March 11, 2008

Stuff White People Like Blog Revisited

In my previous writing I made two posts about a popular blog that had captivated America’s attention, "Stuff White People Like." Not exactly satisfied with my writing I had removed them. But now finding that they had been referenced I am posting again - consolidating both posts into a final edited version:

While driving around Orangeburg I turned on NPR and listened to a program about Christian Lander’s blog "Stuff that White People Like." I was curious about the site because what I heard on NPR as the purportedly tongue-in-cheek proclivities of the white race in the United States (I’m assuming the United States by the context) didn't resonate with my own experiences. Back home, I looked at this site to see just how far outside the pale (pun intended) I was. Many of the icons of popular culture we are supposed to idolize, for instance I hadn’t even heard of. In fact, out of the seventy-five indices of whiteness that the blog enumerated, although I was close on a number of them, I fully qualified as white on just one - listening to National Public Radio.

Some of the blogs were humorous - like the obsession with bottled water and recycling! But what I found somewhat disturbing was the prevalence of the "Arts" on the site, by which Lander seems to include all artists, writers, musicians, dancers and anyone else who majors in such things in college. Even as a parody, it struck me as unfortunate that such writing conveyed a message that the "Arts" are white pursuits. It seemed ambiguous as well as to who were the objects of the satire: People in the arts and humanities? Or was it really a "modest proposal" approach to satirizing people who believe that these pursuits are irrelevant? Looking at the comments on the blog, it seemed that noone else could quite figure that out either.

Although the blog aims to be a satire, there are many things about the writing that make it not particularly effective as such. For one thing, the title of the blog, "Stuff White People Like," tended to confuse some people and anger others because it was not a parody of "White People" but of a segment of affluent society familiar to the author. "Stuff That Christian Lander Likes," "Stuff That Friends of Christian Lander Likes" or "A Slice of Upper-Middle Class White Society As I Know It," would have been more apropos as titles but would not have garnered the publicity that the more provocative title did. Perhaps this can explain some of what all the ruckus has been about with regard to this blog - confusion and anger due to mislabeling. Defenders of the blog claim that the author was only making fun of himself yet I would have to agree with detractors who quickly pointed out that this claim did not tally with the broad scope indicated by the title. But the title is what brought attention to the blog - which was most likely the intended outcome.

I concluded that "Stuff That White People Like" was another example of that smoldering anti-intellectualism in the United States. I should note here that I am not concluding this from a position of intellectual prowess. The reason I started reading works like Anti-intellectualism in American Life by Richard Hofstadter was in order to understand more about why there is so much hostility to the arts and humanities. Interestingly enough, according to Hofstadter, I could be in danger of becoming the very worst kind of anti-intellectual there is - a "would be" intellectual.

The reasons that the blog and the kind of attention it sparked seemed to indicate an environment resistant to thinking become apparent when one reads a number of the comments on "Stuff White People Like." It tended to foment discord rather than promote discussion. It provoked emotional response and not intellectual reflection. It entertained without informing.
Another reason for my conclusion that the blog represents an example of anti-intellectual influences in the United States is the frequent use of the words "brilliant writing" to describe the entries. Since the writing is clever at best and silly at worst, it would seem to me that the label "brilliant writing" indicates that people aren’t reading examples of better writing. This is not to impugn the writing skills of the author, however, because I don’t think that he really wrote it with the intent of it being a master work of literature. He wrote it to get attention and succeeded remarkably well in that. I would like to sanguinely believe that he is capable of writing Better Stuff and that people will read it when he does.

No comments: