When Christian Lander began indexing the cultural quirks of white people on his blog Stuff White People Like, he imagined it as little more than an inside joke. Cataloging a range of white person curiosities—from hummus, to the Onion, HBO’s The Wire and appearing to enjoy classical music—the popularity of Lander’s project quickly snowballed. By September of 2008, his playful riffing on “the unique taste of millions” was registering daily hits in the six figure range. Before long, he had secured a book deal with Random House and was churning out a portable guide to everything white, privileged and middle-class. Now the Canadian-born, L.A.-based former copywriter is developing a television pilot based on his blog and best-selling book.
If we’re to believe that there’s such a thing as “blog fame” (blogfamy?), then Lander is surely blog famous, uncomfortably rubbing shoulders with that Perez Hilton thing. And with good reason. His always good-natured barbs are as clever as they are resonant, taking white people to task for everything from their appreciation of the harmless hip-hop of Mos Def to fashionable environmentalism. And while a handful of reactionaries have accused Lander and his blog of racism, implying that it paints the experience of whiteness in broad strokes, such claims fall desperately short of the mark. For Lander, the issue is less one of race than class; less about cultural ethnography or liberal guilt than prodding social parody.
Terminal Laughter spoke with Lander over the phone about his blog, his book, his upcoming pilot and what it means to be “white.”
So what’s your day job currently?
I don’t have one.
Well what was your day job? How’d you make the move from former editor of the McGill Tribune to author of a bestselling book?
Oh man, there was a number of—it was a really long process. Basically, I was working as a copywriter and then the blog blew up and got really, really big. And then the book deal was in place and there was a large amount of pressure to get things done. So there was no way I could have kept my day job and written the book and then promoted the book all at the same time. I’ve done three book tours, and job will give you that time off. I had to quit my job to do the book stuff full time.
Well there are worse fates.
Oh sure, but it was all based on a ridiculously large, overnight success. There was no trick to it, or no expectation that it’s going to happen. I mean I was honestly not trying to have huge success.
So did the blog start as just jokes between you and your friends?
Yep. That was it. I was just trying to make friends laugh.
When did the traffic start picking up? When did you know that people were getting turned onto it?
I have about twenty-five friends that I consider close friends, and I e-mailed them with the link. And they thought it was funny, and they found stuff that connected with them or connected with their friends then they forwarded it on, and those friends started forwarding it on. Then it ended up on the Comedy Central Insider blog and everybody who saw that forwarded it along. Then traffic started growing and it got more mainstream exposure, you know, in The New York Times, that kind of stuff. But again, it was stumbled upon, most of the traffic to the site.
Some people who have read the blog accuse you of anti-white racism, which is a bit ridiculous. How do you respond to that?
Meh, it never bothers me. I know I’m not a racist and it rolls right off my back. Most of it is a complete misinterpretation of what I’m doing. Some people are like, “Well if you were doing stuff black people like, it’d be racist.” Well yeah, of course it would be racist. And some of the more intelligent people are assuming that this is stuff only white people can like, and again, they’re completely missing the point of what it’s about.
Well it seems to be more about a certain type of white person, or as “whiteness” representing a certain class position.
It’s definitely more about class. This is something I talk about in my lectures and stuff like that, about how I went to Jarvis [Collegiate Institute] in Toronto and most of these posts are inspired by this Chinese guy I went to school with. He was like the whitest Chinese guy ever, you know? He liked camping and the Tragically Hip and he busted out shorts way too early. And even though he wasn’t technically white, he a total white, you know?
Yeah. And what do you think of the blogs that have tried to imitate what you’re doing?
Well I wish they were funnier, but I’m glad for the concept. I mean it promotes a way to talk about race and class in a way that people are a lot more comfortable with. Like when you talk about shopping for organic vegetables, you begin to ask what it’s fundamentally about. And it’s about privilege. It’s about white privilege. It’s the privilege to take a year off, the privilege to study abroad, the privilege to get an English degree.
Pricey Sunday breakfasts and all that…
Yeah. It’s about that. But people have to get it on their own. I’m not going to force it down their throat. It’s nice, though, to bring about a discussion between people who want to talk about these differences. And it’s done from the inside. I mean there’s some horribly racist spin-offs [of Stuff White People Like], but as long as the critique is coming from inside the culture, I think it’s fine. It’s great.
Now you said you do lectures and things like that. Is this more explicitly addressed to these sorts of class issues?
Absolutely . It’s all about class.
So wait, do you see it then as being more of some sociological project than a comedy thing?
Well, no. No, no. I dropped out of graduate school. It’s comedy first.
Okay. That would be the right answer…so do you have any sense of your readership, in terms of demographics?
Well the only thing I can really gauge it from is the people who show up to the readings. And there’s differently diversity in race, but there’s no diversity in class.
How much new content was in the book?
About half of it.
Well besides the book tours and lectures, do you have anything else coming up, or are you just returning your focus to writing for the blog?
Well the book is being optioned to be turned into a TV show.
Yeah. But we’re talking early stages. So hopefully that will happen, but it’ll be a while before that becomes a reality.
What’s the format of show looking like, some kind of anthology series?
More of a single-camera sitcom. It’s being optioned by Imagine [Entertainment], who did Arrested Development, and it’ll be going out to the networks. They’ll be pitching it to the networks, and then writing a pilot, and the pilot would be shot…so there’s still like a ton more steps before this thing is even close to being on the air.
Well still. That’s exciting. How involved with the project are you?
I’m going to be working as the executive producer and as a writer.
Just living the dream, eh?
[Laughs] For now, yeah.
Are there any plans for a new book, or are you just focusing on the show?
Well nobody’s come to me to ask to write a follow-up, so right now I’m just working on the show. I mean if Random House were willing, I’m sure I could set aside enough time before I get other stuff going on.
So what kind of stuff have you been noticing lately that has potential for future blog posts?
Well I just did one on hating people who wear Ed Hardy. Lately I’ve noticed that everybody hates that. It can’t even be worn ironically. And, well, Banksy is going to be up there soon. Everybody loves that guy.
Someone like Banksy seems to signal a seeping over into the hipster subculture. Do you see a lot of crossover there?
Well, I have to write about what I know, and I’m definitely a part of that subculture. But it all seeps out. I mean it may have started in that subculture, but now its spun out into the mainstream to the point where even people who consider themselves trendsetters, but are like fifty, are catching on.
You don’t have any plans of getting all self-reflexive and doing a post about how white people like Stuff White People Like any time soon, do you?
Never. Never ever. Somebody suggests that at least two or three times a week and I don’t even respond. That’s never, ever going on the site. Ever.