November 27, 2010
Blogger/Author Christian Lander was in Toronto to promote his new book and sequel to Stuff White People Like, Whiter Shades of Pale.
There is no limit, apparently, to the stuff white people like — or, for that matter, the capacity to make fun of the cultural proclivities of middle-class, liberal Caucasians.
In the three years since Christian Lander launched his popular blog ( www.stuffwhitepeoplelike.com ), the site has piled up nearly 75 million hits, in the process spinning off a best selling book of the same name and yielding a seemingly endless litany of imitators focused on the tendencies of other demographic groups.
Lander, 32, who grew up in Toronto’s Riverdale neighbourhood and has been living in Los Angeles for the past four years, has toured the world promoting the book and lecturing on the subject. His travels have yielded a follow-up volume, Whiter Shades of Pale , which sub-categorizes white preferences into U.S. geographic regions, with a bit of Canada and Europe tossed into the mix.
We caught up with him during a recent promotional stop in Toronto.
Q: To what extent is any of your work is this based on research?
A: It’s humour, not sociology. The research is looking in the mirror. I’m making fun of myself, more than anything else. But all the best humour comes from an element of truth. So the research is really just listening to my friends and paying attention to their Facebook and Twitter feeds, just trying to keep my finger on the pulse of what they are liking.
Q: It’s interesting that Toronto and Montreal are personified by different genders. In the illustrations that accompany the text, the typical white Torontonian is depicted as a young male wearing a kickball T-shirt, while the Montrealer is a funky looking young woman.
A: I grew up in Toronto but went to McGill. Montreal is just such a cool city. Painfully cool. So to me, Montreal always had that feminine quality. It is that girl who is in a band you’ve never heard of, who speaks perfect French and is just so out of reach. And the Toronto one had to be a male because the thing I’m making the most fun of is myself.
Q: You are a little hard on Toronto.
A: It’s what anyone from Toronto would do. Toronto is a self-deprecating city, which is one of the things I love about it and one of the things I dislike about Vancouver or California. People there have this attitude that they are living in the best place in the world. I hate that attitude. Torontonians are more like: Yes, this is a great place, but it’s a big world out there.
Q: And Vancouver? You present Vancouver as having a lot in common with a lot of other west-coast cities that are American, like Portland or San Francisco.
A : The joke is that Vancouver out-whited all of the major cities along the west coast. It out-yoga-ed L.A. It out-outdoorsed Seattle. And no one seems to have a job there. Everyone seems to have a lot of free time to stretch, go skiing and camping, walk up Grouse Mountain, whatever they want.
Q: What’s the secret to your blog’s successful migration to traditional publishing?
A: For a blog to become a good book, the blog really needs to reflect a writer, not just an aggregation of content. The ones that work well for books are the ones where there’s a single voice and where the posts are long form, like 400 words, which is War and Peace for the Internet.
Q: Is the audience the same?
A: A lot of the people who go to the website like the book, but I’ve done a lot of signings and writers festivals where people had no clue there was a website.
Q: You’ve spawned a lot of imitators.
A: It’s been awesome to see so many of them spring up. There’s been so many of them. The list is through the roof. Stuff Asian People Like. Stuff Black People Like. Stuff Latinos Like. Stuff Gay People Like. Stuff Gay Parents Like. Stuff Hollywood Assistants Like. Stuff Unemployed People Like. Stuff Midwesterners Like, which was actually turned into a book and got published. Stuff Christians Like, which was also turned into a book and got published. Stuff Hipsters Hate was turned into a book and got published. I was flipping through it the other day and there was zero acknowledgement of where they got the idea from.
Q: Does that bother you?
A: It would be nice if they credited where they got the idea from. But I can’t copyright the concept and I wouldn’t even try. I grew up with the Internet. And I believe in the whole free exchange of ideas. A lot of that stuff has actually helped me because most people do credit where they got the idea from, so all these other sites make it feel a little more like a big deal. And I can’t write Stuff Black People Like or Stuff Asians Like, so it’s fantastic that other people are filling the void.