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Why White People Like 'Stuff White People Like'

When black people dance, they dance like this. But when white people dance, they dance like this.

You have now essentially experienced every episode of “The Arsenio Hall Show.” You have also now essentially read the entirety of Stuff White People Like, a comedic blog which may have recently popped up in your inbox, forwarded to you by an enthusiastic friend (him or herself no doubt, like the blog’s author, white).

For those few who haven’t yet seen it, read about it in the Los Angeles Times, or heard about it on NPR, the blog was created by a 29-year-old aspiring comedy writer in L.A. and it is, by its own description, “devoted to stuff white people like,” presented as numbered, encyclopedia-style entries, e.g. #1 Coffee; #5 Farmer’s Markets; #69 Mos Def; or #79 Modern Furniture.

A few observers have already pointed out, rightly, that Stuff White People Like isn’t about white people in general, but rather about a very specific demographic sliver of left-leaning, city-dwelling white folk--in other words, people like me. These people have previously been trapped and tagged alternately as yuppies, or Bobos, or (by yours truly in New York magazine) grups. Basically, they embody the uneasy marriage of urban affluence and liberal (and/or progressive, and/or alternative, and/or “indie”) ideals. For example, there are plenty of white people in America who fairly obviously don’t like (#15) yoga or (#46) The Sunday New York Times or (#28) not having a TV. But it’s much funnier and, at least on its face, more original to say “White People” rather than “Yuppies.” I mean, if someone sent you a link to a blog called “Stuff Bobos Like,” would you even open it, let alone forward it to all your Bobo friends?

But if this blog is such a piquant satire of white liberal cultural mores and hypocrisies, then why do so many white people like Stuff White People Like? I imagine the most common reaction among its readers is summed up by one rhapsodic commenter: “Oh, lord, it only hurts because it’s true!” And that’s the problem. The reason the phrase “it’s funny because it’s true” has become a shorthand for things that are neither (a) funny nor (b) particularly true is because humor is rarely truly satirical when its targets also make up the bulk of its audience. Or, if it is, the audience doesn’t tend to find it funny. Think Colbert skewering Bush at the White House press corps dinner. I don’t remember Dick Cheney slapping his knee and shouting “Oh lord it only hurts because it’s true!” Instead, with this brand of comedy, the goal is to comfort, rather than challenge or disturb, the audience. (Other things widely known to be funny-because-they’re-true: Britney Spears is a bad mom; cats are standoffish, while dogs are blindly loyal; women love shopping, while men can’t get enough sex. Are you with me? The ladies know what I’m talking about!)

Which might be why, even as an admitted yoga-practicing, public-radio-listening, Wrigley Field-visiting, Wes Anderson-movie-watching, Arrested Development-championing white dude--i.e. someone squarely in the targets of Stuff White People Like--I don’t feel even mildly chastened about yoga, NPR, Wes Anderson, or Arrested Development after reading this blog. In fact, all the site’s entries, while superficially chiding, can actually be divided into three very comforting categories:

1) Entries that don’t reflect your lifestyle choices (in my case: going nuts on St. Patrick’s Day, running marathons), and therefore make you feel superior.

2) Entries that do reflect your lifestyle choices (Apple products, recycling), and therefore make you feel like you’re in on the joke, and that you’re good-humored enough to laugh at yourself (you know--like Gene Simmons!), and therefore make you feel superior.

3) Entries that nod to commonly held comic stereotypes (white people like assists in basketball and standing still at concerts), and therefore, because you recognize them, make you feel superior.

It’s fitting, then, that many of the entries end with a variation on the same joke. For example, #86 Shorts (“When you encounter a cold white person in shorts it’s best to say ‘I can’t wait until it’s warm enough to go windsurfing.’ They will likely give you a high five.”) and #73 Gentrification (“[S]ay, ‘Whoa, it’s pretty rough down there. I don’t think I could live there.’ This will make them feel even better about their credibility and status as neighborhood pioneers”) and #61 Bicycles (“[G]ive a thumbs up. That white person will ride home on a cloud”). Basically, this joke breaks down as “Congratulate a white person and they will feel smugly good about themselves.” It’s the perfect go-to punchline for Stuff White People Like, because it’s really what the site is all about. Because if there’s one thing white people really like, it’s pretending to poke fun at themselves while actually being allowed to feel superior.

Adam Sternbergh is an editor-at-large at New York and the co-author of Hey! It’s That Guy: The Guide To Character Actors.

By Adam Sternbergh