It all started with The Wire. Christian Lander and his friend Miles, a Filipino and non-Wire watcher, were pondering what—if anything—the handful of white people not held prisoner by the HBO series could possibly be doing if they weren’t huddled in their Craftsman homes, glued to their flat-screens, sipping organic green tea, and hanging on Detective McNulty’s every word. Perhaps they were going to yoga. Maybe they were at therapy. Maybe they were busy filing for divorce.
Either way, Wire-less white folks must have been doing something, and Lander, a Ph.D dropout and former ad-agency monkey, began compiling a list of what those distinctly white activities could be. The next day he e-mailed the list to all of his friends. Weeks later, the website he created, StuffWhitePeopleLike.com, became a full-blown meme (that’s white-speak for “fast-spreading inside joke”). Soon, Lander was fielding calls from literary agents, and before he knew it, he’d quit his day job as an L.A. copywriter to work on the book, Stuff White People Like. In preparation for his upcoming Minneapolis appearance, Decider grilled the author on his future plans and impressions of Minnesota whiteness. (See also—and add to—Decider’s own list of Stuff White Minnesotans Like.)
Decider: Your book has become a bestseller. Are there plans to do a follow-up? Like, maybe Stuff White People Don’t Like?
Christian Lander: Only if I can include on the list “white people who are not like them.” No, the book thing has been fantastic. But there is no way to follow it up. I have no plans to do another book. My dream since a little kid was to be a comedy writer in TV or film. I want to pursue that. And if that doesn’t work out, I can always go back to copywriting.
D: So what would be your dream comedy-writing gig? Anyone you’re dying to work with?
CL: When I was a kid, I loved Bill Murray and The Kids In The Hall. I love Conan O’Brien, Stephen Colbert, Wes Anderson. All of the dream stuff that white people would say—those would be my answers.
D: Let’s talk about your book tour. Is it fair to say we can add the book and the tour to the list of Stuff White People Like?
CL: It’s funny what I’ve noticed since doing these readings: It’s not all white people there. Not everyone is white, but they all seem like they’re from the same class. There are a lot of older people there, too. It’s sort of surprising, but a lot of boomers and seniors come out to the readings.
D: Speaking of class, the web site is mostly about things that are exclusionary or exclusive, mainly stuff that hip, urban, middle-class white people like. Why do you think that is?
CL: Well, being white is fundamentally about privilege. And the book points that out. Humor works when you point out the ridiculousness in something. That was the intent—to make those things obvious. White [affluence] is a very specific type of affluence. It’s sort of a self-focused affluence.
D: So liking this stuff also says something about your income bracket.
CL: Yeah. I think so. And I am obviously very critical of myself on this, but I am pointing these things out for the sake of humor. These things are very real. If you have the time to care about what your chickens are eating when they’re laying their eggs, you have to have a sort of level of affluence. I grew up in Toronto and had a lot of ESL students at my school. And I remember a lot of third-generation Chinese kids at my high school were accused of “acting white” when they started caring about things like this. So it definitely is about a certain type or level of affluence.
D: What have you noticed about different regions and cities? Does a place like Minnesota have its own unique dimensions of whiteness? Or do we just like to think we’re different here?
CL: I haven’t been to Minnesota since I was 12. But at my readings, I like to talk about things that are very specific to the place. What do they like [in Minnesota]? Scarves? I would guess there are a lot of scarves because it’s really cold. Are they outdoorsy?
D: Depends on the type. For city folks, shopping at REI can be enough to pass for outdoorsy.
CL: Man, I hate that outdoors stuff. That’s the one thing on the list I hate. It’s like white people love the outdoors and environmentalism, but they’ll drive their gas-powered four-wheel drives to the campground. I admit that I like almost everything else on the list but that. But I do need to start researching Minnesota more. Usually I can get off the plane and just get a feel for it right away. Really, white people are the same everywhere. I am sure I will be able to figure it out.