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Tilting at Windmills

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July 14, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

STUFF WHITE PEOPLE LIKE....Writing about the blog Stuff White People Like (now available in book form!), Samhita Mukhopadhyay says in the Prospect that its power comes from the fact that for the first time it explicitly identifies white culture as a culture, not merely the default background of American life:

To be sure, not all white culture has escaped scrutiny. Jeff Foxworthy has been on the comedy circuit (and on TV) for decades. And what about Roseanne, or the Canadian show The Trailer Park Boys, or the Blue Collar Comedy Tour? True, this segment of pop culture examines working-class whiteness, often quite critically. What makes Stuff White People Like special is that it describes relatively wealthy white Americans, and in doing so, recognizes that their particular culture has been mainstreamed and presented by Hollywood as the norm.

I think this might explain why I never really appreciated SWPL much: it's a generational thing. As Mukhopadhyay points out, SWPL isn't really about mocking white people as a whole, it's about mocking white yuppies, and for anyone my age this particular well was drained dry long, long ago. In the 80s and early 90s bookstores devoted entire shelves to books lampooning yuppies, standup comedians had a union rule prohibiting them from going more than 15 consecutive minutes without telling a yuppie joke, and Graydon Carter rode Spy to fame and fortune on the backs of yuppies and Donald Trump.

SWPL takes a different tack than its 80s forebears, and I've got nothing against it. Still, I have a feeling you need to be fairly young to consider this stuff fresh and subversive.

Kevin Drum 2:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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Comments

My sister got lucky, married a yuppie...
-Tom Petty, ca. 1990

Posted by: low-tech cyclist on July 14, 2008 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, you forgot the biggest yuck-fest of all in the yuppie line: BoBo's in Paradise by David Brooks. Light as a feather but funny.

Posted by: JohnMcC on July 14, 2008 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

SWPL is just an update of that obnoxious logo and clothing line "Life Is Good" (R) to "Life Is Good 2.0"

Posted by: bdbd on July 14, 2008 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

Martin Mull's "History of White People in America" covered this ground better because he didn't equate white culture with redneck culture or lower socioeconomic status. This newer approach would be like saying that urban ghetto culture is the sum total of African American experience.

Sociologists do not have the same take on this subject as comedians. Is there some reason why you went there instead of the more serious route?

Posted by: on July 14, 2008 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

SWPL reflects the fact that until the 70's there was really no one white culture. You belonged to your ethnic group (Irish, Italian, WASP) and to your economic level (Boston Brahim, Appalacian hillbilly).

Posted by: Diana on July 14, 2008 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

Our national creed in America forces us to pretend there are no classes, so we have to subliminate class resentments into race and other things, like the concept of yuppies.

When mocking yuppies was all the rage it always amused me that the people most likely to wield the term were themselves what others might call yuppies. It's a contextually flexible definition... really, it just means anyone that makes more money than you do.

Posted by: Wagster on July 14, 2008 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

This guy's conceit of saying "white people" when he means a much smaller group of yuppies/college grads/hipsters/liberals is that he winds up saying contradictory or wrong things.

For example, he asserts that white people worry about why poor people vote Republican. But they don't; they vote Democrat. It's only after you eliminate blacks and Latinos that you can find a group of poor whites who vote for Republicans. Problem is, by this guy's thesis they don't count as white.

Posted by: Joe Buck on July 14, 2008 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

it may be jejune, but i prefer "black people love us.">

your pal,
blake

Posted by: blake on July 14, 2008 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

Still, I have a feeling you need to be fairly young to consider this stuff fresh and subversive.

I'm filing that away for when I'm old enough to need a good passive-aggressive "fuck you, whippersnapper" line.

It's even better than rolling your eyes and saying, "Oh, right, I forgot it was your generation that first discovered sex/drugs/music/Facebook/etc."

Posted by: Matt on July 14, 2008 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

The town I live in is almost all white.

Interestingly, some of the people who live in the newer McMansion subdivisions were unhappy that their children had to pass through less affluent neighborhoods on their way to school. I wish I was making that up, but I'm not.

An African-Amercian family that we've met who have lived in this town for a long time have told us that most of the racism they encounter comes from these same newcomers, not the long-time residents.

Which leads me to the theory that some people are whiter than others. SWPL seems to be aimed at the McMansion crowd. It allows them to remain as smug as ever, and yet admire themselves for their sense of irony.

Posted by: thersites on July 14, 2008 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

The adds in the New Yorker are for SWPL.

Posted by: Brojo on July 14, 2008 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

Here's one making fun of buppies -- Stuff Educated Black People Like:

http://www.stuffebplike.com/

Posted by: Debra on July 14, 2008 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, the problem with your generational claim is that most of the yuppie-lampooning that you mention didn't specifically articulate whiteness and yuppieness, thus simply contributing to the white=mainstream elision.

Posted by: Urk on July 14, 2008 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

It's not so much that it's not fresh and subversive, it's that it's written for white people--what white people like is apparently talking about themselves. Which they can do very comfortably from the seat of white middle class privilege.

Posted by: AB on July 14, 2008 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

Wasn't all this covered in the Official Preppy Handbook, back in 1980? It's even written in a similar faux naif style, though with slightly more of an outsider's perspective (also phony). I find occasional entries humorous, but it gets old fast.

Posted by: RSA on July 14, 2008 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

wasn't the lifestyle/attitude lampooned in the Bel Air family of "Fresh Prince of Bel Air" close to the SWPL catalog?

Posted by: bdbd on July 14, 2008 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

The best book on this sort of thing, though broader, is Paul Fussell's Class. Though written some twenty years ago, it is still relevant.

Posted by: Jeff II on July 14, 2008 at 3:47 PM | PERMALINK

Like Foxworthy, Martin Mull's "History of White People in America" had the advantage of being funny.

And Crusader, the reason it's not racist is it's white people making fun of white people. Richard Pryor's neighborhood characters could say things that would be racist if whites said them but not if blacks say them about themselves. It's a standard exception.

I must say, though, that I have a very high tolerance for ethnic jokes, by anybody about anybody. I'll tell 'em about yours, and you can tell 'em about mine. All they have to be is funny. What's the use of having a friend you can't laugh at?

Posted by: anandine on July 14, 2008 at 3:48 PM | PERMALINK

My favorite "stuff" blog is Stuff Black People Hate:

http://stuffblackpeoplehate.com/

NSFW

Posted by: allbetsareoff on July 14, 2008 at 3:57 PM | PERMALINK

I always though you didn't like it because you exemplified most of the posts on there.

Posted by: MNPundit on July 14, 2008 at 4:46 PM | PERMALINK

My favorite "stuff" blog is Stuff Black People Hate: http://stuffblackpeoplehate.com/ NSFW
Posted by: allbetsareoff

Why? Men in skinny jeans = AIDs victim and vomit? Wow. That be some funny shit, not.

Posted by: Jeff II on July 14, 2008 at 5:06 PM | PERMALINK

For example, he asserts that white people worry about why poor people vote Republican. But they don't; they vote Democrat. It's only after you eliminate blacks and Latinos that you can find a group of poor whites who vote for Republicans. Problem is, by this guy's thesis they don't count as white.

Actually you also have to eliminate poor and/or working class white union workers, Northeasterners, West Coasters, Upper Midwesterners, ethnic Irish, etc., as all of those groups of whites vote Democratic as well.

Posted by: Stefan on July 14, 2008 at 5:26 PM | PERMALINK

I would take what Samhita writes with a huge grain of salt. She demonstrated amply with her Duke writings that she is a racist bigot, doesn't give two cents for "innocent until proven guilty" or due process or equal protection, and if I recall correctly, even after charges were dropped and the students declared innocent, she was still pushing the line that they are actually rapists.

It's galling to me the way we on the left promote bigots and racists from the cesspool of women's studies into actual progressive liberal positions.

Samhita is one reason that the right writes and justifiably so, "There is no hate like liberal hate."

If you had an ounce of brains Kevin, and I do love you for the unoffensive brainless orange curtain guy you are, but if you had an ounce of brains in your blonde haired head, you would not give Samhita the time of day except to tell her to take her crap and pedal it elsewhere.

Posted by: jerry on July 14, 2008 at 5:36 PM | PERMALINK

Samhita is one reason that the right writes and justifiably so, "There is no hate like liberal hate."

This is one reason sane people say and justifiably so, "There is no irony like hate-filled RW irony."

Posted by: Miss Otis on July 14, 2008 at 6:20 PM | PERMALINK

As someone in the target audience, I gotta say SWPL sucks.

It's a picture window into the condescending mindset of a bunch of insecure alienated fucks. These are the folks who come to your party, drink your beer and make fun of your music and your friends.

They'd only listen to some obscure band nobody has ever heard of...

Because they suck at life they feel the need to construct alternative measures of worth...

Posted by: Adam on July 14, 2008 at 8:57 PM | PERMALINK

SWPL is pretty much your typical "anti-elitist" screed, something the likes of Chuck Klosterman or any number of the more sophisticated branch of the so-called "South Park Republicans" might have cooked up. It plays on young white liberals' fears of seeming 'inauthentic' (which is ironic since I believe 'authenticity' is itself one of the things on the list) which is quite pervasive among people I know (I am thirty years old).

It is really just self-hatred. Contrary to what many conservatives like to say, in fact rural white conservatives are no longer the last group of people that can be mocked in polite company. Witness the reaming that Obama got when he ventured even a little bit down this path in Pennsylvania. If "P.C." means anything these days, certainly the reaction of conservatives to Obama's "bitter" statement should be included in the "p.c." realm. But mocking white liberals is still A-OK. (and not just if you ARE one, which I think the SWPL like are, though I'm not sure about the 'liberal' part)

Now I have no doubt that the people writing this SWPL blog actually like quite a few of the things they put on the list. I think it's far more likely these people watch "The Wire", for example, than that they watch "Girlfriends" or "According to Jim" or whatever it is that "non-white" people are supposed to like to watch (which they never explain, tellingly). There is such a thing as objective quality in cultural products, and if believing this makes me an 'elitist' or a 'white person', color me ivory.

What makes me shudder though is how many of my friends buy into this authenticity bullshit and actually decide to be less enthusiastic about something they truly like because it seems 'inauthentic'. But this bullshit about 'authenticity' is nothing but the oldest right-wing trope in the world. In reality, all groups of people in the modern world have moments of authenticity and moments of inauthenticity. In this world, everybody's fakin' it a great deal of the time.

Posted by: kokblok on July 14, 2008 at 9:55 PM | PERMALINK

Crusader,
If you actually read the site, it's not at all clear that the (white) people writing it are "liberal", if anything they seem sort of conservative. So I don't understand the charge of "hypocrisy".

Posted by: kokblok on July 14, 2008 at 10:01 PM | PERMALINK

I think SWPL is a little different from the backlash against yuppies in the 80s. That was a reaction against materialism, wasn't it?

I'd imagine that SWPL would probably jeer the idea of hating yuppies by calling it something that white people do.

This guy's fantasy really is that the liberal things white people do are to some extent motivated by groupthink and ethnic identity. One, it kind of tickles him to imagine that, because he does most of these things on his blog himself, and he thinks his own tendency towards groupthink is funny. And two, he is angry that white liberals might deny that they're motivated by this ethnicity-based groupthink, and see themselves as better than the Red Staters who they dislike for being trapped in ethnicity-based groupthink.

Source:
http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-oe-rodriguez25feb25,0,1952462.column

I think he's an idiot.

By the way, kokblok, you nailed this guy - he's a huge fan of 'The Wire.'

Posted by: DanM on July 15, 2008 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

SWPL always makes me sad because it identifies my lack of connection to my whiteness.

Posted by: GL on July 15, 2008 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

Boy, there sure are a lot of funny comments here.

Posted by: Steve Sailer on July 16, 2008 at 3:49 AM | PERMALINK

thersites:
But of course, it's the new McMansion arrivals who would feel the greatest need to assert their newfound status by dumping on the trailer trash and coloreds. Those secure in their socioeconomic status don't need to play these games; see Fussell's Class, recommended above.

Anonymous (on July 14 at 2:14 PM):
Martin Mull's "History of White People in America" covered this ground better because he didn't equate white culture with redneck culture or lower socioeconomic status. This newer approach would be like saying that urban ghetto culture is the sum total of African American experience.

1.) SWPL doesn't "equare white culture with redneck culture or lower socioeconomic status", either; on the contrary, it defines "whiteness" almost entirely in terms of the stereotypical culture of affluent, educated blue-state progressives.

2.) As a matter of fact, a great many people *do* equate African-American culture with "urban ghetto culture".

DanM:
I think SWPL is a little different from the backlash against yuppies in the 80s. That was a reaction against materialism, wasn't it?
Not so much materialism as such, but the type of naked and obvious status-seeking (of which a lot of materialism is certainly a part) which tends to piss off everyone above and below the "climbers" and thus provides an easy target for satire.

Besides, the stereotypical '80s-style yuppie was more likely to be a Republican anyway (think "Alex P. Keaton").

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