The anthropologist of ‘White People’
Two white people walk into a bar, a badly lit Culver City saloon called the Backstage whose interior design could be summed up as one pool table, a no-frills photo booth and some scattered neon. Blondie and the Rolling Stones belt out of the stereo, $3 Newcastle comes on tap and sticky laminated menus offer up garlic fries, chili cheese fries and buffalo wings. In other words, welcome to No. 148 of 150 things white people like: dive bars.
“If you want to say I was planning that far ahead, that’s great,” said Christian Lander, resident white person behind the ridiculously popular blog Stuff White People Like, a snarky bit of grass-roots anthropology that recently transmuted into a rumored $300,000 book deal. “But I just like this place. I like the darkness. I don’t like overpaying for drinks. I’m not a very picky bar patron.”
Now “Stuff White People Like” the book has arrived, and if it is a joke -- and really, it’s filled with bons mots such as “For those of you who don’t know, a dive bar is a place with cheap drinks and minimal decoration that was formerly frequented by those who dislike white people” -- then the joke’s on Lander.
Wearing jeans and a faded navy UC Berkeley T-shirt (No. 84), procured from Goodwill (No. 49), thin, black angular frames (No. 140), and sporting red hair (No. 97) and a closely trimmed beard (No. 95), Lander sidled up to the Backstage on his bike -- that is cycle, not motor, a.k.a. No. 61. Though it must be said that, born and raised in Canada, Lander at no point during our early evening together threatened to move back there (No. 75).
“It’s me making fun of myself the whole way through,” Lander said of the blog turned book. “That’s why my picture’s up there all the time. I’m not implying I’m above any of this. I like all the stuff in the book.”
“Some people actually write saying they’re not sure if it’s funny or not. Some people like that comment, ‘I’m not sure if this is a joke or not.’ Every time I’m like, ‘Really? You really can’t tell? Good luck with life.’ ” Lander said.
The blog caught on
The million and a half hits his blog has generated are taken as a sign of extreme popularity -- a fact not long overlooked by New York literary agents. “It all came through the site,” Lander said. “I took a bunch of meetings and ended up signing with William Morris. Once I had the agent, they took care of everything else.” Now overseas rights of the book are already selling, with at least a Dutch version in the works. “I’m super-excited to see the cover,” Lander said. “I’m picturing stuff spelled s-t-o-o-f with umlauts and stuff.” Lander was likewise pleased when Kanye West’s blog linked to StuffWhitePeopleLike.com. Not so much, though, when he got a shout-out from the white supremacist at Stormfront.org.
Though not a raging conservative (“I’m Canadian. How right-wing can I get?”) and clearly not a rabid liberal, Lander is not devoid of political leanings. “I was a little nervous because post No. 8 was Barack Obama, and this was before he won the nomination, when the book was getting done. I was like, ‘Please, please, please let him win. Please let him win. Keep this book relevant. Keep this book relevant,’” he said.
Birthing White People
Lander and his wife, Jess, settled down in Los Angeles two years ago, after meeting in graduate school -- where Lander was, perhaps a bit pretentiously, angling for a doctorate in film -- then dropping out together. At the time, he had pipe dreams of making it big as a comedy writer; until recently he worked as a copywriter at an interactive ad agency. White People was born here over an IM chat about “The Wire” (No. 85) between Lander and fellow Canadian Myles Valentin. (Valentin also contributed such thoughts as Asian girls and consequently earned himself rights to all the blog’s ad revenue, Lander says.)
Despite all the hilarity, though, Lander says there are a couple of serious points he’d like to make. After growing up in Toronto’s Chinatown, going to school at Montreal’s McGill University and slogging through half a doctorate in Indiana, Lander found himself put off by reverse provincialism.
“There’s so much elite snobbery on the East Coast about the Midwest, the idea everyone there is exactly the same and are all Republicans or idiots or easily tricked,” he said. “I went out there and it’s not the case at all. It drove me nuts, people dismissing whole swaths of the country. Aside from the fact that there are hilarious, amazing people there.”
As for his second bone to pick, that’s all about economic status. “The Stuff is more about class than race,” Lander said. Yet it’s not even precisely rich whiteness that he singles out for his ire. It’s moneyed Caucasian liberals saturated with irony and bedecked in ostentatious authenticity and hard-earned nonchalance. “It is the attitude, it’s not about the stuff,” Lander clarified, leaving open the possibility that he isn’t in fact anti-free healthcare nor opposed to integrity or farmers markets. “It’s all a contest,” he said. “It’s a competition that’s not about money, because that’s crass. Authenticity and happiness are valued more than wealth. Wealth was always taken care of in this group of people.”
Still, the upper middle class is “completely dominated by white people,” he emphasized. “If you’re from another race and you like the stuff in the book, chances are you will get accused of acting white. I started it with a friend who is Filipino. We grew up together watching ‘Dawson’s Creek’ and listening to Jewel -- and the Wu-Tang Clan so we still rocked -- and he’d get accused of that by friends,” he said.
As far as conducting field research, then, Lander didn’t need to so much as lift a Google. “It’s a weird thing where you just know,” he said. “I’d think about my friends from McGill and grad school. Would they like this? If the answer is yes, in it goes.”
Living with White People
Lander’s new publisher, Random House, asked for the particularly snappy turnaround of essentially one month, with its author just presenting it with the final product in May. Perhaps this explains why only half of the book’s entries are new material, but Lander says he didn’t really need more time. “I still had all the momentum going and still had all the energy. There was no writer’s block.”
Though he and Valentin started it as a blog, it’s not that he’s got a particular love for the medium. “People were obsessed with telling me [the blog has] jumped the shark. For every single post I’d put up. Part of me would want to be like, ‘It’s your right to say whatever you want,’ but dude, I get it. You’ve said this about the last 15 posts. Enough. And so I stopped reading the comments entirely months ago.” The many nasty comments, he said, “made me not want to write anymore, seeing how angry everyone was. Doing a book is fantastic. You can post the review of the book to your blog and I won’t read it.”
Lander’s already practicing not taking it all too seriously. Recently Bravo flew him and his wife to New York to attend their A-List Awards ceremony, having been deemed eligible for decoration in the new “Cewebrity” category. Lander lost out to Perez Hilton, and Bravo had to nix the segment altogether due to time constraints. The Landers put Bravo’s plane tickets to good use anyway, devising a pizza tour of their own design. “Have you been to Di Fara’s in Brooklyn? It’s . . . awesome.”
Life after White People
As for what’s next, Lander concedes he’s not a novelist, and the blog’s got a built-in expiration date, he feels: “When I run out of Stuff, I’ll let it go.” And with no new pet peeves on the horizon, he sees no particular self-generated project bubbling up. A fan of Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, as well as network shows like “30 Rock,” “The Office” and “ ‘Conan,’ obviously,” Lander would rather segue into television.
But if that doesn’t happen, he’s prepared. “I’ll go back to interactive advertising,” he said with a shrug.