To an uncomfortable degree, Christian Lander has our number.
Lander is the creator of the wildly popular humor blog “Stuff White People Like,” which spawned a book of the same name. Both are dedicated to exhaustively detailing the obsessions and predilections of upper-middle-class liberal whites, from “This American Life” to indie rock, Toyota Priuses to “standing still at concerts.”
For his second book, “Whiter Shade of Pale,” Lander decided to go regional, focusing on those U.S. cities that are particularly strong breeding grounds for his key demo.
The first one he mentions in the foreword? Madison, Wisconsin.
“Madison, Wisconsin, is a great place to raise children if you don’t have any ambition,” he writes at one point.
“Where do I start?” Lander responded in a phone interview from Los Angeles, when asked what it is that makes Madison so blindingly white. “It’s Madison, Wis. The Onion, the university. It’s on two lakes — it’s not even on one lake! Bob La Follette. Just the NPR-ness of it all. It’s hard to even know where to start. It’s like a chicken and the egg thing.”
Lander says he loves Madison, along with Portland, Ore.; Boulder, Colo.; San Francisco, Asheville, N.C., and all the other white-friendly cities he writes about in his new book, which includes illustrated guides to the native species of each city.
He’ll get a chance to revisit the town when he reads from and signs copies of “Whiter Shade of Pale” Tuesday, Jan. 18, at 7 p.m. at Borders, 3750 University Ave.
Lander started the “Stuff White People Like” website in 2008 (Entry No. 1: Coffee) mostly for the amusement of himself and a few friends. The site’s popularity skyrocketed, he was able to quit his job at an ad agency, and the first book came out that fall.
At every step of the way, Lander always expected that that step would be as far as he could take the concept. But with a second book on shelves, he’s just surprised and pleased that it’s gone as far as it has.
“When you find some quick success from Internet fame, if you think it’s going to last forever, you’re in for a horrible, horrible rude awakening,” he says. “I’m amazed that I’ve had it this long.”
When asked why, with all the books, movies, clothing lines and other cultural options available, so many white people seem to be drawn to the same few things, Lander has a theory. He posits that his generation no longer has to worry about striving for material success, so they’ve shifted their avarice in another direction.
“We’re still as competitive as ever, but we’re not competing over money anymore,” he says. “We’re competing over different cultural capital. ‘Look how smart I am! Look how progressive I am! Look how green I am!’ It’s still about the self, but now it’s about ‘Look how altruistic I am!’ and wanting to get credit for that. So we love products that make us feel like that.”
Lander says that, for the most part, readers seem to get the self-deprecating sensibility behind his project. Occasionally he will get angry missives from people charging that he’s being racist in making fun of white people. (And, for the record, he notes that plenty of nonwhite people share the same obsessions.)
“The one thing that I get the most is that tea party rage, people who think it’s reverse discrimination,” he says. “People who are like, ‘Why is it okay to make fun of white people and it’s not okay to make fun of other races?’ That kind of attitude, that’s come through a lot.”
Lander isn’t sure if there will be a third “White People” book; he recently was hired as a writer for a television show, a job he’s coveted since he was a kid. He’s part of the staff of the animated MTV show “Good Vibes,” which will premiere this fall and has director David Gordon Green (“Pineapple Express”) as executive producer.
He says he’s enjoying adapting to the collaborative approach of television writing, where a group of writers will spitball ideas and jokes back and forth in a room together.
“The first thing you have to do is check any sort of ego you have at the door,” he says. “Ultimately, everybody’s writing every episode. You realize that you have to work towards the goal of the best possible script, and not to make sure you get your jokes in. I love it.”