and I always tell the story of any sane person who weighs a lottery ticket is like, I know I'm not gonna win, but wouldn't it be nice if? And I didn't even have the wouldn't it be nice if. [CHECK AUDIO] then is just caught fire completely by accident and everything changed and literally every dream I've ever had of being a writer and all these dreams came true, and I never thought this would be the avenue for it to come true. Because I failed at literally every other type of writing. Literary, academia, journalism, I failed over and over again. [CHECK AUDIO].
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That is pretty amazing, and you're starting to write for TV now.
CHRISTIAN LANDER: Uh-huh. Yeah.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Tell us about that.
CHRISTIAN LANDER: So one of the dreams of my entire life was to write for television. Being a comedy writer, one of the interesting things about [CHECK] if you can write funny, you can write for TV, and the other thing is, sadly, humor books are some of the -- they're relegated in the book store, you know, the humor section is always painfully small. Usually if you write something funny, the longer term career is realistically writing for television or onion or something along those lines of so yeah, I was able to get staffed on an MTV [CHECK AUDIO].
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I really appreciate that. Thank you Christian.
CHRISTIAN LANDER: Thanks. Oh, also --
Q. I have it here, Christian, you're gonna be signing copies of the new book, whiter shades of pale, that's tonight at 730 at war wick's books in La Jolla. So that's Christian LANDER signing copying of his new book, whiter shades of pale.
CHRISTIAN LANDER: Ordinary care thanks for having me on.
Q. , and if you'd like to comment, please go on-line KPBS.org/These Days. You're listening to These Days on KPBS.