Whites Sneering at Whites

Persons of pink mocking themselves is hot, and two Canadians are cashing in.

By Shannon Rupp 14 Aug 2008 |

Shannon Rupp is a contributing editor of the Tyee. Find her previous columns here.

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Lander's opus is really about class.

If the idea of mocking "white people" offends you, then you can consider yourself one: Being Offended is #11 on the list of more than 100 things that comprise the Stuff White People Like. (

You should get used to being offended by jokes about persons-of-pink, since there seems to be a growing trend in white whipping, led by a pair of Canadians.

Christian Lander, an ex-pat Canadian living in Los Angeles, began the blog as an impromptu joke for his pals with entry #1 Coffee. They chuckled, made suggestions, spread the word, and since January the thing has taken on a life of its own. In July he released a book (which, ironically, always seems to be the proof of a successful website) Stuff White People Like: The Definitive Guide to the Unique Taste of Millions. As of this writing the list is up to #105 Unpaid Internships. Apparently white people love these, particularly in fields like film and journalism.

Of course the term "white people" has less to do with the shade of one's hide than the pretensions of one's class. In this case, the figures of mockery are all those striving middle-class-income sheep who aspire to having "the best" and keep the sellers of trendy $200 sneakers and $5 coffees in business.

The blog satirizes aging yuppies and their larvae, as well as innocents like you and me who have inadvertently been caught up in their enthusiasms. I cringe to see myself in #97 Scarves (worn for reasons other than keeping out the cold). But in my defence, I'd like to say my style of dress was greatly influenced by French films viewed at a tender age. (#3 Film Festivals; sigh.)

I predict that Lander's white wit will spawn two new groups: people who immediately stop doing whatever appears on that list and people who embrace their WP habits as an identity. Finally, someone thinks they're interesting enough to satirize.

Do you 'dress like butt'?

That sort of impact is unlikely for the second tome exploring "white" as a stereotype. The White Guy: A Field Guide is the book where wit went to die. The 204 page paperback of interminable length is written by Stephen Hunt, another Canadian who lived in the U.S. However his comments have all the insight of someone who watched too many reruns of that sitcom Loud, Stupid, Ugly Guy and His Inexplicably Hot Wife, or whatever it was called.

Now, I'm all for mocking men of every race, creed and income, but is it too much to ask for a little originality? Hunt gives us a chapter devoted to how white guys don't talk about their emotions; another on how they watch sports on TV; and yet another on how they cling to old, ratty, stained clothes for decades. Oh yes, they like to eat red meat too. There's more, but I won't spoil it for you.

He also treats us to the equally banal views of his American wife Melanee, whose insights include such snappy lines as white guys "dress like butt."

Sadly, Hunt gets nothing right. It would be more accurate to say that North American men "dress like butt." Skin colour is irrelevant. So are income, education and intellect. Baseball caps are the great equalizer here, where men all dress like adolescents, complete with over-priced running shoes.

Canadians get the class thing

As tedious as Hunt's book is, it shares something with its smarter counterpart -- only Canadians would think of using "white" as a catchall term for discussing socio-economic class. It suits our sense of irony (#50 on SWPL) to hang out in the U.S. and mock two obnoxious classes in America's allegedly classless society. (Canadians have always acknowledged class distinctions. That's why we're so busy levelling the playing field with universal health care, the social safety net, publicly funded education and equality laws.)

Lander is understandably affectionate when satirizing the urban-strivers who are desperately trying to climb that social ladder since that is his tribe. Hunt covers their counterparts, the suburban-smug, who are sliding downward as fast as their love of reality TV and freedom fries will take 'em. Is that his tribe? Possibly: his bio says he lives in Calgary.

So Lander uses "white" in a way that's reminiscent of that British Empire usage when a military man propping up the Raj might describe a guy's good deed as being "damn white of him." In that sense it means the ruling class, and as you read Lander's line-up you realize Barack Obama isn't just #8 on SWPL, he's actually "white people" too. Hunt notes the habits of the guys American WPs would probably call "white trash" or Canadian WPs would call Wal-Mart shoppers. Come to think of it, "Protesting Wal-Mart" should probably be on the SWPL list.

Hunt even borrows on Jeff Foxworthy's "you might be a redneck" schtick with "You know you're a white guy if… The nut on the radio actually makes sense about a) Terrorism b) Immigration or c) The idiots running the country. Or… You have an opinion on the IRL v. NASCAR."

'Ethnic brownnosing'

But what skewering whiteness really reminds me of are the people New York Times columnist David Brooks christened "Bobos" in his 2000 book Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There. Brooks, who describes himself as a "comic sociologist," has a gimlet eye when it comes to describing how culture and marketing have been synthesized into products that Bobos -- short for bourgeois-bohemians -- will fancy. He notes that while these people have embraced all the conventional values about getting and spending, they like to style themselves rebels -- which is why they wear high-priced outdoor adventure clothes to the office.

And what does the would-be intellectual Bobo love? According to Brooks, that would be the sort "ethnic brownnosing" found in books just like these two. (See also the painfully dumb-but-popular How to be a Canadian, or books like How the Irish Saved Civilization and How the Scots Invented the Modern World.) Both books on the dark side of white should get good pick-up among Bobos, who are known for having more money than brains.

Who can still be satirized?

With that in mind, I'm even inspired to write my own quickie book about a stereotype, but what's left?

Cougars have potential. Certainly there are a lot of aging baby boomers (female) working double-time to bag the sort of boys they weren't all that keen on when they were that age. Although it might be too obvious. What do Cougars like? Candlelight, Spanx and botox.

Moses Znaimer, the man who gave us MuchMusic, is working on reinventing seniors by calling them zoomers -- boomers with zip. Although I think he's being optimistic, largely because he just bought a host of media properties aimed at seniors, including the magazine for CARP, the Canadian Association of Retired People. And what do zoomers like? Judging by the carping, I'm guessing it's hip replacements.

I could answer, definitively, Freud's famous question: What do women want? But again, who couldn't? Shoes, chocolate, Daniel Craig's trousers. Oh, and yoga pants as street wear.

As for mocking men: fish, barrel. Not to mention redundant. The things men do is another reason satire is dead.

Maybe the quickie book is harder than it looks? Or maybe I need to do the Canadian thing and move to the U.S. where our brand of cranky nationalism is bound to give me a few ideas.

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