Re: My thought on whiteness

1

Abusing posting privileges like this should get you banned.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 9:12 AM
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FL, I've never considered you a white person with a PhD.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 9:18 AM
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So, I think this is not quite right. The humor comes from funny, accurate, and at times heavy handed, mockery of a certain segment of the culture: the younger Bobo set. You can see mixture of heavy-handedness and dead-on hilarity operates within the Obama entry. The picture is hilarious. The text over-the-top and unfunny. But a lot of the text is funny: e.g., home renovations: white people :: mecca: muslims.

As to why it's called "stuff white people like" -- this is just a very, very shrewd choice of rhetorical cudgel. Sure, young Apple-using, macrobiotic-eating bobos are just a small segment of white people; but being white is lame along just the cultural and ethical axes which the satirical target finds salient, and through which the target group seeks to differentiate itself ("I'm not white like a boring Republican middle-manager, I work for a non-profit and listen to Rilo Kelley!"). As I say, shrewd.


Posted by: baa | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 9:22 AM
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White people like choosing who gets to be president.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 9:22 AM
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But the moralistic text often suggests that there damn well is a better way to go, and it's just not the white-culture way.

Virtually all stereotype humor is based on denigration, and merely subtextual denigration is about as subtle as it gets. To fit the archetype, the blog needs to create the suggestion that these ways are somehow wrong. And the strawman white person they're knocking over is actually wrong in some ways, just like the black strawmen, asian strawmen, hispanic strawmen and strawwomen of a million "ain't they crazy?" jokes.

Anytime the familiar is being portrayed as the ridiculous, which you say is the source of the humor, is there any way to resist seeing those who choose the ridiculous path as a bit sad, a bit weird, a bit self-aggrandizing or self-defeating (depending on how precisely their actions are ridiculous)? That is how this humor is inherently insulting.

And as for the claim that this doesn't address "whiteness", let's face it, rich-ass overeducated self-satisfied cosmopolitans like us (or at least me) are overwhelmingly associated with whiteness, because whiteness is privilege and privilege is wealth and the ability to pretend that you really care about deep issues instead of spending every day personally affected by them. Also, on preview, what baa said.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 9:24 AM
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I also say shrewd, and awesome, but for the real and unfortunate lapses in voice. It's the faux sociological precision and detachment, familiar made unfamiliar, blah blah, that makes the site funny but the text too has the potential to be shrewd in that it identifies the other by points of omission and emphasis.


Posted by: Armsmasher | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 9:31 AM
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So, basically, you read my comments and make posts stealing my ideas. I should get a footnote at least.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 9:32 AM
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White people love to plagiarize [,] Cala.

There's a fine line but a line nonetheless between the "let me portray your folkways as absurd" sort of thing and the "let me tell you why you're wrong to do this" sort of thing. The latter is less funny because, as many people have noted, recycling and netflix are actually ok.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 9:47 AM
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So, basically, you read my comments and make posts stealing my ideas. I should get a footnote at least.

FL wants the OBoobma shirt.


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 9:47 AM
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Ironically-- haha-- the failing of the text is a white failing, isn't it? "I'm right! I am so correct!": such an uptight white sensibility.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 9:49 AM
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There's a fine line but a line nonetheless between the "let me portray your folkways as absurd" sort of thing and the "let me tell you why you're wrong to do this" sort of thing.

My sense is that it's "our" folkways, and that the blogger is depending, a little bit, on our natural tendency to give members of a group more leeway to criticize the group than we give outsiders.

The latter is less funny because, as many people have noted, recycling and netflix are actually ok.

There is always the chance that any joke will overreach, but--as many have pointed out--"white people," meaning the NPR, latte-drinking crowd, is the safest group about whom to overreach.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:01 AM
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The awesome thing about "things white people like" is that it's totally recursive--you read the list of lame things about white people and then, as do many liberal hipsters, resolve not to be lame. But then everything you touch turns into just one more lame thing that white people like. There's no way out of structural inequality through aestheticized politics. If you get that, that's useful.

Although I tend to think that "lame things about white people" lists are bad for white people--when white people get really into that kind of thing, they just keep their focus straight on white people and our precious little feelings. Remember when "whiteness studies" was new! and radical!? Even then, as young white punks sat earnestly in circles talking about race traitors, I could see where things were going, which was about where they always go.

There's also sort of a letting-off-the-hook involved, where the "cool" response for a white person is to participate, to say, "yes, white people are so lame! Look at me and my cushy administrative job and my neo-prog rock!" Like by acknowledging that whiteness can be studied it's then neatly filed into a "whoops, structural, nothing I can do about it" category.

This is, by the way, only an argument that white people should watch out about reaestheticizing racial inequality, not an argument against "why white people are lame" lists.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:02 AM
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I bet Stras writes that blog.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:07 AM
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13: Not enough outrage.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:11 AM
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This will probably be a bit redundant with the prior thread, but I was busy moving my standing mixer out of the kitchen so I could renovate (no joke!).

Anyway, after some initial amusement, my reaction to the site broke down into 2 or 3 parts:

1. Not actually very funny. At least half the posts (I read/skimmed ~2/3 of them) don't have any discernible joke other than "white folks are lame, they do this thing, which is therefore lame, and so white people are lame to do it." Yes, going outdoors or to the ocean are inherently lame, and therefore funny. Uh huh.

2. A lot of have-it-both-ways. Think that the Daily Show is informative? Stupid! Listen to NPR? Dull! Ha ha, white people, always so stupid and dull. Related to this is the presumption, mentioned on the prior thread, that some other folkway is plainly superior, but the white folks insist on doing it their own, inferior way. For instance, apparently, not talking about TV shows is inherently boring. Meanwhile, there are lame, and plainly lampoonable, things about the Apple cult, but claiming that there's no actual merit to Macs? Dumb, and unsupported.

3. Pretty scattershot. Tim is I guess right that it doesn't have to be all funny/on target to be worthwhile, but it struck me as not having been thought out carefully enough. Is it mocking hipsters? Is it mocking yuppies? It doesn't know, and because it doesn't know, it doesn't distinguish. Whole Foods shoppers with Kitchenaids don't have "white trash" parties. Indie music lovers don't make pilgrimages to Wrigley. I don't actually know anybody who thinks that their personal travels would make a good book. Satire has to be well-observed to be effective.

I agree that the tips for getting along with white people are probably the best part, because then there's a focus on the mockery - these people are so predictable and hidebound that they can be conned - plus it's a lot pithier. Faux-anthropology is pretty played out (see Milbank's apparently awful Homo Politicus), but it might have been better with some kind of cohesive overarching (or underlying!) conceit.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:19 AM
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Hmm, I agree with a lot of that. Maybe I'm just defensive about watching Chapelle via netflix.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:25 AM
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Labs is right.


Posted by: mrh | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:25 AM
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This town is 97% white, and the remainder might as well be white, and you don't see many of these behaviors here. Exceptions: recycling, dogs, and sitting quietly at concerts. But the dogs are different, more hillbillyish dogs. And you do have a small amount of Norwegian-culture stuff and a few Goths.

So you see, this is the same old anti-yuppy thing, except that there's an added twist of accusing non-white yuppies of being white. Zing!!!!


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:25 AM
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OT, but apparently Kosovo has declared its independence.


Posted by: mrh | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:27 AM
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So you see, this is the same old anti-yuppy thing, except that there's an added twist of accusing non-white yuppies of being white. Zing!!!!

Oh, the tragedy of it all! Oh, the humanity!


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:27 AM
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12: Pretty much all of my inchoate disturbed-ness about this can be summed up as "What Frowner said." Although I kind of see the 'letting off the hook' function as more powerful for a lot of white readers of something like that: (1) White people are advantaged by structural racism; (2) Here's a list of 'things white people like', identifying 'white people' as affluent young cosmopolitan hippies; (3) Hey, I'm not like that, I make fun of people like that; guess I'm not 'white' in the meaningful sociological sense, rather than the skin color sense; therefore (4) structural racism is neither my problem nor my responsibility. Isn't this new post-racial world a trip!

But, that's assuming people are writing and reading stuff like that naively and in kind of bad faith, which they probably mostly aren't.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:29 AM
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Even then, as young white punks sat earnestly in circles talking about race traitors, I could see where things were going, which was about where they always go.

It's a pity that it took those assault and harassment convictions to show Frowner which way things were going, though.

Frowner has left her neo-Nazi past far behind her and we shouldn't taunt her about it. Especially because,you know, she's snapped in the past and could snap again.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:29 AM
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But then, I guess there's something worthwhile in these lists if only because they so persistently make the rich and well-culturally-capitalized so uncomfortable. I kind of like them because there is no good position for a white person to take on them, no matter the rhetorical leap you try to take. They work very neatly.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:31 AM
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Hey, I'm not like that, I make fun of people like that; guess I'm not 'white' in the meaningful sociological sense, rather than the skin color sense

21: If you had to classify the reaction here, would it be more like the above or more like, "I like my stand mixer"?


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:32 AM
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I agree with 3.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:32 AM
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Emerson, your age is showing. "Race traitor" was a term of praise--when one (usually someone who lived in the twenties or thirties) successfully shed his or her alliance to "whiteness" in the service of a good cause. There was a zine called "Race Traitor" for a while--it was actually pretty good. (This was only maybe back in the mid-nineties, but I know you old folks mostly remember your youth, Emerson.)


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:33 AM
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23: actually, one position that worked well for me is thinking, haha, yes, you can make a snide list but I can afford nice things.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:34 AM
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"Oh, we don't read naively or in bad faith, which is why it's no problem that racial (and through other racialized categories, class) inequalities persist, because we have the right reading." That's the problem with these lists--that the problem becomes one of the morally or aesthetically correct reading. But that's how people tried to digest Brecht, too, IIRC.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:35 AM
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Back in Portland it was only about 15 years ago that the people talking about race traitors were Nazis. It may be that some of my son's friends (SHARP skinheads) were avowed race traitors.

There's nothing wrong with having been a Nazi if you've reformed, Frowner. You can trust us here.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:36 AM
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Following on #24, see #27.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:37 AM
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Presumably the blog author is a yuppie who can also afford nice things?


Posted by: Barbar | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:37 AM
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There's also sort of a letting-off-the-hook involved, where the "cool" response for a white person is to participate, to say, "yes, white people are so lame! Look at me and my cushy administrative job and my neo-prog rock!" Like by acknowledging that whiteness can be studied it's then neatly filed into a "whoops, structural, nothing I can do about it" category.

White administrators like prog, not punk, eh Frowner?


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:37 AM
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29: We're more sophisticated here in Minnesota, Emerson. Also, I assume that the initial point was to bug the Nazis. There's an awful lot of Anti-Racist Action stuff where the initial and unacknowledged goal was to mix it up with the skinhead punks. Which isn't to say that nothing useful came out of it, though.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:38 AM
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29: Can we do trust-falls electronically?


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:38 AM
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(I find Frowner's worries implausible, you see.)


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:38 AM
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Tim: yes indeed. I will die in the last ditch for my netflix. (I mean, seriously, of all the lame things about whiteness...)


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:39 AM
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32: Musically sophisticated administrators, w-lfs-n. Punk, as we've established recently, is too dull for words. (And I'm an administrative assistant--there's a world of difference in terms of respect, salary, retirement packages and sick time. I might conceivably make the leap to administration, but I sort of doubt it--you get tracked pretty early in the university system.)

I've been kind of curious about prog rock lately, though.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:39 AM
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21: Thing is, the alternative seems to be "Oh, I don't see color. White is default."


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:40 AM
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Clearly, of course, we're all talking about different groups of white people--the things that bug me about the white activist left (particularly people like me and my pals who have come to some terms with the system in the interests of laziness and insurance) are probably slightly different than the things that would annoy me about the white academics w-lfs-n hangs around with. But I'm sure I could find something to annoy me.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:41 AM
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24: would it be more like the above or more like, "I like my stand mixer"?

There wasn't one reaction, there were several. I wouldn't say anyone here was reading naively or in bad faith, because this is teh Unfogged comments section and we're better than that. But for people who found it uncomplicatedly funny, I think there was some aspect of "God, those people (not "we")really are absurd." For humor like that to hit home and really be funny when it's about you, it has to hit stuff that you're at least a little ashamed of, and lots of this stuff really isn't anything to be ashamed of. I like my stand mixer too; someone who thought that bit was funny is someone who doesn't have a stand mixer they enjoy cooking with.

So one possible audience for this sort of thing is white people who get to look at "Hey, check out those other white people over there. Those are the real honkies, not me."


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:43 AM
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31: It's screaming 'grad student' to me. But whatever the specifics, it's not someone who is on the outside poking fun while wishing they could have their own KitchenAid stand.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:44 AM
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I'm fascinated by how "we really are absurd" is itself a reaction of privilege.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:45 AM
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41 contradicts 40 without seeing it! I rule! My wine is from Chile and wears Michigan like a hat!

Also, the Unfogged commentariat could be the new source for conflict-free diamonds.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:46 AM
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Did anyone read the comments sections? That was what convinced me that the whole thing was a worthwhile project--not, admittedly, because of their brilliant sparkly insight.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:46 AM
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Yeah, Cala's on to something with the grad student thing. At least to my eye there's a significant amount of resentment there in conjunction with a lot of awareness of cultural capital. Someone in the SWPL comments argues for an asian author.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:46 AM
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37: I know what you are, and I assumed you were being snide about people with administrative positions.

I think the white academics I hang around with are probably not what Frowner imagines them to be, by and large.

I don't see the force of Frowner's or LB's critiques because very little of what the site's mocking is directly connected with white-people-as-oppressors or anything like that. It would be very strange for someone to say "those people who ride fixies are the real honkies for the purposes of institutional racism". That's just obviously ridiculous and not true.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:48 AM
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36: Labs, it's precisely because both the named and, as Babar notes, the author can take the attitude in #27 that it's OK to make broad jokes about them (oh, hell: us). There's something weird about the most fortunate not being able to take a joke. But thankfully, it's also sincerely funny, too, because the defense of humorlessness is being made in earnest NPR fashion. I await the reappraisal of comedies of manners as just plain wrong.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:48 AM
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It's totally a grad student. I could be the author if I were clever.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:49 AM
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There's something weird about the most fortunate not being able to take a joke

ding ding ding


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:49 AM
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The thing is, w-lfs-n, I read the site as very much about certain conversations (about structural racism, the intersections of class and race, etc.) that happen amongst white leftists--consider the entries on veganism and various lefty-lefty things. The one about white people who are sympathetic to immigrants but don't like to mix with them might be written about, honestly, a big slice of the white activist community.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:52 AM
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Tim, that will be broadcast right after Delicious Dish.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:52 AM
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But then everything you touch turns into just one more lame thing that white people like.

I doubt that this has much to do with an awareness, suppressed or otherwise, of white privilege. People dislike being pigeonholed. If somebody can figure out from my ZIP code and age what kind of beer I drink and who I'm going to vote for, then I'm lame, and I'm lame because I'm captured by a few generic criteria. Seems to me that everyone wants to avoid being categorized like that.


Posted by: Michael Vanderwheel, B.A. | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:54 AM
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49: But the answer isn't one big "ha ha, it's a great joke, anonymous brown graduate student. Let's all have a chortle about race!" In general, white people responding to humor about white people results in an intensification of contradictions that I find really appealing. Not in general because it shows white folks at our finest, though.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:54 AM
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49: Yeah, again, I'm still working on those organically produced conflict-free diamonds. The not being able to take a joke aspect of it, for me, comes from not knowing who's making the joke. While I could be totally wrong, it smells to me like white guy (or bunch thereof) with a professional job or generally in the professional class making fun of other white people for pretending to care about shit.

Eh. There are enough people making fun of DFH's out there that I'm not crazy about more of it.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:55 AM
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Seems to me that everyone wants to avoid being categorized like that.

Sadly, everyone is like that, myself included. We're just not that special.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:56 AM
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There are enough people making fun of DFH's out there that I'm not crazy about more of it.

Stand mixers--and I'm sure that if I baked, I would want one--don't seems o DFH to me. I think you're misreading the target of the joke.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:57 AM
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But if it's true, what's your criticism? Any pointing out of the truth of that claim can allow some people to act as if their ability to recognize this defect in others magically excused them from examining themselves. Whether it's pointed out in terms of whiteness or not doesn't make a difference; you could just say "immigration activists".

One of the effects of pointing out that sort of hypocrisy in a satirical way can often be that the person reading the satire is brought to consider him/herself in the same light: the criticism is essentially that these people aren't very self-aware, and mocking someone else for his/her lack of self-awareness can, I think, get you to think, well, is there something I'm overlooking in myself? Not in every case, lord knows! But as our lord and saviour observed, the obtuse we will always have with us.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:58 AM
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57 to 50, you see.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:58 AM
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"ha ha, it's a great joke, anonymous brown graduate student. Let's all have a chortle about race!"

So who says it's a brown graduate student?


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:59 AM
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It seems a great sin that no one has used "reify" in comments. This speaks not well of us, people.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:01 AM
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56: Yeah, I think the rhetorical position is to accuse people who think of themselves as DFH's (recycling, biking to work, world music) as really being consumerist yuppies (stand mixers, home renovations), and being lousy hypocrites for it. And of course there are some people who deserve to be mocked in precisely that fashion -- I'd just rather I was sure that it was coming from someone giving them shit for not being more sincerely concerned or effective, rather than for being DFH's at all.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:02 AM
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You know what was funny? LB's comment in the previous thread about coffee and Dominicans. I think SCTM understands.


Posted by: Barbar | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:03 AM
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54: It's really striking me as a person who is part of that group, maybe not owning all of the possessions named but knows people who do, is comfortable within that group and nevertheless finds them all a little insufferable at times. Like I said, it's screaming 'grad student' to me.

Who's the target? The guy who will vote for Barack Obama and thinks it proves America has gotten beyond race, but won't walk down that street because it takes him past the fried chicken place where there are black people. DFHs aren't the target. People playing DFH on the weekends when they're not renovating their kitchens are.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:05 AM
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57: See, w-lfs-n, I've had so many conversations with well-meaning white people that boil down to "ha ha white people--yes me too--are teh lame" and I've seen the amazing rhetorical somersaults that white folks in general will perform to avoid translating any kind of satire/self-criticism into action of even the most minor sort. There's a whole lot of ways to talk through "white people are lame", but I've never found one I thought did any good.

And since I don't particularly care for structural inequality or racism, I tend to see these conversations (particularly the way they play out among liberals) as a way of not talking about specific policies and material conditions. It's easy to say "oh, we've got to have humor and wit and joy in our politics"--who doesn't agree with that? But I have zero faith in the various white-activist movements I've seen to restore humor, wit, etc to politics--I've seen now three separate waves of this argument among activists since about 1992, and each time it's been stupid and useless.

(Anecdotally, I recall seeing a meticulously white woman wearing a "Kill Whitey" tee shirt at an activist party attended exclusively by white people (most of whom are no longer very political) back in 2000.)

Again, I think this is a different-groups-of-white-people problem.

And of course your friends would be different from what I expect--I know you only as pixels.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:06 AM
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The site is very hit-or-miss, more miss than hit (better on the topics than the text). I suspect the author is an Asian geek who grew up within upper middle class white culture but could never really get the good looking girls (the source of most bitter comedy). It also trips over the sheer catholicity of "white" culture (the list includes pot and hip hop...black people don't like those things, no!).

What's useful about it is that as Frowner says it undermines the use of culture as a means of denying race or class position. Upper middle class yuppies *are* building a better lifestyle, and using their wealth and freedom to do it. We ought to take pride in that, not cloak it around with layers of fake subversion and stupid left wing guilt. "Our food tastes better, our lifestyle feels better, come on in", is a better subtext of a message than "I hate America and secretly hate myself therefore I'll hypocritically trumpet my fake self-denial".

With the exception of NPR. NPR sucks.


Posted by: PerfectlyGoddamnDelightful | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:08 AM
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61: Further, I think the questions about what perspective it's written from kind of explain why Megan and Frowner are happier with it than I am -- both come from social worlds where something like this would be vastly more likely to be making fun of DFH's for being insincere in their leftwingness because they should be more leftwing. Almost anyone I know in real life who'd find this funny (as opposed to not getting it at all) would find it funny because thinking riding a bike is a good thing to do at all makes you a ridiculous person.

(Had a terrifying close encounter with a bicyclist driving the kids to swimming this morning. I was double-parked for a moment picking up my mother, and the biker was passing me and cutting in front of me just as I started to pull ahead again. I was wrong -- I should have seen her when I checked my mirrors and just missed her somehow -- but I got within six inches of her.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:08 AM
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DFHs aren't the target. People playing DFH on the weekends when they're not renovating their kitchens are.

Right. That's a particularly concise description.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:09 AM
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Anecdotally, I recall seeing a meticulously white woman wearing a "Kill Whitey" tee shirt at an activist party attended exclusively by white people

Fuck her. I'd kick somebody out of my house for wearing something like that.


Posted by: PerfectlyGoddamnDelightful | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:11 AM
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63, 67: Yeah, if that's it, I'm reading it wrong. I'd just expect the lawyers I work with to read it the way I did.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:11 AM
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66: See, for me, riding a bicycle is something that nearly everyone I know does. It's pretty much equivalent to owning shoes. Someone who gets annoyingly self-righteous about an expensive bicycle, in my social circle, deserves to be taken down a peg, and it won't result in people not riding bicycles or buying SUVs to fit in.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:12 AM
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I suspect the author is an Asian geek who grew up within upper middle class white culture but could never really get the good looking girls (the source of most bitter comedy)

The photos belong to a woman with surname Lander.


Posted by: Barbar | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:12 AM
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Fuck her. I'd kick somebody out of my house for wearing something like that.

Having a house to kick someone out of is so white.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:13 AM
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68: I feel that I must note that she's now one of my best friends. And has both good politics and a lot of real-life material commitment to them. It was a dumb tee shirt, but it turned out not to be characteristic at all.

Yes, I know it wouldn't bug a lot of people, but it bugged me. (Like about eighty percent of life, yes, I know.)


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:14 AM
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I'd just expect the lawyers I work with to read it the way I did.

I'd bet that lawyers and doctors are probably considered the archetypal weekend hippies: where else can you find a bunch of people who went into school earnestly intending to do good, but who somehow ended up minting coin instead? MBA students give away the game right at the start, after all.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:18 AM
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You know what's weird? Looking at the photos linked in the about page reveals that some of the doofus white dudes recur, e.g., the recycling guy.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:18 AM
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DFHs aren't the target. People playing DFH on the weekends when they're not renovating their kitchens are.

The thing that makes people target the lifestyle left is the feeling that those people live well while reserving the right to be self-righteous and contemptuous of others. If you drop the "living well" part of the equation, then the left loses, because "join me in living miserably!" is not a winning political slogan. What you need to do is drop the self-righteousness, contempt, and unearned superiority.

The photos belong to a woman with surname Lander.

So much for my ridiculous off-the-cuff ethnic stereotyping! I think what drove it is that there are an unusual number of references to white appropriations of Asian themes in the list.



Posted by: PerfectlyGoddamnDelightful | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:19 AM
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What does "DFH" stand for, please?


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:19 AM
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Not, I take it, "dirty fucking hippy".


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:19 AM
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wow, that blog appears to be not anonymized at all. I think the recycling doofus is the husband.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:20 AM
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Looking at the photos linked in the about page reveals that some of the doofus white dudes recur, e.g., the recycling guy.

Probably the blog's author engaging in some typically white activities.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:20 AM
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78: You take it wrong. But, then, I'd heard that about you, and assumed it was the source of your surprising sexiness.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:21 AM
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...and those people are so, so white. Wow. I mean, they're playing guitar hero.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:22 AM
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Having a house to kick someone out of is so white.

Actually, I rent. I'm down with the homies, yo!

There should be an entry there on how white people love ridiculously out-of-date black slang. My brother calls me "Ne-gro!" all the time and it drives me nuts. The whole wigger-in-your-30s phenomenon is so stupid.


Posted by: PerfectlyGoddamnDelightful | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:22 AM
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All in the game, yo! Was Omar listed as something white people love? Because it should. He has a code, man.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:23 AM
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Another thing white people love is to take pictures of people eating, apparently.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:24 AM
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The Wire is an artistic triumph bred from David Simon's white fascination with inner city black culture.

So much of the best stuff in American culture has white people's secret love affair with black people at the heart of it. The white/Hispanic or white/Asian interactions have produced just about nothing so far.


Posted by: PerfectlyGoddamnDelightful | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:27 AM
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I have to say, the blog is much more ironic than the photostream. It would be nice to think that the blog author just found the pictures as part of research.


Posted by: Barbar | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:27 AM
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white/Hispanic or white/Asian interactions have produced just about nothing so far.

I Love Lucy? Seriously, I don't know much about history of pop music, but there was certainly a heck of a lot of white appropriation of Latin dance music in, say, the 30s through the 60s.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:30 AM
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Yeah, and I don't know if you've seen an action or horror movie in the past 10 years, but there's plenty of Asian appropriation there.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:32 AM
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OK, never mind, I'm stupid.


Posted by: PerfectlyGoddamnDelightful | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:34 AM
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So much of the best stuff in American culture has white people's secret love affair with black people at the heart of it.

Eh. A lot of fruitful work looks at people on the margins or somehow outside. That just happened to be black people in the areas that mattered most culturally at the time. But you saw similar work, I think, about the Irish, the Jewish, etc. If we see less such work about the Hispanics and the Asians, that may be symptomatic of something good.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:35 AM
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Oh man, I hope this is the same guy. The review of the window fan is priceless.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:36 AM
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91: Any immigrant group, really, it's just that eventually the Irish and the Italians and whatnot all ended up counting as white eventually.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:38 AM
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I think it's obvious that it's written by a white person (Cala's grad student hypothesis seems particularly plausible.) A big aspect of white privilege is the pretension to universality -- what white people do is the objectively natural and right thing to do, rather than culturally contingent. I initially thought that the site was pointing out the cultural contingency, but the author actually seemed offended that white liberals actually fail to achieve universality, that it's somehow embarrassing that white liberals have traits in common.


Posted by: Walt | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:39 AM
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So the experience of the blog changes when one learns that it's written by people who are white, eat at chic ethnic eateries, travel, ride bicycles, and so on.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:41 AM
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92: that is the same guy.


Posted by: Barbar | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:43 AM
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93: the Irish and the Italians and whatnot all ended up counting as white eventually

You can see that starting to happen with Latinos as well, in some places at some times. Various people have noted that a Clinton/Obama ticket is one white male short of quota. Does Clinton/Richardson or Obama/Richardson have the same problem?


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:46 AM
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96: I totally rule.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:47 AM
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Cala wins the prize! Sadly the prize is a copy of Pootie Tang.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:49 AM
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97: I think if you go to Choate or The Hill School or wherever it was, you are, for most important processes, considered white enough.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:51 AM
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What do you guys think about this?

OK I should probably stop at this point.


Posted by: Barbar | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:51 AM
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Barbar, I'm frightened of that.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:54 AM
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I want korean bbq now.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:56 AM
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And of course there are some people who deserve to be mocked in precisely that fashion

John Edwards? Al Gore?


Posted by: md 20/400 | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:56 AM
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The entry on Mos Def has a choice tidbit: "He is everything that white people dream about: … not white ("I don't see race")"


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:57 AM
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So the experience of the blog changes when one learns that it's written by people who are white, eat at chic ethnic eateries, travel, ride bicycles, and so on.

Not particularly, insofar as I assumed the recurrent mugshots on the blog were of the authors.

The DFH references strike me as red herrings, but that's likely because in my experience real DFHs don't shop at Whole Foods or buy expensive bikes, and not just because they can't afford it; such things are simply not priorities. If weekend alleged DFHs are the target of the blog, it's doubly embarrassing to that extent.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 11:58 AM
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This entry almost had me in tears.


Posted by: Barbar | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 12:03 PM
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I think an issue in this conversation is that you folks might be a little too white to understand the incisiveness of the humor.

Maybe it's just because I was quoting this blog to someone wearing Yves Saint-Laurent shoes and a vintage t-shirt, but the primary message that reached me was that whiteness is unattainable for all but the most well-trained. (Of course there are white people who don't do these things: but that's the point.) The way it purported to offer lessons in whiteness, and how to fit in, was tragically absurd. I'm white, but because my family has only in the last generation been climbing the wealth ladder, the site made me painfully aware of how recently we've gained our "white" attributes, and how there are still others we never can gain. My mother only bought a house near the water and talked about getting a second dog and started riding bicycles and going hiking after she began dating her new boyfriend and ditched the raised-poor Irish-Catholic lawyer; I only started wanting to travel and write and recycle in my late teens, as I began modeling myself after the few whiter role models that popped into my life. Still we're never going to be as white as the people around us, because I haven't been taught why anyone would even buy kitchen appliances and I wasn't able to take trips to Europe.

Yes, there are white people who don't do these things—but if they have any contact with the white people who do, they understand that to be powerful is to do these things, and to do these things is to have always done these things. The site is a reminder that half the point of culture is exclusion, and while there might not be anything wrong with that for most cultures (exclusion is how you solidify an identity enough to make it worthwhile, after all), for whites that exclusion is about retaining power. The author's intent might have been navel-gazing and "whiteness studies," but for me highlighed all of the ways I'll never fulfill my own identity, because it isn't really my own.


Posted by: destroyer | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 12:27 PM
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I'll never fulfill my own identity, because it isn't really my own.

Under that criterion, it isn't really hardly anyones.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 12:36 PM
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I remember realizing once that a blonde WASP friend of mine who had grown up in Manhattan was in fact a very unusual person. Not at all the cheap and plentiful kind of farm girl blonde I grew up with.

So whiteness is a proxy for class, which is only true in areas that are not overwhelmingly white (major cities). And it probably also mostly mean blonde/WASP, in the sense that ethnic-neighborhood church-going union-member honkies don't make the cut.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 12:37 PM
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I really loved this line about Whole Foods:

There are natural, handmade soaps which give these stores a unique and uniform smell.

Maybe, because I've spent a lot of time around that smell, and I've heard a lot of people rave about it. Those people definitely aren't DFHs or even people who play them on the weekend. In fact, it's a bit more like the people who love the Olive Garden, because it's authentic Italian food. It's making fun of people with more money than brains who are maybe one generation removed from the people Joe Queenan described in his book America.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 12:41 PM
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I think what's great about the blog is its understanding that the very aspiration to mess with the sociological categories of race and class through commodity preferences, in an age when commodity preferences are tracked and remarketed almost instantaneously, is "white". (For "white" people, the blog means "knowledge workers", I'd say...)

"White" people experience anxiety about being defined by the cultural signifiers they adopt; the blog implies that there are other groups of people whose sense of selfhood doesn't work the same way. It's not shopping at Whole Foods that makes you white; it's the discourse about shopping at Whole Foods. To pass as white (and this blog is all about passing!) one must not simply shop there but understand the discourse....

Question: does the blog subtly enforce the "white" reader's racism by hinting at a primitive utopia or utopias, worlds of non-"white" people who are not anxious about being defined by their commodity decisions? Or does it simply play off this racism?


Posted by: lurker | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 12:44 PM
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Destroyer and lurker are correct that this is all about a learned discourse of white urban bourgeois conversation. What I find interesting about a lot of these things is not that "white people like them" but that "white people like talking about them."

That is, like with the Mac preference, if you're someone who just really enjoys working on a Mac, but it's not your thing to go around having conversations about your Mac equipment, you don't really fit these categories, because a conversation with you will end just as awkwardly and abruptly as it would with someone who says, "Actually, I love my PC."

When I was reading the list, I kept thinking of my ex, who fits just about every single one of those categories, being obsessively into bikes and food and travel and stuff. But because he actually becomes really wonky about all those things, as they're all more his personal kinks than about marketing himself to the people around him, people don't really like talking to him about that kind of stuff.

It's not unlike the discourse of sexuality, in which you're supposed to talk about sex in certain, self-advertising terms or in accepted clichés, but you're not actually allowed to talk about sex. There's some invisible barrier there and it's hard to learn where it is.

I thought the most interesting parts of the SWPL thing were the parts where it suggested how to keep a conversation going with bourgeois coastal white people. This is not easy for people who weren't socialized while young into bourgeois coastal white discourse.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 12:56 PM
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As soon as I posted the comment activity ground to a halt. I killed it.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 12:56 PM
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White people enjoying killing threads, BG.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 12:59 PM
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I don't even see threads anymore.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 1:00 PM
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Also, think about the way all these things are presented. Dogs are how white people meet each other. Travel is how white people signal truths about themselves to each other. Renovation is what middle-aged white people do all at the same time so they can talk to each other about it. It's not only saying this is how the non-"white" person could learn to get along; it's saying this is how "white" people get along. It doesn't actually matter if they "like" this stuff or not; it matters that they learn how people talk about the way in which they like that stuff.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 1:01 PM
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I'll never fulfill my own identity, because it isn't really my own.

What Soup said in 109. Again: the blog is embarrassing to the extent that there are people whose identity it does apparently capture. It's not hard to find them: sometimes at Whole Foods, sometimes at your local CSA (alas, we would rather they be gone, because they don't really get it), sometimes here.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 1:02 PM
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OK, DFHs aren't the target. People playing DFH on the weekends when they're not renovating their kitchens are. makes sense to me, and seems amusing enough of a target. But this gets back to what I was saying in 15.3 (I thought it was a good comment, dammit, so I'm bringing it back up) - the topics somewhat and the writing to a greater extent are so across-the-board that I wouldn't identify a narrow target. Because a lot of the premises don't just slam the pseudo-lefties - they slam actual-lefties who might be trying to do things better. Unacceptably white vehicles: Priuses and bicycles. Um, OK. So is the message that, unless you exclusively walk and take the bus you're unacceptably white and lame? It's the old "Edwards can't work for the poor, because he's rich" thing. I hate that shit.

Which reinforces my initial sense that was like LB's - the humor is coming from those who would mock earnestness, not just faux-earnestness.

The fact that SCMT likes it a lot also confirms my ambivalence. No offense, Tim, but I've never gotten the impression that we would get along IRL.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 1:03 PM
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It doesn't actually matter if they "like" this stuff or not; it matters that they learn how people talk about the way in which they like that stuff.

Isn't this true for all communities? It doesn't seem particularly white to me.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 1:05 PM
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I'm going to release a nerdcore song called "X-Ray Vision (Don't See Threads)".


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 1:05 PM
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120: Sure, agreed. That's how this stuff works in general.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 1:08 PM
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It is across the board, JRoth, and I'm not claiming it's the most incisive bit of humor ever, but the general theme seems to be that people who think that pure consumption is equivalent to a social conscience should be taken down a peg, not that having a social conscience itself is bad.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 1:09 PM
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how to keep a conversation going with bourgeois coastal white people. This is not easy for people who weren't socialized

Indeed, and I think the blog could have been even more intelligent if it highlighted the difference between actual engagement in this conversation and a remaining-external flattery. When the author recommends the latter (tell the guy riding the bike he's saving the earth) it's funny in a realistic way; when the former (use the names of these cooking appliances) it's funny in an unrealistic way.


Posted by: destroyer | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 1:11 PM
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sometimes at your local CSA (alas, we would rather they be gone, because they don't really get it)

This sentiment is interesting to me. I would have thought that this was an arena in which "getting it" was not particularly necessary or desirable. Oh! But if not getting it means doing things like always asking the farmer to put X, Y, and Z in your share and not A, B, C, D, F, P, L, or Q, and last week's tomatoes looked a little lumpy, could one have smooth shiny ones next time? then I see what you mean.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 1:12 PM
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the humor is coming from those who would mock earnestness, not just faux-earnestness.

Earnestness is deprecated!


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 1:15 PM
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Some people are allergic to P, foxytail. And to lumpy tomatoes.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 1:16 PM
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125: Yes, that's exactly what I mean. Also not helping around the farm for all of 10 minutes while you're there, generally not getting the cooperative idea.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 1:19 PM
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I must leave and cannot comment, but 112 is very smart, lurker. The answer to part two would probably be "both".

Although it's worth noting that in the comments to one of those posts is linked "rock songs black people like". (Can't find it now; in hurry)


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 1:24 PM
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It doesn't actually matter if they "like" this stuff or not; it matters that they learn how people talk about the way in which they like that stuff.

See, and that bugged me too. Some of the things are legit targets - liking only "safe" hip-hop, 80s Night - but others are actually good, desirable things. It's dumb to make fun of people for doing objectively enjoyable things that happen to be tribal markers.

I suppose that sounds like saying, "my tribe is right, their tribe is weird/wrong," but that's not the point. As I said before, liking the beach is not exactly the purview of UMCWs. Talking about buying waterfront property is, I suppose, but that's also a tiny group of whites.

OTOH, this:

What I find interesting about a lot of these things is not that "white people like them" but that "white people like talking about them."

makes sense, although I'm still not sure if the targeting is correct. I don't talk much about WF with my fellow WF-shoppers. But when I'm occasionally in a suburban milieu, I'm suddenly thrown in with guys who are actually talking about their flat-screen TVs, etc. Again, I suppose, this should be a wake-up for me: I have these ridiculous conversations too, I just don't see the ridiculousness. I dunno. Maybe I'm just not quite in the target group, and so it doesn't ring true as either a mirror to me or as a finger pointing at my peers.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 1:25 PM
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I have a question: does James Mitchner suck? I'd never read anything by him, grabbed The Source out of the library the other day on a whim, and am finding the first fifty pages or so intolerable.


Posted by: washerdreyer | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 1:27 PM
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Michener.


Posted by: washerdreyer | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 1:28 PM
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does James Mitchner suck

At great length.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 1:28 PM
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IIRC, he's grandiosely middle-brow. Heavily-researched slabs of turgid prose. A modern-day Sir Walter Scott, without the pernicious impact on the American South.

But that's purely a second-hand impression. I'm sure non-white people love him!


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 1:30 PM
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Almost as bad as Updike.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 1:30 PM
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It's dumb to make fun of people for doing objectively enjoyable things that happen to be tribal markers.

It's also probably dumb to make fun of your wife.


Posted by: Barbar | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 1:33 PM
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I've actually never read it, but I've heard that his first book, the one the musical "South Pacific" was based on, sucked less than everything else did. But everything I've read of his (which is a couple -- Michener's the kind of author you find when you're stuck in people's houses who don't have books, generally, and you don't have anything of your own to read) had sucked hard.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 1:33 PM
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I mean, it's not like a set of 5000 Flickr photos were created just for the blog.


Posted by: Barbar | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 1:34 PM
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It's dumb to make fun of people for doing objectively enjoyable things that happen to be tribal markers.

Being a tribal marker is actually central to calling things "objectively enjoyable," because "objectively enjoyable" very closely implies "objectively more enjoyable." Arduously prepared vegan home-cooked meals are "objectively enjoyable" insofar as food is, which isn't really worth pointing out unless you want to imply a comparison favorable to your own tribe.


Posted by: destroyer | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 1:38 PM
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What are you talking about, Barbar?

It's dumb to make fun of your wife or your husband, or your mother. Or at least, there's something potentially cruel going on if you do so, and it doesn't bear much of resemblance to making fun of enjoyable things that happen to be tribal markers.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 1:40 PM
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It's dumb to make fun of your wife or your husband, or your mother.

And yourself. We're really not communicating well at all.


Posted by: Barbar | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 1:47 PM
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139: I actually wasn't including vegan food in the "objectively enjoyable" category.

Plenty of the stuff is, obviously, primarily valuable as tribal markers - a shelf full of Japanese tchotchkes, when you've never even been there, is a tribal marker; liking Totoro is just a pretty normal reaction for anyone who's seen it. The fact that not everyone has (although it was released by Disney with the Fanning girls doing voices - not exactly underground) doesn't change its inherent value.

Am I correct in thinking that the version of funny that the blog (as a whole, not just its best parts, which really are pretty funny) represents is very close to the thrill various commenters here always get in insisting that fast food is objectively delicious? "Take that, Snobby McWhitey, for thinking that a fresh hamburger is better than a Quarter Pounder!"


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 1:53 PM
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We're really not communicating well at all.

Well, you could try explaining yourself. Failing that, I think that your original point was that "making fun" is an inherently dumb/non-rigorous activity, and so there's no point in critiquing it. Is that right?

Look, the guy's gone to a lot of trouble to create this thing. He can do it well, or do it poorly. IMO, making fun of ridiculous behaviors one minute, then making fun of reasonable behaviors the next, cancels out the effect of the first. At that point you're just being a snarky asshole in the corner. That's why I don't really agree with Cala's 123.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 1:59 PM
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141: No, I guess not. It's not dumb to make fun of yourself; it is to make fun of your spouse or mother (in front of other people). I'm not seeing what any of that has to do with making fun of the activities people enjoy. That's all. It's not important.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 2:00 PM
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144: I'm not sure, but I think Barbar's saying that the pictures being used for mockery are pictures of the blogger's wife, and if she's not cool with that then making fun of her is dim of the blogger. If I'm right as to Barbar's meaning, I doubt that's a real problem -- I can't imagine anyone using a spouse's pictures for something like this unless it was a joint project.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 2:05 PM
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125: Yes, that's exactly what I mean. Also not helping around the farm for all of 10 minutes while you're there, generally not getting the cooperative idea.

I have to confess that I assiduously avoid CSAs that have a help-on-the-farm element. Don't wanna drive out to the country!


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 2:09 PM
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142: I wasn't claiming that these things weren't objectively enjoyable. Just that, when the conversation looks like this:

A: Liking X is so white!
B: But have you done X? It's objectively enjoyable!

You're not doing much more than re-asserting your membership in the white tribe; and, when a clear alternative to X exists (not so true for Totoro, definitely true for food, clothing, and living practices), denigrating that alternative.

142.3: Nope. Rarely in those entries is a lower class alternative being touted. The humor, besides "heh they do do that," comes from pointing out the social utility of things people claim to value for their inherent utility.


Posted by: destroyer | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 2:11 PM
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145: Oh. Then it's all a wash, as far as I can tell, and doesn't bear much on the original questions.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 2:13 PM
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No, I don't see a "real problem" at all actually. Saying there's nothing wrong with bike-riding and sushi-loving to someone who rides a bike and loves sushi just seems silly.


Posted by: Barbar | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 2:13 PM
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Rarely in those entries is a lower class alternative being touted.

WalMart comes up as the alternative to Whole Foods, no?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 2:25 PM
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Well, wait a minute there. there may well be people -- 'white" and others -- who buy stand up mixers etc in order to impress people. I'd guess, though, that they are far outnumbered by the people, even the "white" people, who buy them because they are objectively useful in cooking. And are affordable to people with sufficient income.

I strongly doubt that people get their kitchens renovated in order to talk about them. Of course they do talk about the renovations, but it's not the purpose.

I ski. I know a lot of people who ski. I can't imagine a single one of them does so either because other "white" people are doing it, or because fewer "non-white" people are doing it. I don't care if poor people ski, I'd rather not be around super-rich people, and have been able to avoid them. (I was at Blue Knob in Pennsylvania for a day last week. Those people aren't rich, and indeed, I wouldn't be surprised if some are actually poor -- working at the place, skiing during breaks). That is, I reject 147 in its entirety.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 2:33 PM
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Again, I say, the thing being criticized is not the loving of these things, but the loving loving these things. It's one thing to shop at Whole Foods or ride bikes. It's another to think of oneself as a better or more virtuous person for shopping at Whole Foods and riding bikes.

This is why there seemed to be consensus about these being the sorts of qualities that show up in online personals ads. There are things we enjoy, and then there are things we enjoy, at least in part, for their efficacy in advertising ourselves as acceptable to others. The Sunday New York Times thing is especially dead-on, I think. To fantasize about having a partner who loves spending Sundays reading the NYT until noon over coffee and eggs benedict is not just about really liking the NYT and brunch; it's about sitting at a table realizing you're the kind of person who is in a stable relationship and has nothing to do on Sundays but listen to smooth jazz and read the NYT.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 2:33 PM
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What are the chances that Whit Stillman options this thread?


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 2:35 PM
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And the Sunday NYT thing, btw, was a central aspirational plot point in Clowes's "Mister Wonderful" comic strip in the NYT recently. A man who has trouble fitting in and feeling desirable and normal, who can't turn off the meta part of his brain during conversations, fantasizes about breakfast in the park with a nice woman who will read the Sunday Times with him. At the end of the series, after many violent and upsetting episodes in which he and the woman he is seeing prove themselves to be too weird and awful and baggage-laden to date, they achieve the romantic success they long for by planning a date in the park with breakfast and the NYT, and they both breathe a sigh of relief, because it means they're both acceptable people, finally.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 2:37 PM
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And this -- because "objectively enjoyable" very closely implies "objectively more enjoyable" -- is a logical error of the worst kind. Anyone drawing this implication, without other context, is going to be living in a state of constant misunderstanding. The Violin (which I saw last night) is a great movie, objectively enjoyable. Only a moron would think I'm implying that the other movies in the theater, the coming attractions, the last movie I saw, those nominated for Oscars, etc are in any way inferior.

This same argument applies to 'fast food is delicious.'


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 2:40 PM
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154: That seems somehow underparticularized. Like, you seem to be describing a desire to be the sort of person who spends time in acceptably pleasantly mundane ways. What you find pleasantly mundane is going to be culture-bound -- reading the NYT over a relaxed Sunday breakfast is an upper middle class American thing, rather than a characteristic of some other social group. But I can't see where the appropriate criticism comes in. A desire for the pleasantly mundane has to be cross-culturally fairly common, no? And while the specific NYT thing is particular, I don't see what makes it more risible or contemptible than any other culture-bound activity.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 2:44 PM
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152.1 -- People who think they are better than other people for pretty much any reason at all are lame.

152.2 -- It seems to me that in looking for companionship it would be perfectly reasonable to list the kinds of activities one likes to do, not only as signifiers, but also for objective reasons. Someone who likes to go on multi-day canoeing trips in northern Canada isn't going to have a successful relationship with someone who only wants to stay in NYC and watch indie films. Unless one or both are willing to try (and be entertained in) the other's world.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 2:45 PM
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Someone who likes to go on multi-day canoeing trips in northern Canada isn't going to have a successful relationship with someone who only wants to stay in NYC and watch indie films.

What was that John Belushi movie where he plays a Chicago newspaperman based on Mike Royko who falls in love with an eagle researcher?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 2:46 PM
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Which reinforces my initial sense that was like LB's - the humor is coming from those who would mock earnestness, not just faux-earnestness.

I think you miss the criticism. It's not faux-earnestness being criticized; it's mote/beam earnestness being criticized. To pick on LB--because I think she knows (earnestly) that we all love and respect her--if she harshly criticized B for smoking and thereby providing tobacco companies with profits to plow into addicting 3rd World nations, that would be the sort of earnestness being criticized.

The fact that SCMT likes it a lot also confirms my ambivalence.

I didn't like it a lot; I liked it. It's not the kind of thing you can like a lot: there's not enough depth to it. I like Dude, Where's My Car?; nobody anything'd that a lot.

No offense, Tim, but I've never gotten the impression that we would get along IRL.

No worries.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 2:49 PM
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Napi, the essential part of my argument you seem to have missed is that there must be a clear alternative to X. What I was getting at here (very obliquely, I'm realizing) is that X must stand in a meaningful relationship to certain cultural category; there must also be a Y that stands in a meaningful relationship to another cultural category, and so on.

To claim that preparing elaborate meals yourself with many kinds of kitchen gadgets is objectively enjoyable—that's to stake out a claim about a kind of life. To claim that a kind of life is objectively enjoyable is weird, and the only way to make it make sense is to interpret it as a comparative claim that denigrates other kinds of life.

In other words, when a certain practice is being discussed as it relates to a certain culture, to proclaim that practice "objectively enjoyable" is snobbish, and misses the point.


Posted by: destroyer | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 2:50 PM
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156: But that's just it, LB. The criticism is not of the activity, but of the self-satisfaction attached to the activity.

And sure, this kind of self-satisfaction drives most culturally-bound activities, like going to church in my parents' set. Do most midwestern lower-middle-class Christians get up every Sunday at 8:30 am because they desperately want to worship Jesus Christ? Or do they do it because they like thinking of themselves as the sort of people who get up on Sunday and worship Jesus Christ? And where is the line between the two, if there is one?

I guess, to me, mockery of that kind of church-goer seems pretty deserved and possibly funny, just because that's my own cultural background. But it might seem "mean" to people not from that background.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 2:50 PM
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I love how these SWPL threads affirm the awesome power of stand mixers as fetish objects. And like SCMT, I don't understand why 'reify' isn't used in, like, every other comment.

The bits about recycling and bike-riding and such I still dislike, because they're insufficiently distinguishable from the right-wing, anti-environmentalist approach to same.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 2:55 PM
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I love how these SWPL threads affirm the awesome power of stand mixers as fetish objects.

First they came for the stand mixers,....


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 2:57 PM
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157.2: Yeah, and yet, because the "acceptable" list of pleasures in NYC is so uniform and particularly self-satisfied, I've really burned out on trying to date that way. If I say I'm a grad student in literature, I end up going out with some wanker who thinks literary study is, like, really inherently virtuous and important and better than other career choices. If I say I'm into film, I'll end up on first dates with dudes who spend the whole time talking about how sad it is that people enjoy anything less than Melville and Antonioni.

Now, I happen to really like Melville and Antonioni. And I probably do think there's something really inherently valuable about them as filmmakers. I just get really turned off by people who aren't even ashamed of their self-satisfaction about their virtuous tastes.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 2:57 PM
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163: And I did not speak out, because I was not a stand mixer.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 2:58 PM
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Unless one or both are willing to try (and be entertained in) the other's world.

Indeed.

One of the things that's offensive when these traits/habits/aspirations (one suspects that they're the third much more often than the first or second) get flashed about in personals ads, anyway, is that one gets the impression that the writers aren't simply saying that this is the sort of thing they like to do, but that they've hit on the actual right course, and that these traits, etc, are really windows into the SOUL. Eg I just read an ad by someone who stated that not only does she dislike top 40 radio, she also dislikes people who like it. Only someone who moved in radically straitened circles and thinks her insularity is a virtue could say something like that with a straight face: she is not saying that she will dislike your taste in music, but that she will dislike you, because (I guess) only certain highly stereotyped sorts of people could possibly have that taste. And you'd better believe that only certain sorts of people could have hers: I think AWB is right on in a lot of this thread that being someone who likes X gets syncechdochized into being the stereotyped liker of X; in the context of an ad that means that someone likes the idea of being with someone who likes X (this is just liking liking X with a party interposed) because it's already known what other traits will accompany liking X.

Whereas in real life all sorts of people can have all sorts of tastes without that making them any more, or less, likely to be someone one would like.

To a certain extent I think that there really isn't a reason to list the things you like to do "for objective reasons"; the only reasons are significant. Er, as signifiers. Well, some things: a vegan might want to be with a vegan or at least a vegetarian for practical or ideological reasons, and it makes sense to list that. But to list that you like knitting, or Arcade Fire, or travel: what of it, if that's just some thing you like? You also like, let's suppose, orange juice, but you don't list that. Why not? Because it don't signify.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 2:58 PM
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164: Melville was a novelist, AWB. Film hadn't even been invented when he was alive.

Jeez!


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:00 PM
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Do most midwestern lower-middle-class Christians get up every Sunday at 8:30 am because they desperately want to worship Jesus Christ? Or do they do it because they like thinking of themselves as the sort of people who get up on Sunday and worship Jesus Christ? And where is the line between the two, if there is one?

Well, I'd say that they do it because they actually are the sort of person who get up on Sunday and go to church. The desirability of the activity is probably, for a lot of people, that it's a pleasant routine that's normal for them, rather than a passion for Christ, just like people read the Times out of habit more than out of a burning desire to know what the real estate section says this week. But that doesn't make it an anxious and insecure attempt to fake belonging in a social group in either case, which is how you seem to be characterizing it generally.

The anxious and insecure attempt to fake belonging isn't nonexistent -- certainly some people have that relation to pleasant routines. But most people do pleasantly routine things because they're, you know, routine. Or even desire them, when they don't do them, because of the pleasure of the routine -- picture a homesick person far from the town where they grew up daydreaming about church on Sunday, even without religious belief. That wouldn't be a daydream driven by social anxiety, would it?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:00 PM
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AWB, it would also be mean coming from someone like me.

Destroyer, you're not convincing me at all. For your equation to work, it seems to me, the person has to be engaging in or enjoying X because it is a cultural marker. Which, it seems to me, means that you are simply assuming away 'objectively.'


Posted by: Napi | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:01 PM
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Only someone who moved in radically straitened circles and thinks her insularity is a virtue could say something like that with a straight face: she is not saying that she will dislike your taste in music, but that she will dislike you, because (I guess) only certain highly stereotyped sorts of people could possibly have that taste.

No reply to your email, huh?


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:01 PM
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No reply to your email, huh?

Ataraxia, Tim. It's real.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:02 PM
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167: J-P, you nerd.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:03 PM
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Or do they do it because they like thinking of themselves as the sort of people who get up on Sunday and worship Jesus Christ?

Or do they do it because don't want to think of themselves as the type of people who do not get up on Sunday and worship Jesus Christ?


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:04 PM
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Ataraxia?

For the Epicureans, ataraxia was synonymous with the only true happiness possible for a person. It signifies the detached and balanced state of mind that shows that a person has transcended the material world and is now harvesting all the comforts of philosophy.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:05 PM
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Again, I say, the thing being criticized is not the loving of these things, but the loving loving these things.

Yup. It's all about self-regard, kids.

Also, I echo w-lfs-n in saying that I could have written the blog if I were more clever. I think the sort of person who would write those entries, and also who would find them funny, is the sort of person who is immersed in white culture, and takes part of it some, but feels a little awkward in it.

Like, a couple weeks ago I was at a poker game with some friends from school and some other people I didn't know. Every last one worked at a fancy law firm. At one point, there was a conversation about cleaning ladies, and feeling kind of horrified that everyone had one (except another of my friends who was exchanging horrified glances with me), I couldn't help but trying to distinguish myself and/or poke fun at these people. "You know, I found out my cleaning lady actually has a law degree."

"Really?!"


Posted by: m. leblanc | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:05 PM
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150: WalMart comes up as the alternative to Whole Foods, no?

But there's an entire discourse about how WalMart is evil, needs to be kept out of NYC, etc.

Furthermore, the very idea that "ooh this non-white culture is more authentic and pure and utopian" is mocked on the blog, so I doubt that that viewpoint is really being advocated or reinforced.


Posted by: Barbar | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:05 PM
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Le Samouraï?

Arguably, had I been a nerd, I would have known who you meant without needing to be told.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:06 PM
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is the sort of person who is immersed in white culture
the particular narrow slice of urban middle-class life being targeted.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:08 PM
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Ataraxia.

A state in which one has no desires. The ass of the girl sitting at the table next to me is shaking my hold on this state, I have to admit.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:08 PM
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I am the only person in this thread who has no idea what a stand mixer is. Therefore, I'm only person with the necessary objectivity to comment. FL, you can go ahead and delete everyone else's comments.


Posted by: Walt | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:08 PM
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This site is embarrassing me, as a white person.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:09 PM
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175: Ooh, yeah. Whenever I hear people bitching about their cleaning ladies moving stuff around too much or whatever, it's very hard to avoid the temptation to end the conversation by bringing up that my mom was a cleaning lady when I was a kid. Obviously, this is because I like thinking of myself as the sort of person whose mom was a cleaning lady as opposed to the sort of person who has a cleaning lady, which is a snobbery all its own. I'm getting better about shutting up in these cases.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:09 PM
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Why shut up, AWB? Freaking the squares is done in many ways.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:10 PM
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I can't make sense of why some people seem upset/offended/etc. by that blog. And people have made heroic efforts to explain. But I just don't get it. And, even more, I can't figure out what rule divides those who get upset/offended/etc. from the others. It's not immediately obvious that some people here are somehow more obviously the target of the joke than others.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:10 PM
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177: Oh, I just figured you were baiting me.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:11 PM
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the particular narrow slice of urban middle-class life being targeted.

I once read a critique of David Sedaris that described what he does as "drawing a very tight circle around himself, then making fun of everything outside this circle."

It seems pretty clear that this guy is guilty of a lot of these things, is surrounded by people guilty of even more of them, and is expressing his differentness by drawing his circle.

Self-hating Yuppie?


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:12 PM
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this is because I like thinking of myself as the sort of person whose mom was a cleaning lady as opposed to the sort of person who has a cleaning lady, which is a snobbery all its own

What's funny is, I actually did have not just a cleaning lady, but an every-day maid who came to my house when I was a kid. But this was in Egypt, where things are, you know, different. But American twenty-seven year old couples who hire a cleaning lady to clean up their childless house make me uncomfortable, and I can't seem to shut up.


Posted by: m. leblanc | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:13 PM
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This thread is starting to resemble the thread in which we all talked about how much we hated Seinfeld. Because, you know, we're not like that. We aren't yuppies and we also don't mock yuppies in a heavy-handed way.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:15 PM
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No, actually Sedaris isn't "making fun of" things other than himself, nor is he insulating himself. Anyone who doesn't realize that doesn't understand him at all. His stuff is ruthlessly *self* exposing, and extremely kind and gentle towards other people's foibles.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:15 PM
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183: Because the temptation to freak the squares is not very productive. All that ends up happening is they stop talking to you and find a way to talk to someone else, because obviously I'm a bitch with a chip on my shoulder. When someone points out your privilege or fails to commiserate with the hardships of your privilege, it doesn't make you rethink your entire worldview. It just makes you hate them for being even more self-satisfied than you are. It's not inaccurate. Low-bred pride is my personal vice.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:15 PM
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188: *Starting*???


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:16 PM
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I like Dude, Where's My Car?; nobody anything'd that a lot.

I couldn't believe how much I liked that. Sadly, I only caught the last 2/3 (or so) on cable. I'd like to see the whole thing, but I can't actually justify renting it or anything.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:17 PM
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189: Yeah, I didn't actually agree with the reviewer. But the phrase stuck in my head, and seemed apt for this blogger.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:18 PM
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I am the only person in this thread who has no idea what a stand mixer is.

False.

In fact, I might win because I had never heard of a non-states-rights-based "CSA" before this thread either.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:18 PM
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I realize I'm reiterating things people have already said, but the reason this site is funny is not because of the particulars. Some of the entries are funny (white people like apologizing) and some of it is too obvious to be that funny (white people like the sunday times).

But it is funny because all the elements and their varying levels of funny or non-funny add up to demonstrating something that is absolutely true: people of privilege spend an inordinate amount of time trying to define themselves as good or interesting or likeable people through the things they like, own, and consume. And this is rather silly as a personal project, and shallow, and something that really is particular to people of privilege. Poor or middle-class people might like pot or Mos Def, but they don't think it says anything about Who They Are.

Which is all to say, whiteness being the default, people are trying desperately to formulate a distinguishable identity.


Posted by: m. leblanc | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:20 PM
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I think that this thread and the previous whiteness thread can count, at least tenuously, as work on my dissertation prospectus, just as the thread about Gendler was really preparation for my sections. (In which we didn't talk about her at al.)


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:22 PM
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What was that John Belushi movie. . . ?

Continental Divide.


Posted by: Zippy | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:22 PM
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No, w-lfs-n, there are absolutely practical reasons to list entertainment preferences in an ad, and not a preference for orange juice over cranberry juice. How to spend time together is a very big damn deal, and even if both like travel, but one's ideal is the rain forest, and the other likes to go to upscale London hotels, it matters.

Ok, if you're just looking to get it off next Friday, then these things are signifiers. But so long as people want at least the illusion that they're looking to make a lasting connection, information about preferences is relevant.


Posted by: Napi | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:24 PM
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I wish I had won that MTV promotion a few years back where they flew someone out to Tokyo to have sushi with Missy Elliott. Then I would have a number of clever rejoinders to various points in this thread.

Frankly, right now though, I'd settle for having my sister wake up from her nap and come and pick me up so we could go have a fancy sandwich somewhere. Mmmmm...sandwiches.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:24 PM
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Come hate me!


Posted by: Adam Kotsko | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:24 PM
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I dunno. I like Seinfeld. I know that I am a yuppie, and I also try to mock yuppies. And I do that thing where I think the things I like define me or make me who I am.

I like barbecue! and Clipse! and going to the Symphony! and reading poetry and watching porn! but I'm a girl! and I blog! and do drugs but I'm a lawyer!

I'm a special snowflake!

It's all funny, really, how silly it all is.


Posted by: m. leblanc | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:25 PM
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White people have NO sense of humor about themselves.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:26 PM
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Poor or middle-class people might like pot or Mos Def, but they don't think it says anything about Who They Are.

This seems flat wrong to me. Defining yourself by the things you like and do seems to be as close to a human universal as there is.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:26 PM
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203: It's amazing to me that consumerism is as old as time, but we only recently got around to naming it.


Posted by: Adam Kotsko | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:28 PM
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The anxious and insecure attempt to fake belonging isn't nonexistent -- certainly some people have that relation to pleasant routines. But most people do pleasantly routine things because they're, you know, routine.

It seems to me that I've read a lot of post-war American novels (Updike especially) that seem to be predicated on the idea that the former is either typical or interesting; I find it neither. When I was a Catholic, going to church was certainly a comfortable routine, but I also invested a lot of energy in the spiritual side; when that failed, I stopped going.

My point isn't that I'm virtuous for breaking out; my point is that, to me, doing what you do and being comfortable with it is the norm. I think that almost everyone is the same way, and that the self-loathing (and the white guilt) are rarities raised to profundity by a few people.

On a side note, the only time I've done the Sunday Times thing was with the Bad, Old GF - it was, in fact, one of the better parts of our relationship.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:29 PM
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Further to 203: I mean, you think poor and middle-class people come up with favored tastes and activities in some more authentic way than what's common and accepted in their social groups?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:29 PM
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Ever read Unfogged, on weed? (Don't bother answering this one, Sifu.)


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:29 PM
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Consumerism is *not* as old as time, and defining yourself by what you like or do is assuredly not a universal. Sorry LB.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:29 PM
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Defining yourself by the things you like and do seems to be as close to a human universal as there is.

\footnote{``[A]round and after 1770 selfhood becomes a
prerequisite for the modern man. In fact, the very notion of
\textit{le moi} or \textit{das Ich} gains sudden and rapid
popularity in just a few years \lips [T]he German period of
\textit{Sturm und Drang} radicalizes the notion of selfhood to such
a degree that the battle cry for the self in this period turns into
a lamentation about its unachievability.'' \cite[pp 77--8]{breithaupt2005}}


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:30 PM
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203: Really? Maybe it's become more and more so for young people. But for a lot of people I know and people who are my clients, this just isn't the case. One of the standard questions we ask people when we do intake interviews is ask them what kind of food they eat, for example. You'd be surprised how often people don't have much of an answer. Whereas people of privilege tend to almost univesally have very strong feelings about their food preferences as some kind of part of their identity.


Posted by: m. leblanc | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:31 PM
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169.2: No, I'm not claiming that they enjoy them because they are cultural markers; they're claiming to enjoy them with no regard to their being cultural markers. If the discussion becomes about whether or not X is objectively enjoyable and it stops being about whether or not X is a tool for social exclusion, what was redeeming about the discussion—shedding light on problematic cultural practices—has vanished, and we're left with some uncomfortable cheerleading for our own side.


Posted by: destroyer | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:31 PM
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206: I think the point is that white people (as defined by the blog in question) look *down* on the poor for being deluded and defining themselves by consumerism, believing that if only they had more education and opportunity, they too would shop at farmer's markets and buy unlabelled produce and eschew self-definition as either a coke or pepsi drinker. Etc.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:31 PM
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I should just stop commenting and let LB speak for me.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:31 PM
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Kostko writes:

"We really do have our heart in the right place and, even if we sometimes fail to live up to our convictions, we really do things better than other groups."

Ding ding ding.


Posted by: Barbar | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:33 PM
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(That would be Fritz Breithaupt, 2005, "The Invention of Trauma in German Romanticism", Critical Inquiry 32 (1): 77–101.)


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:33 PM
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Consumerism is always the consumerism of the other.


Posted by: Adam Kotsko | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:33 PM
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206: But the point is that people of privilege don't just like and do what's common and accepted in their social groups. They are often looking outside their social groups as well for things they can claim as their own, things that they think will make them different and 'cool'. They want to have their own unique DNA string of likes and dislikes, not just do what the people around them are doing.


Posted by: m. leblanc | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:34 PM
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204: What's new is the exploitation of the common human tendency to define oneself by what one likes and does by marketers--that's consumerism, and it's new. But people have had the basic tendency forever: "I am the particular sort of peasant who eats the particular cheese made in my hometown, and celebrates the feast of St. [X] with special fervor. Those weirdos 25 miles away eat different cheese."


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:34 PM
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Our cleaning lady comes on Thursdays. I'm frequently awakened on Fridays by the sound of the garbage truck banging about a block away. Dammit, forgot to put the cans out again. I leap up, throw some clothes on, and then the fun begins: where has the cleaning lady put my shoes?


Posted by: Napi | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:35 PM
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Citation for 218, please.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:35 PM
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To some extent, I agree with you, LB, in that I resist the David-Brooksish notion that non-white-bourgeois-liberal people are somehow "realer" because they "really" like things, and not for what it says about them. This is patently bullshit.

OTOH, there is something particularly annoying about the ways that bourgeois white liberal folks embrace the meta aspect of all their tastes, when their social competitions tend to have far lower stakes, from a material perspective, than the social competitions of people who are less financially and socially secure.

For my poor white rural cousins, wearing a particular brand of expensive sneakers is important precisely because it says something about them, not because they just really genuinely love Nikes. It was a sign of my privilege that I could choose to wear cheap Vans in high school to signify my allegiance to a certain social group. Because the costs, to me, of not being in that social group were, like, being in a different social group. For my cousins, there was actual fear that if they didn't wear the right sneakers, they'd get jumped.

That is, for a lot of socially secure white people who actually do have the freedom to "just like" stuff, the fact that they all like the same stuff and have little social competitions about it, with very low stakes, seems pretty decadent.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:36 PM
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218: Call this the "Drums of Calanda" argument in homage to Bunuel.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:36 PM
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Whoa. 221 to 203.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:36 PM
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211: Since I started the "objectively enjoyable" phrase, I just want to add: I don't think that covers many items on the list. The self-delusion that it would (that anyone who could, would of course shop at WF or kayak), or the self-delusion B identifies that "white people" assume they're above consumerism, and signify it through their products, are funny and lampoonable. But a fair number of the items on the list are basically things that are pretty good choices, independent of signifiers. Making fun of someone for choosing something desirable, just because others have also chosen it, is dumb. It doesn't do anything except draw that circle and point that finger. Feh.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:38 PM
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218: Oh, so people always want to belong to some kind of group? I thought you were saying people longed for self-definition through consumption.


Posted by: Adam Kotsko | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:39 PM
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218: Nope, LB, really, sorry. I know you are wrong because I am an Arts major.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:39 PM
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That is, for a lot of socially secure white people who actually do have the freedom to "just like" stuff, the fact that they all like the same stuff and have little social competitions about it, with very low stakes, seems pretty decadent.

"Decadent" is pretty negatively-connoted; what do you propose that socially secure white people ought to do instead? Or is the gist of 221, "Things are easier for rich people because they're rich, the jerks"?


Posted by: mrh | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:41 PM
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People defined themselves, to the extent that they bothered doing so (which is probably not much at all) by their role in the local community: serf, landlord, wife, whatever. That was about it.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:41 PM
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220: Oh, I'd have to flip through a bunch of George Eliot and Thomas Hardy to pin down specifically what I'm basing this on. But are you taking the position that it's not roughly true?

221: That is, for a lot of socially secure white people who actually do have the freedom to "just like" stuff, the fact that they all like the same stuff and have little social competitions about it, with very low stakes, seems pretty decadent.

Huh. Yeah, I'm just not getting decadent here. People in a given social group tend to share tastes and activities. Young UMC lefty types, as a social group, do too. Insofar as the tastes and activities aren't objectionable in themselves, what's the problem? There's an obligation to be interesting?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:42 PM
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what do you propose that socially secure white people ought to do instead?

Recognize that *just like everyon eelse*, they are social creatures, and that doing X instead of Y is not going to somehow magically lift them "above" that fact.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:43 PM
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Consumerism is *not* as old as time, and defining yourself by what you like or do is assuredly not a universal.

Damn, a friend stopped by such that I can't follow this most, most interesting thread! But yeah, B.'s right here.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:43 PM
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229: Eliot and Hardy are 19th century writers; the shift to the kind of modern consumer based society we now life in had happened about a hundred, hundred and fifty years earlier.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:44 PM
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Recognize that *just like everyone else*, they are social creatures, and that doing X instead of Y is not going to somehow magically lift them "above" that fact.

Sure, enlightenment for everyone! I can get behind that, I suppose. Is that what you were getting at, AWB?


Posted by: mrh | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:45 PM
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So typical of "white people": someone points out a systemic problem; someone who is benefitting from the system retorts, "Well, what would you have individuals do?"

It's kind of like if you propose that the state should have more safety nets in place for the homeless and someone responds, "Well, if you really cared about the homeless, you'd give more money to individual homeless people as you walked down the street." It's as though the idea of a social system is just impossible for "white people" to get at.


Posted by: Adam Kotsko | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:45 PM
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the shift to the kind of modern consumer based society we now life in had happened about a hundred, hundred and fifty years earlier.

One might even propose around and after 1770.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:45 PM
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227: Most things anyone who isn't struggling to survive does with free time are decadent. We laugh at comedies in which people murder one another. We do things to injure our plentiful health, for fun, because we have health to spare. Decadence is too ubiquitous to be condemnable. I'm not suggesting any other plan.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:46 PM
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Actually, I don't know what CSA means either, other than Confederate States of America. The first hit in Google is "community supported agriculture". Is that it?


Posted by: Walt | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:47 PM
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That's it, Walt.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:47 PM
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It's as though the idea of a social system is just impossible for "white people" to get at.

Yes, because the *point of the category white* is that being white is defined as being "free."

235: One might, but one would be wrong, I think. I'd place it about 60 years earlier, when the Spectator was running articles about hoop skirts. (But then, of course I would.)


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:48 PM
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225, 226: But part of the social group you belonged to was the activities you engaged in and the things you enjoyed. If you were a serf in a particular locality, you had a very particular set of holiday observances, activities, characteristic foods, and so forth, and would have found the 'stuff' associated with being a serf in another locality weird and alien, and would have found a person in your locality doing/wearing/eating atypical stuff alien and outside your social group.

The conversation's breaking down on 'defining yourself' -- sure, people didn't (to the same extent) believe they had choices in how to define themselves through their 'stuff' before modern consumerism, they just did what was normal in their social group. But that's still choosing to define yourself as normal rather than bizarre -- your activities and so forth were still what marked you as a social insider rather than a freak.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:48 PM
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Wow, Kotsko, you sure got me. I *am* that stupid. Zing!


Posted by: mrh | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:48 PM
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239: I would place it earlier, with the introduction of slave-manufactured Caribbean sugar to the middle classes. 1630's, probably.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:49 PM
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mrh: Oh, go fuck yourself.


Posted by: Adam Kotsko | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:50 PM
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240.1: But *they* wouldn't think of it that way. *You* would, because you're modern.

My 239.1 sums up this entire discussion and the one before it. And with that I am going to get dressed, hop on my bike along with my family, ride to the bike shop to buy my latte holder, and then pedal down to the beach. Because white people like living near water, biking, being outside, and latte holders.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:50 PM
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I agree with LB. In the annotated Pride and Prejudice there's a detailed section about what you could tell about someone by the kind of coach they road in, and how many. A lot of Jane Austen is about minute class distinctions as expressed in consumption patterns (though there's another countervailing theme about how you can find OK people within the rules of class).

Conspicuous consumption was a big theme already in the 1860's in the U.S. Veblen coined the phrase and wrote a whole book about it almost a century ago.

What may be different is that an enormous share of the population is now playing the game. Brad DeLong talks about this as though it were a good thing. There's a cost, though.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:51 PM
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242: There wasn't an effective middle class in the 1630s, lady. Certainly not enough of one to call itself the middle classES. You mean the gentry.

And with that I really am out of here.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:51 PM
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It's kind of like if you propose that the state should have more safety nets in place for the homeless and someone responds, "Well, if you really cared about the homeless, you'd give more money to individual homeless people as you walked down the street."

"Someone" = McMegan, who said exactly that just a day or two ago.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:53 PM
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232, 235, 239: Okay, but are you saying my rough description of an intensely local life where normality was constructed in part through shared social patterns of recreation and consumption, and deviation from those patterns would mark one as an outsider, is entirely misleading as a picture of pre-modern life? I'm seeing nitpicking about my sources, but I'm not seeing what you're saying is false about that picture.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:53 PM
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But a fair number of the items on the list are basically things that are pretty good choices, independent of signifiers. Making fun of someone for choosing something desirable, just because others have also chosen it, is dumb. It doesn't do anything except draw that circle and point that finger. Feh.

This is essentially humorless (every joke can be "criticized" in this way), and seems blithely unaware that the authors have obviously made those choices as well.


Posted by: Barbar | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:55 PM
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"I am the particular sort of peasant who eats the particular cheese made in my hometown, and celebrates the feast of St. [X] with special fervor. Those weirdos 25 miles away eat different cheese."

That's local particularism, though, not social-climbing.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:57 PM
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But that's still choosing to define yourself as normal rather than bizarre -- your activities and so forth were still what marked you as a social insider rather than a freak.

Isn't the claim really that you were just marked, and there were no choices as such about it? You were a serf, which implied a, b, and c. If you failed on c, it was because God hated you, or whatever. That is, isn't self-definition sort of a new idea?

But, more generally, I think it's a mistake to see searing social critique--and worry about whether it's fair or not--in a joke blog.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 3:58 PM
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mrh: Oh, go fuck yourself.

If it's all the same to you, I think I'll go eat dinner instead.

We seem to have moved on, a bit, but I guess my confusion was that I didn't think that consumption-based status games are (or should be) a function of how much one could consume, but rather are just a part of our consumption-status-based society. I'm not in favor of it, but it seems like a fact, not a class issue to me. (Of course, the nature and stakes of the status games are tied to class, as AWB points out.)

That said, I don't think it's a great part of our society, and of course we'd be better off without it. I just hadn't thought of it as being, as Adam charitably analogizes in 234, a public policy issue. Seems a little utopian.


Posted by: mrh | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:01 PM
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This seems flat wrong to me. Defining yourself by the things you like and do seems to be as close to a human universal as there is.

Consumerism is *not* as old as time, and defining yourself by what you like or do is assuredly not a universal.

Consumerism is not that old, but defining an in-group and out-group is the oldest parlor game in humanity.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:01 PM
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For what it's worth. I'm having a little trouble following the conversation.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:01 PM
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250: Sure, but there are points of commonality. Joe Serf from Whereverchester couldn't pick himself an identity to conform to through his patterns of consumption/recreation and so forth. He was born into a social group and stayed there. But his patterns of consumption/recreation did define the group of which he was a member, and differentiate him from members of other groups.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:02 PM
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248: Near as I can tell, there's some sort of resistance to the idea that modern self-conception existed before the Enlightement, and that therefore the underlying patterns that modern self-conception (as realized through consumerism) follows don't have a meaningful connection to the past.

Whether that's right or not, I don't see the point of the distinction. People are tribal. There's always been Others, so there must have been some way of conceiving of oneself as Not Other. One of the ways we define ourselves in modern America is through our stuff. UMCWs do this, poor people of color do this. UMCWs supposedly do this the most, or the worst, or something. However it is, when they do it, they're stupid. Ha ha.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:03 PM
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254: You and me both. I'm saying stuff that I think should be noncontroversial, and I'm not sure if the disagreement is coming from people who substantively disagree with what I want to be saying, or if I'm being really unclear.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:03 PM
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255: So you're saying that modern people are still human. I think we can agree on that.


Posted by: Adam Kotsko | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:04 PM
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Is the bone of contention here about whether or not consumerism is an importantly different kind of tribal identifier than previous kinds?


Posted by: washerdreyer | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:06 PM
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248: From the little I know gleaned from chatting with friends studying the period, yes, because consumption as we know it wasn't really there for most people.

My new theory is that the split in this thread is coming down to the bicyclists/non-bicyclists.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:06 PM
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Joe Serf from Whereverchester couldn't pick himself an identity to conform to through his patterns of consumption/recreation and so forth. He was born into a social group and stayed there. But his patterns of consumption/recreation did define the group of which he was a member, and differentiate him from members of other groups.

But what you need is the former, not the latter. That his patterns actually did differentiate him isn't important. What would be important would be if he chose those patterns in an effort at self-differentiation.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:07 PM
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257: What you're saying is in fact noncontroversial, if by that you mean noncontroversially incorrect.


Posted by: Adam Kotsko | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:08 PM
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In other words, to the extent that consumption forms a modern day tribe, the idea of a tribe or clan or in-group is pretty old, but not one based on buying the beer from the other village to prove you were worldly.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:09 PM
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258: But more than that. That a conversation like:

"What social group do you belong to?"

"What are you, blind? Look at this shirt I'm wearing -- what could I possibly be but an [X]?"

is a conversation that a premodern peasant could have had just as much as a 21st century hipster*. The hipster chose to be a hipster, while the peasant is just wearing the sort of shirt worn in his locality by people of his social class, but they're both marked as members of a particular group by their stuff.

*Correcting for the fact that no one not from Mars would open a conversation like that.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:09 PM
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This is essentially humorless (every joke can be "criticized" in this way), and seems blithely unaware that the authors have obviously made those choices as well.

Well, part of my point is that much of the site actually isn't very funny. While much humor is, indeed, pointing at people outside the circle, that's not sufficient for it to be funny. Pointing at somebody doing something ostensibly ridiculous (overpaying for coffee, imagining that one's experiences would make a good book) is often funny. Pointing at someone doing something reasonable is only funny if you make a joke (a good comedian can make a joke out of reasonable things everyone does). All too often, the site doesn't actually bother with the "make a joke" part, assuming that the pointing alone is adequate. It would be, if the targets were better-selected. I've been saying this all along.

Perhaps, having made these choices as well, the authors are unaware of the distinctions between which of these tribal rituals are ridiculous signifiers, and which are simply reasonable choices.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:09 PM
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Serfs who only ate a certain kind of cheese weren't defining themselves by choosing that particular kind, they were eating the cheese that people in their area made. Consumerism is one part taking pride on how much you can spend and one part taking pride in how tasteful your choices are. Neither a factor with peasant.

I talked to an ex-peasant once from El Salvador and he said that when he was growing up 99% of his meals consisted either of beans and rice, rice without beans, or nothing. True story.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:10 PM
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But LB: it's the choosing that's the only relevant thing here!


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:10 PM
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I don't think a meal can consist of nothing, John.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:11 PM
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a premodern peasant could have had just as much as a 21st century hipster

No, really, truly, a premodern peasant could *not* have had that conversation. You can *imagine* him having that conversation, yes, but that isn't the same thing.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:12 PM
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pointing at people outside the circle

Um -- am I crazy or aren't they pointing at people INSIDE the circle?


Posted by: Barbar | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:13 PM
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This thread makes me ashamed to be a honky.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:13 PM
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Pre-modern ingroups tended to be defined by kinship, geography, and religious sect. Costume and other consumption choices might be a marker or they might not be, but they showed group membership. Outside the privileged groups consumption choices did not define identity.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:13 PM
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Making fun of someone for choosing something desirable, just because others have also chosen it, is dumb.

Again, this isn't it. It's making fun of someone for choosing something desirable because others having also chosen it plays a significant role in their having chosen it—not just because it's tradition, but because tastes are a means of social exclusion, and they want to be included. That's not dumb, that's (at least a little bit) intelligent social commentary. (That first sentence was also terribly written, but I wanted to add to the exact form of your sentence and strike-outs are annoying.)

Like I said at first, you need to be slightly outside of the target audience to get why this is funny and painful and true. I was not raised to relate to food in the proper white way and learning to do so would be inordinately difficult; to the extent that things like this matter, I'm fucked. The site brought this home well—it's laughable to claim that you can just name four different types of appliances and pass. The only move someone lacking this knowledge can make is remaining-alien flattery.


Posted by: destroyer | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:13 PM
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261: But what you need is the former, not the latter. That his patterns actually did differentiate him isn't important.

For the argument I want to be making, I wanted the latter -- the fact that his patterns actually did differentiate him is what I wanted to point out. And they differentiated him through his own choice -- while Joe didn't have another social group he could choose to belong to, he had to actively conform to belong to, rather than to be excluded from, the social group he was born into. He had to wear a normal looking shirt, and do Morris dancing on the third of May rather than the 12th like the people two counties over, and so on.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:13 PM
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White people like new posts.


Posted by: Michael | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:15 PM
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268: Lunchtime arrives, you ask your mom what's for lunch, she says nothing.

My sod-hut North Dakota sister in law remembers many times when her noon lunch consisted of a couple spoons of sugar.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:15 PM
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Seriously, how did this discussion of consumerism tie back to the website? Sure, if you're dirt poor, you don't make status-based decisions about what to purchase. But of course dirt-poor people are concerned with - or at the least, aware of - the signifiers of wealth and status.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:15 PM
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which are simply reasonable choices

Reasonable choices that are better than all the other choices. Hmm, is that evidence of privilege, I wonder? But yeah, I could never laugh at privileged people either, especially when I count myself as one of them.


Posted by: Barbar | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:15 PM
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271 pwned by 181, white boy.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:16 PM
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Ok, then, let me rephrase. If you want to make a relevant argument, you want the former, not the latter.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:16 PM
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Maybe I find it unfunny because I grew up reading Fran Liebowitz. She did more or less exactly what this site is trying to do, but was funny as hell. Kind of raised the bar. Fran could make me laugh at the foibles of groups I didn't even understand (being less than versed in the late-70s NYC gay milieu), as well as familiar ones. These people barely got a chuckle out of me showing up the foibles of our own group.

I saw the site name, smiled, clicked over, smiled a bit more, then smiled less as I clicked through entries. That's what all my reaction is to. Letdown.

270: No, I don't think so; my theory, stated before, is that these folks do some of these things, and are making fun of those who do all of them. Part of the reason I suspect this is that the people here who've found it the most funny also fit that description.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:16 PM
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Some white people are less easily ashamed than others.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:17 PM
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269: A premodern peasant couldn't have had a conversation about how his costume distinguished him from someone in a different social class/locality/occupation?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:17 PM
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The "What Honkies Like" ridiculing of honkies is, of course, only a step toward defining a new honky consumption style superior to the parvenu honky consumption style being ridiculed.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:17 PM
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274: So you're right because people generally don't choose to be social outcasts?

I guess if the idea of a social structure is so opaque to white people, the idea that social structures might change over time would naturally be difficult to grasp as well.


Posted by: Adam Kotsko | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:18 PM
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The more I think about it, the more I like my sugar model of consumerism. When sugar was outrageously expensive and scarce, it wasn't something that was used to judge people's consumer choices because it wasn't a choice; you were either nobility and had access to that kind of thing, or you weren't. But when sugar became just within reach for everyone except the poorest tenants, it became a consumer choice people were expected to make to show respect for one's guests, one that demonstrated the expert knowledge of how to use sugar in creative and interesting ways.

Most bourgeois consumer items are not outrageously expensive---that is, the blog doesn't list Hermes bags and stuff like that. They're things that are *pretty expensive* but the choice of which marks being "someone who knows about these things" more than it does "members of an in-group." So the self-satisfaction of bourgeois consumer items is not "You're not cool enough to have made the same consumer choices I have," but "You poor soul; if you only knew better, you'd have made the same consumer choices I have." That self-satisfaction might be about virtuousness, like in making environmentally sound choices, but it can also be aesthetic, like knowing what kind of music or film is liked by people who know a lot about music and film.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:18 PM
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280: If you want me to follow what makes the argument I'm actually making irrelevant, could you spell it out some?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:18 PM
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283: He could not have said what you said in the original comment. Now, yes, there were sumptuary laws in the early modern period, and certainly sumptuary customs before that, but the *concept* of using *that* to define one*self*, no; not a mental construct that existed. No one would say "I'm the kind of person who wears X," because wearing X was *not* defined as an identifying characteristic. It was a *symptom*, not a cause.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:20 PM
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I'm no expert, but I think social climbing, within the limits of what was possible, is also as old as time. The slave that interprets the pharoah's dream, the peasant girl who attracts the king, and maneuvers her children by him into positions where they can enrich everyone. And if you don't think the various things that these people might have been able acquire as gifts or with proceeds meant something, I think a re-examination is in order.

When were the first sumptuary laws? Didn't the Romans have them? I wouldn't be shocked to hear that the Egyptians had them back when they wee harnessing the power of the weak to build the pyramids.

Back to destroyer's point -- and I'm sorry to be so intermittent, but I'm on the train and reception isn't always good enough -- I think exclusion isn't really applicable to most of the activities were talking about. Recycling? Cooking? Reading a book instead of watching TV? While these preferences might not be shared in equal measure across all class and cultural lines, the people who enjoy cooking aren't getting any enjoyment from it based on the fact that other people don't like it, and can't afford to make such a production of it.

There's a lot of time to fill. I guess some people fill some of it with status games -- this is nearly completely alien to my experience -- and others with a meta-status game Whatever floats you boat.


Posted by: Napi | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:21 PM
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Doesn't most of Leviticus concenr marking yourself as a group member by what you choose to consume?


Posted by: Michael H Schneider | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:21 PM
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285: No, I'm saying that the choice of whether or not to be a social outcast (obviously a choice where 'not' is the vastly more attractive option) is a choice that, even before modern consumerism, was made in some part through choices about what to eat/wear/do for fun.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:22 PM
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288: Are we arguing whether or not people had self-concepts at all, or just whether they had self-concepts that were linked to clothing/food/things that cost money/etc?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:22 PM
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My Kirgiz tutee asked me what the American national hat was and was non-plussed to find that I'd never thought about it. I finally said cowboy hat, though baseball cap would have been better. Or stocking cap for slackers. Elites no longer seem to have standard hats. I once saw a photo of Emma Golden speaking to a lunchtime crowd of workers, and every man in the crowd had an almost identical hat except one bareheaded guy. Presumably he was the actual anarchist.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:23 PM
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292: The latter.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:24 PM
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286 cont'd: Those choices also usually mark one who is more interested in signaling that they are knowledgeable than they are invested in being frugal with money or time (or, if you prefer, "cheap" and "lazy").


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:24 PM
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White people like cool old-timey sodas like spruce beer and sassafrass. White people also like Big League Chew, but maybe not as much as they remember.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:25 PM
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No one would say "I'm the kind of person who wears X," because wearing X was *not* defined as an identifying characteristic.

Right, but Joe Peasant could say in answer to my questioner from Mars "Look at me. I'm wearing the sort of shirt that Shropshire, rather than Devonshire, peasants, rather than gentry, wear. Even though you don't know me, the shirt should tell you I'm a Shropshire peasant, because I'm wearing the shirt symptomatic of being one."


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:25 PM
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Y'all have read Science as a Vocation, right?


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:26 PM
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What about things white people don't like? Off the top of my head, genocide, Glenn Reynolds, and New Coke.


Posted by: Michael | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:28 PM
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So the claim is that there existed signifiers of wealth, but poor people had no self-concept attached to how they failed to express those signifiers?

This seems counter-intuitive. I mean, if Joe Peasant finds a shiny silver button, he's not going to sew it front and center to his shirt, and put the rusted torn one elsewhere?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:28 PM
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294: And I'm saying people's self-concepts \ were linked to clothing and food and recreation even if not in the same way they are now. The clothing and food and recreation weren't individually chosen as a means of acquiring the group identity, but they were linked with, or in your words symptomatic of, the group identity. The existence of the linkage hasn't changed, even if its nature has.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:28 PM
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These threads seriously need to be merged with recent Valve threads about education and class markers.

Forgive if pwned


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:28 PM
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297: No, honestly, he couldn't. You can imagine him doing so, but that isn't the same thing.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:28 PM
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My understanding is that social climbing through consumption choices is very old, but that before 200 years or so ago the percent of the population able to play the game was 5% -- 10% and no more. One estimate is that as late as 1800 10% of the European population was too undernourished to work. For a big proportion of the population you may have been defined by what you consumed, or labelled by it, but you basically consumed what everyone else around you did.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:29 PM
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Science as a Vocation, with analytical listing of contents!

The relevant parts here are what the students want, Weber nach: a leader, not a teacher, who will tell them not merely that "you serve this god and you offend the other god when you decide to adhere to this position" but answer the question "which of the warring gods should we serve?". Because who they shall be is a question for them, to be answered, perhaps, but purchasing a standing mixer.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:29 PM
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Stand, mixer, and accept this signifier.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:31 PM
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One of the things that struck me on my most recent read-through of SaaV was:

Today youth feels rather the reverse: the intellectual constructions of science constitute an unreal realm of artificial abstractions, which with their bony hands seek to grasp the blood-and-the-sap of true life without ever catching up with it.

That's not so far from blood and soil, you know.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:31 PM
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303: Could you spell out the "he couldn't"? No concept of a place far enough away that the peasants dressed visibly differently? Because I think that's false. Or what?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:32 PM
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UMCWs supposedly do this the most, or the worst, or something. However it is, when they do it, they're stupid. Ha ha.

I think the question, for those of us on the other side, is why is this particular form of mockery, which happens in all subcultures, somehow wrong? This is a very old form of mockery, pointing out the pretensions of your own class. It seems particularly bizarre to be upset by something like this because UMCW are well situated to, you know, laugh it off. See Lab's #27.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:34 PM
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I think we're talking about the priority of the consumption choices to one's self-concept, and to the extent they existed at all, they were secondary to the person's role in society. You wore this tartan because you belonged to this estate, and so the tartan told everyone who you were, and whether you were a loyal ally or one of those hated foes. But you didn't pick the tartan to signify where you thought you belonged.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:34 PM
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Repeating myself, what's in question is individual choices. Peasants didn't choose their consumption markers, mostly because they were impoverished and partly because the local markets didn't offer a wide range of choices.

You also have had societies where individual distinction was defined by some other method than consumption choices. Many classical Athenians lived pretty frugally and defined themselves in other ways (they were very competitive), and people with luxurious habits were suspect.

Sumptuary laws mostly functioned to protect alway-declining aristocracies against wealthier nobodies such as financiers, businessmen, mercenaries, successful lackeys, etc. Poverty kept the peasants and laborers down.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:35 PM
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But you didn't pick the tartan to signify where you thought you belonged.

Sure. You didn't pick it, or choose where to belong. But it was an outward signifier which you understood as showing where you did belong. (For tartan, specifically, I think that's all a 19th century phony-historical myth. But that sort of thing.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:36 PM
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I thought where the site fell down was that it wasn't just making fun of foibles of "white people". The authors seemed to want to make a point. Let's suppose the point is that people shouldn't define themselves by their consumer choices. You're reading Unfogged one day, you click the link to Stuff White People Like, clap yourself on the head and say, "They're right! From this day forth, I will no longer define myself by consumer choices." Now what? Do you still shop at Whole Foods, or were you always shopping at Whole Foods because you defined yourself by your consumer choices? Do you still listen to Arcade Fire, or do you switch to Barry Manilow? The whole argument recapitulates the narrative of authenticity that led to Whole Foods in the first place.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:37 PM
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It would never in a million years occur to him that "my people wear these kinds of shirts whereas the folks in the next village over wear a different kind" was a *meaningful* distinction in any way. Because one wore what was to hand; it wasn't something one chose, or didn't. If he had to travel to the next village and somehow picked up a shirt, he'd wear that shirt and not think twice about it.

I mean, yes; *you*, standing outside, can say, "oh look, those people wear x shirts and those other people wear y shirts." But that's a completely different (and in this case, ahistorical) way of looking at it, one that would not be accessible to a person in that place and time.

Like, oh, say, if someone a hundred years from now were to argue that you could say that the toe jam of New Yorkers tended to be gray, while that of Californians tended to be brown. Maybe it's true, and if so, sure; a hundred years from now someone might use it to distinguish the two groups. But you and I would never do that, because we have never conceived of the color of toe jam as having any meaning whatsoever.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:37 PM
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But what is the bloody relevance of that, ms breath?


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:37 PM
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Could you spell out the "he couldn't"?

Obv., B should answer. But I'm not understanding your sense of the serf's choice. Yes, he could either choose to be ostracized and perhaps have the shit beat out of him or not. But that's not choice, really, as I understand the concept.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:37 PM
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LB, what are you arguing? Yes, people were defined by costumes they wore, but no, that isn't consumerism, because people were not defined by their consumption choices. They were defined by the consumption habits assigned to them at birth. And most people couldn't raise their status by changing their consumption choices.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:39 PM
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Well now wait a minute (he says again). It doesn't mean a thing that in the distant past only a small portion of the population could afford to play the stupid game of trying to communicate through things. Only a small portion of the population is being accused of playing this game now.

White people on the West Coast (and I think the bloggers have a strong regional bias) of certain age, class, and education.


Posted by: Napi | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:39 PM
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With respect, LB, that's a lot different from modern consumption, unless you're weakening your claim to 'people like stuff that they have and notice differences.' I do pick, e.g., my new glasses for how they look and, in more reflective moments, what they signify. The calapeasant ancestors might have thought those other villagers ate weird cheese, but they weren't constructing their identity in the same way as I might when I choose to eat weird cheese.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:40 PM
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1. White people like the "What White People Like" site.

2. White people like jokes about recursion.


Posted by: Matt McIrvin | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:40 PM
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314: I get the toe-jam example. Here's where I get hung up: There existed wealthy people, who did things differently, and serfs and peasants were well aware that the lords and ladies loved the toe jam. If a trait occurs within the variation you see, why wouldn't your self-concept be tied to your expression or non-expression or lack of funds to express that trait?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:41 PM
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314: I'm not sure how you're using meaningful. If you mean it's not meaningful to him in the sense that that he doesn't place any value on the distinction, sure. But that's not contrary to what LB is saying. If you mean it's not meaningful to him in the sense that when presented with the strange question that starts off LB's hypothetical he wouldn't think to answer it that way, what you said doesn't explain why.


Posted by: washerdreyer | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:41 PM
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I do like a good recursion joke. You got me there.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:42 PM
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289:There's a lot of time to fill.

No there isn't. Outahere.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:42 PM
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Actually, for the Kirgiz a man's hat told you who he was, and a Kirgiz wouldn't change hats lightly. But it was a marker of birth, not a consumption choice. I would imagine that changing hats would be a marker of treason, espionage, or something like that. At a minimum, uxorilocal intermarriage with another tribe.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:42 PM
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Only a small portion of the population is being accused of playing this game now.

Who is exempt from this game???


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:42 PM
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298: Teaching it next week!


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:42 PM
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It would never in a million years occur to him that "my people wear these kinds of shirts whereas the folks in the next village over wear a different kind" was a *meaningful* distinction in any way. Because one wore what was to hand; it wasn't something one chose, or didn't. If he had to travel to the next village and somehow picked up a shirt, he'd wear that shirt and not think twice about it.

This, I think you're dead wrong about as matter of fact. I haven't got books in my office right now, and you've got a doctorate and I don't, but I'd swear that premodern peasants had a strong concept of ordinary local people as distinguished from peculiar people from far away (where far away wasn't that far off) based on differences in dress, diet, and so forth. The guy who went to the next village, while he wouldn't have the option of choosing the sort of shirt characteristic of his hometown, would be vividly aware that he was surrounded by 'foreigners', because they dressed funny and their cheese tasted different.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:42 PM
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White people hate exogamy.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:43 PM
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John always has to introduce the talking hats into the conversation.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:43 PM
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321: Not funds or expression, nope. Those people were lords and ladies (and probably, in fact, serfs had no clue about what lords and ladies loved or didn't), and we were serfs. End of story.

That's why in, say, fairy tales, you can hide the princess in the woods and she can live with dwarves for her entire growing up, wearing peasant clothing and cleaning their house, and yet when the prince shows up he *immediately recognizes her as a princess*. Because her royalty has *nothing to do with her surroundings, clothing, activities, etc.* It is innate. It shines from within. It *is* her identity.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:44 PM
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327: For what purpose?


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:44 PM
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It doesn't mean a thing that in the distant past only a small portion of the population could afford to play the stupid game of trying to communicate through things.

Wrong.

Only a small portion of the population is being accused of playing this game now.

"Small" used to be less than 10%. Now it's practically everybody at some level. The specific site defines a certain class of West Coast yuppie, but in Seinfeld there's a very similiar pattern.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:45 PM
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Ok, LB does apparently think that he placed value on the fact that he wore that shirt and is making a stronger claim than I thought.


Posted by: washerdreyer | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:45 PM
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(and probably, in fact, serfs had no clue about what lords and ladies loved or didn't),

No way. The lower class always knows what the upper class is doing. They're the ones changing the chamber pots.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:45 PM
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317:The Red & Blue chariot teams cut across class.

I must check out Amazonian penis sheaths for tribal and status markers. I'll let ya know.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:45 PM
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I'm agreeing with B at the moment, but I do reject fairy-tale evidence.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:46 PM
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319: Look back at my 203, which started this sub-thread. "Defining yourself by the things you like and do" may have been poorly phrased, but I didn't mean consumer choices, or social climbing, by it. By 218 I had clarified that I wasn't talking about consumerism, which is new, but that since forever, the stuff you have and the things you do recreationally have been part of how people define their social identities, whether those identities are chosen or imposed by circumstance.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:47 PM
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The serf bought what he did because of who he was; the modern man is who he is because of what he buys.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:47 PM
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328: Noticing that X group is different is not the same as defining your*self* by what *you* wear. That's why foreigners/blacks/indians/etc. are "exotic" and have "native costumes," while white/European people simply wear "clothes." And why white college students and guilty liberals moan about how they "don't *have* a culture"--which is what sites like the one we all think is so Very Unfunny and Inaccurate are pointing out.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:48 PM
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But LB, "defining yourself" is a thing you do. It doesn't count as "defining yourself" if you have no choice. In that case, you are defined.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:48 PM
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335: I just know that if Heebie were changing my chamber pot, everybody in town would immediately hear about the details of my every dump.

I won't give her that chance, thankyouverymuch. No chamber pots for you, Heeb!


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:49 PM
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335: Serfs didn't change chamber pots. Servants did.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:49 PM
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destroyer: I used to feel the exact way that you feel, when I was approximately your age. I grew up pretty poor, and when I first started hanging out with the upper middle-class in college, I found it very disorienting. It felt like every little difference between me and everyone else was visible from space. Over the years, the feeling faded. Since we are social creatures, you pick up enough of the worldview that you "pass" even without making much of an effort.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:49 PM
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(340 continued: Also why, as Emerson says, "Americans" don't have a "national hat.")


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:50 PM
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The sadness of it for me is that a lot of people end up defining themselves consumeristically when there are actually other ways of doing it, and in many cases people are aware of that. But getting and spending is something that's right there for you to do.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:51 PM
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339:serf didn't buy much

Athenians IIRC, owned about a half dozen articles of clothing total, and put their surplus up on the Acropolis or the fleet.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:52 PM
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It felt like every little difference between me and everyone else was visible from space.

You know what's really unnerving? Being told by genuine urban bourgeois white people, repeatedly, that this is true about you. And it's not said or meant in a nice way.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:53 PM
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No way. The lower class always knows what the upper class is doing. They're the ones changing the chamber pots.

Some of them are, and I think this is an important thing to remember. But most of them aren't, and when it's France in 950 AD, say, the flow of information is not so great. Yes, one way or another, a peasant of that era would get exposed to someone of the higher classes -- the members of the local gentry who tax your wheat, or who press you into military service, or whatever -- but it's a relatively small proportion of the lower classes who have access to the intimate details of upper class life, and they aren't writing the medieval equivalent of The Nanny Diaries about it, you know?


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:54 PM
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344: My son hated going to a school where 90% of the students had more money than him. Educationally he did fine, but it really ground him down. Oddly, some of his friends were rich hippy wannabes, but my son was poor because his parents had been actual hippies.

Even in HS he went to a party in the woods where the other kids threw away a lot of perfectly good leftovers, including leftover vodka. To him that was just sinful.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:55 PM
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332: Comes between Freud and Lukács in the intellectual history course.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:55 PM
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340, 341: Okay. So we're in agreement that Joe Peasant could look at his own shirt and say "That's a normal shirt, that normal ordinary people like me wear." He never picked out the shirt-style: he was born in a village and a social group where shirts looked like that. But he knows what's normal, and it's the shirt he's wearing. And he could make a fifty-mile journey, and say "Man, people are weird around here. Not like home. Look at those fucked up shirts." So far, that's a possible pre-modern thought process?

That's all I was talking about -- that the characteristics of your stuff have been a means of identifying your social group and differentiating it from others since forever. "Defining yourself" was apparently a very poor choice of words for that -- would "placing yourself in a social group" or "identifying yourself as a member of a social group" be better?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:56 PM
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including leftover vodka

That is bizarre!


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:57 PM
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I need to get and spend to lay waste my powers because it's the only thing that stops me from using my powers for Evil.

B: What bothered me about the Very Unfunny and Inaccurate site is not that it pointed out that "white people" have a culture, but the subtext that white liberals should be, as liberals, above having a culture of their own. Moaning that you don't have a culture while standing in line at the farmer's market is worthy of ridicule. Shopping at the farmer's market by itself is not intrinsically all that funny.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:57 PM
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leftover vodka

What a bizarre concept. Throwing out vodka? It's not like it goes bad.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:57 PM
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shivbunny has interesting stories to tell about rural Alberta, and the prestige of farmers varying with their income. His dad grew up dirt poor, like a big sandwich was a wonderful meal poor, and this attitude stuck with him such that while he wasn't a great father in a lot of respects, as an adult who had made some money he spoiled shivbunny, always asking if he needed new shoes or clothes or money to go out.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:58 PM
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332: Comes between Freud and Lukács in the intellectual history course.

I take it this is not a thematically uh, extremely coherent course.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:58 PM
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350: I was just thinking the other day how lucky I was to have gone to high school in the mid-90's. Even though my family was in the bottom 10% financially in our area, it wasn't a big deal socially because that was the era when spending as little as possible on one's clothes was the definition of cool. My friends with old beat-up 70's Novas and Malibus were the ones with the cool cars, not the kids whose cardiologist fathers bought them new sportscars. I've tried explaining this kind of reverse-social-competition to my students, and they have no idea what the fuck I'm talking about. Why would anyone brag about not spending money?


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:59 PM
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But most of them aren't, and when it's France in 950 AD, say, the flow of information is not so great.

But don't you just take whatever microscopic variation that is within reach and magnify its importance a million fold? So that at the Catholic girls school with mandatory uniforms, one's charm bracelet becomes the most important thing ever?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:59 PM
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350:leftover vodka in a just world would be an oxymoron


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 4:59 PM
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White people like finishing the alcohol they've purchased.


Posted by: washerdreyer | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:00 PM
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So is anyone else kind of pysched about Portishead's reformation?


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:00 PM
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358: I think of it as a midwestern thing. Someone compliments you on your clothes? You got it on SALE. Paying full price or not finding a deal just shows you got taken for a ride.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:01 PM
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You do, and I do, but I don't think that medieval peasants did this in the same way. Obviously since they weren't writing the Medieval Nanny Diaries or, indeed, anything at all, it's hard to know what their lives were like on this level, in the slightest. But as far as I know, the prevailing opinion among historians is that they didn't, in fact, engage in that kind of class-based striving and signaling.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:02 PM
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348: Did this happen to you in New York? In my experience, that kind of deliberate in-group norming is much more common within a certain slice of New York population that it is anywhere else.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:03 PM
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364 to 359.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:03 PM
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I like commas, yes, I do. I like commas, how 'bout you?


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:04 PM
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The vodka is still good. We should go get it and drink it.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:04 PM
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363: I think it goes a little beyond that, though. I mean, I did learn in the midwest how to get especially excited to find a $750 dress for $35 (a dress which is still in my closet, y'all). But the particular mid-90's thing was eschewing the very notion of "quality." I'd wear my brother's hand-me-down jeans with holes in them specifically because oversized and worn-out was cooler than wearing high-quality clothes that fit, no matter the actual cost of them.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:05 PM
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357: I take it this is not a thematically uh, extremely coherent course.

No, more like a mad dash through about a hundred years.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:06 PM
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Well, rfts, about commas, I guess I'd say, if, you know, I had to, that, like many, I like them, when properly deployed, and in proper number, about as much as, I suppose, most do.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:06 PM
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You know what's really unnerving? Being told by genuine urban bourgeois white people, repeatedly, that this is true about you. And it's not said or meant in a nice way.

Right. And when you make a website pointing out things that are true about (urban bourgeois) white people get their noses bent out of joint.

the subtext that white liberals should be, as liberals, above having a culture of their own.

That isn't the subtext of the site. At all. It's the thing that's making people feel upset/bothered by/unamused by the site. "That's true of *some* people, but not me!" "That's true of *some* people, including me, but not all those people are white!" "I'm white and I like some of those things, but in other ways, I really don't fit into that group at all!" In other words, it defines *a* culture, maybe, but *I* don't belong to it! I don't *have* a culture! And if I do, it's the one that *I* think/choose to belong to, certainly not one that some other person or web site is defining for me! Etc.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:07 PM
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In much of the Midwest, especially here in Wobegon, conspicuous consumption is frowned on. Having a perfect house is wonderful, but having a big state-of-the-art house isn't.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:08 PM
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365: Yes. Specifically, in Brooklyn, of course. If you don't "fit in" in Manhattan, you might be really special or a star of some sort. Not fitting in in Brooklyn is a sort of social crime. The funny thing, of course, is there are 45 or so different neighborhoods in Brooklyn, each with its own specific definition for how to fit in.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:08 PM
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that the characteristics of your stuff have been a means of identifying your social group and differentiating it from others since forever.

Since Moses and Aaron, at least. "See this thing on my head, and the thing on my doorpost, and no pigs? Of course I'm a Jew"


Posted by: Michael H Schneider | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:09 PM
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Wait, what?

In the past most people couldn't afford to consume for status. Some could.

Today, many more can consume for status. The website makes fun of people who do. A bunch of you seem to know/be such people. I'm surprised: it makes more sense (to me) to buy things you like, than because you think they will make other people think well of you.

I'd like the challenge you each to itemize something you bought where status/signification was an important element. (And I think the signification ought to have social significance: I'm wearing a sweatshirt with the logo of my undergrad alma mater -- I'd don't think this counts particularly).

On that note, I've got a dinner date in Philadelphia with a young redhead, and will have to sign out now.


Posted by: Napi | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:09 PM
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the prevailing opinion among historians is that they didn't, in fact, engage in that kind of class-based striving and signaling.

I believe this. It just seems counter-intuitive. I can't think of a culture where there aren't beads to count or intricacies of hand-sewn garments, and the poorest people anywhere scrape together some version of it for the coming-of-age ceremony.

Are the middle ages an anomaly here?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:11 PM
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re: 350

I can't envisage a world in which kids throw away vodka. I can barely imagine flinging away vodka now.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:11 PM
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Bitch and Kotsko, I really wish you would name names when you talk about who you think is getting bent out of joint about this stuff, instead of just implying everyone except yourselves. Because I think there are a variety of different opinions here and I can't tell which ones either of you is attacking. Are you just saying, a pox on everyone but yourselves? If you mean something more specific than that, I might agree with you.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:11 PM
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My son loved Brooklyn because he said that it was impossible to be too weird for Brooklyn. He also liked being in a place where people let it all hang out, after a lifetime in a place where everyone was cool and subdued.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:11 PM
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380: So so so not true. I spent all of Friday night at a party in Williamsburg with 20-year-olds who were all wearing exactly the same "weird" outfit, and who stared at me like I was from another planet.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:13 PM
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372: I guarantee the feeling you describe is shared by the person who writes the site. "I'm not _that_ kind of white person who thinks he's helping the environment by driving a Prius. I drive a fifteen-year-old Ford Escort, because I am more authentic." How else do you explain something like the Prius post?


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:15 PM
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One last thing, then back to my Edmund Wilson multiply nostalgic trip. So re Wilson, last of his type:

Culture, both educational & consumerist, used to be clearly heirarchical or vertical, for like many centuries. Wilson learned Greek & Latin in secondary school, as did Jefferson, Jonson, Erasmus? Hand-tailored suits & classical music & Joyce/Proust. That heirarchy no longer exists, and you're kidding yourself if you think it does.

Here in flyover country, your mixer will not impress, you need a self-landscaped lawn or backyard deck. Big money, and more importantly, time and/or skills. Status has become remarkably horizontal, and the coastals and upwardly climbing have become confused and desparate.

We are not even impressed with great wealth. The social status of community involvement and power is available to any willing to work for it.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:16 PM
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377: Striving is disapproved of in a lot of societies and groups, and a lot of people are really too poor to strive, and a lot of striving isn't done be competitive consumption, where you have a lot of pretty similar people defining themslves by their shit.

Part of the site was the way hip aware liberals use their consumption to distinguish themselves from more ot less equally well off people who spend their money on monster trucks. Which is not a class distinction.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:16 PM
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376: Not much of a challenge, for me. Perhaps I'm unusually vain or conformist, but I think a lot of what I choose to buy or decide to like is heavily influenced by being a graduate student surrounded by people with certain expectations, etc. Sometimes subconsciously; I shop at that store because I asked a friend where a good place to get groceries was, &c.

But sometimes consciously. I have new glasses. They're a little funky and not, say, thin gold wire granny glasses. I wore a business suit to an interview. &c. And I don't think of myself as particularly social climbing or into status symbols, so I can't believe that everyone is just wearing their clothes and driving their cars by chance.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:17 PM
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381: He was talking about the street life, I think.

Perhaps you were being stared at because you were groping the young talent.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:19 PM
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377: Mmm, I think it's more that in a society with a rigid class structure, while it might be important to have a nice thing for a special occasion, one can't buy one's way out of the class. So the peasant might dress up for her wedding, but wouldn't be bucking for a promotion to nobility.

If I don't want to look like a girl from Pittsburgh, I move to NYC, buy new clothes, adopt some new habits, and I'm set.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:19 PM
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Here in flyover country, your mixer will not impress, you need a self-landscaped lawn or backyard deck. Big money, and more importantly, time and/or skills. Status has become remarkably horizontal, and the coastals and upwardly climbing have become confused and desparate.

We are not even impressed with great wealth. The social status of community involvement and power is available to any willing to work for it.

This is not sheerly a function of geography, but of how complicated class identity can be. In any part of the country, there will be academics, for example, who care about what they cook and how they cook it, who like their stand mixers and good pho, and feel a sense of "ah, a fellow cultured person" when they encounter someone else who feels similarly.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:21 PM
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I wonder if Brooklyn has changed. Williamsburg as hipster heaven is relatively new development, I think. I lived in NY in the early 90s, and I don't remember Williamsburg having the reputation it has now.

Napi: Given that most people do things because they like them, completely separate from what they signify, how do you explain that groups of people tend to have similar buying habits. (Probably norms determine not what you do, but what you don't do. I'm sure both skiing and going to the rodeo are fun, but social forces will dictate you can't like both.)


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:22 PM
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Drat, forgot about the way that paragraphs and other tags interact here.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:22 PM
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Where Bob lives, the only thing they're impressed with is great wealth. DFW is the most unironic unembarrassed center for conspicuous consumption in the country today. I read an interview with a businessman who said he liked doing business in Dallas better than in New York because in Dallas he didn't have to pretend to like the opera.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:24 PM
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pwned by 373 shoulda known better

382:That's the point, not that either driving the Prius or Escort is "better", but that there is no longer a "better". You join a subgroup because you attracted to the status markers of that subgroups, or for other deviant reasons, like fueling ressentiment.

"White people" think the Prius/Escort distinction is important. Obama supporters think justifying their vote on the basis of policy rather than emotion is important. You choose to join a discourse, almost everyone everywhere.

Wilson makes fun of Ezra Pound for desperately wanting to be a particular kind of expatriate American:"Look, I read 10 languages."


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:24 PM
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I finally broke down and googled "stand mixer". I have lost my innocence.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:28 PM
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391:You don't have a clue. I couldn't care less what goes on in Highland Park or North Dallas, and neither do my hundreds of thousands of neighbours. But there is a vicious and very expensive compettion over city park quality.

What, you think we would be impressed with a Mercedes among the Ford 150s? You're wrong.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:28 PM
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Drat, forgot about the way that paragraphs and other tags interact here.

Jeez. A little success and rtfs gets sloppy.

Have we congratulated her enough yet?


Posted by: will | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:28 PM
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389: The history as I know it is that Williamsburg in the 80's was split between Chasidim, Dominicans, and largely African-American projects residents. In the early-mid 90's, artists started moving in from Texas and Ohio and stuff, to take up warehouse spaces that were sitting empty. I know some of those people who moved in around that time, and they're not "hip"; they're genuinely weird loner types. Aggregations of other young people from the South and Midwest started to appear, along with higher rents, restaurants and clubs, etc. There have been oddly fancy restaurants and bars peppered throughout W'burg for a long time (like Peter Luger, but also a lot of fancy/hip places), especially in hard-to-get-to areas.

The really major and hostile expansion of W'burg as a trust-fundy teen-dream paradise was 2002-2004. After the rich kids and their uniform clothing came the condos and stuff.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:29 PM
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Wilson (Edmund, right, not Woodrow?) was into the reading-languages thing himself. IIRC he learned Hungarian on a dare.

Pound was to be ridiculed for his desire to be a baron wering a cape and a sword. A lot of his stuff approaches the Pre-Raphaelite contentwise.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:30 PM
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I'm coming around to the notion that you all are describing. I think part of my hesistancy was to avoid romanticizing the poor natives: they were immune from the rat race that makes our society so stressful! (Of course their lives were stressful in a million other ways. This was just my knee-jerk reaction.)


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:31 PM
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I stipulate that Highland Park and North Dallas are, in fact, in flyover country.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:32 PM
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My son's Brooklyn visits were in the 1993-2000 period.

Another city he really liked was Berlin. He hated Boston. London was too expensive.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:33 PM
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oddly fancy

Since I was a kid, the most amazing place to buy gorgeous children's clothes was a weird little hole in the wall in W'burg, Nathan Borlan. Ratty dusty little store a couple of steps down from the street, with beautiful French and Italian designer clothes for little kids. I'm too cheap to have bought much for Sally there, but it's an amazing place. (Or was -- I haven't been since she was three. But it hadn't changed then since I was a little girl.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:35 PM
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(I have no idea how that bit of consumerist nostalgia fits in to the subject of the conversation generally. But it probably does. White people like buying stunning Italian outfits for little girls from Orthodox Jews in scruffy shops.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:43 PM
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376: I could go on about that for quite some time, I imagine. For example, during my first semester of law school, I ended up dying a chunk of my hair purple and getting my nose pierced and wearing some more "punk"-type accessories than I had, say, in college. It was this weird impulse I had to do these things. And it wasn't because I was hanging out with people who accessorized that way, which would be an obvious explanation for such an impulse. On later reflection, I think I was kind of horrified by the upper-classness and preppy squarishness of my law school classmates, and worried that I was going to become boring and studious and fastidious, and my accessorizing and piercing and hair-dying was a way to signal to all those people "I'm different. I'm special and punk rock and I don't give a fuck. I'm not like you."


Posted by: m. leblanc | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:44 PM
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Gawd help me, but B's right in the second part of #372. Yes, you/we/they are mockable, with all manner of little silly trivial vanities. Welcome to humanity, folks. C'mon in, the water's fine.

I guarantee the feeling you describe is shared by the person who writes the site. "I'm not _that_ kind of white person who thinks he's helping the environment by driving a Prius. I drive a fifteen-year-old Ford Escort, because I am more authentic." How else do you explain something like the Prius post?

Or there might be a future entry mocking the guy who drives the Ford Escort for the sake of authenticity. Gawd knows that's a standard criticism/joke of UMCWs. Hell, maybe that entry already exists.

What do people who are upset feel accused about?


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:44 PM
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I'm not upset. I am procrastinating from doing work, and this argument is the best on offer. I thought the site was a little bit funny, but it came across as neurotic. If it were less neurotic, it would have been funnier.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:48 PM
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I never knew that white people could discuss whiteness to such length. We must have about 700+ comments now?


Posted by: Willy Voet | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:48 PM
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I'm sure a room full of Willy Voets could discuss Willy Voetness for at least 800+ comments.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:48 PM
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If it were less neurotic, it would have been funnier.

There is nothing more UMCW than neuroses, big guy. It was baked into the cake.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:50 PM
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341: "defining yourself" is a thing you do. It doesn't count as "defining yourself" if you have no choice. In that case, you are defined.

For what it's worth, this puts it nicely, in indicating the difference between modern consumption-driven identity construction and premodern (or what have you). Not that everything's solved: it's still a bloody mess, what with the feedback loop between outward trappings and inward drive (we moderns are not mere blank slates who might rewrite ourselves at will).


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:52 PM
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United Methodist Church of Westford?


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:53 PM
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AWB, I know it gets said here a fair amount, by you as well as others, but you really know a hell of a lot of assholes. I tend to run in more hipster crowds in a large city, but I never get any of the shit you seem to despite not really bothering with the full uniform (sure, I like small threadless and band tshirts, but who the hell wants to wear jeans that tight?). And there are plenty of other people who wear way more out-of-the-mainstream clothes without problems. I've been to loft dance parties and juke/underground-hip-hop shows with my buddy who always wears Polo everything and still have not run into any people being jerks about it.

As for a lot of people's complaints about the recycling and the Prius and the such, I don't think those choices are getting denigrated. They're being observed. And attempts by really white people (such as me) to blow them up into much more meaningful and significant gestures are roundly mocked, along with our painful self-awareness and guilt regarding those facts, and the reflection, and then feeling kind of uncomfortable with our guilt, and so on through infinite layers of meta. This is especially shown in the recycling entry.

If this is meant as any sort of deeper critique, rather than just a giant pile of observations and tiny tweaks that are truly the funniest in aggregate, I'd say it's probably a jab from the left rather than a glibertarian-style "why do they all do that? it's completely ineffective and not as if caring matters anyway".


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:57 PM
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I had a long comment about lawncare, but I deleted it.

Like I said, The Valve threads were interesting, because they were mostly talking about giving lower class kids tools, class markers to "pass", to rise to middleclass. I guess. I'm middle or lowermiddle, and I din't need to speak good.

And if I read enough Wilson & Ransom etc, I can fake it without actually needing to read those boring arty novels. Note to English profs:give 'em the critics and not the works. Shores of Light is one fuck of a fakebook.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 5:58 PM
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From SNL, with Jim Belushi and (I think) Joe Piscapo:

******
I'm a white guy, I don't take no crap
When I deliver my white rap

I got my money the old fashioned way
My granddaddy dropped dead one day

I'm rich, hot damn
I never had to go to Vietnam

Got a BMW and MBA
Vote GOP on Election Day

On Sundays for an extra thrill
We fire up the Weber grill
Invite some white guys and their wives
We drink to within an inch of our lives
Then it's off to Ruth and Ed's
Where we wind up in each other's beds
I wake up, Ruth's next to me
I'm so glad I had a vasectomy

But that's all right, we won't fight
It's just not done when your extremely white

we're extremely white- that's right-
we walk with our buttocks extremely tight

The Wife says:

Drop him off at the railway station
Grip my teeth in sheer frustration

Then it off to the tennis club
For a tennis match and body rub

We all go shopping. I buy a dress
Put it on the white guy's American Express

"I'm liberated. I belong to NOW.
But I voted for Reagan anyhow

Vodka, Gin and Sweet Vermouth
Lots of bran to keep our bowels loose

Blah, Blah
An oriental gardener to mow the yard.

******
I'm afraid I laughed at the time. Now I realize that was not the proper response.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 6:00 PM
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411.1: I just want to add that I don't think this says anything significant about you so much as about those people you seem to keep running into. I don't know if the NYC scene is just that damn terrible, or if you started off knowing a bad crowd (easy enough depending on what school you go to or who you first click with) and have just ended up stuck with that social circle for a while. Maybe you should import some people from another part of the country? And not the sort of people who really want to go to NYC?


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 6:01 PM
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Or people from NYC, which makes them not the sort of people who move to NYC, if you see what I mean? Your Brooklyn social circle just sounds ghastly.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 6:03 PM
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nose bent out of shape

With AWB, not sure who you're accusing, other than everyone but yourself. I'm not upset - I just don't think the site's very well done. Not funny enough, not incisive enough.

For instance: the recycling bit was pretty good, especially the practical joke idea. Because it was funny on its own, plus captured the inflated role that recycling has in the UMCW self-conception. The Obama gag was just a quick funny - not much to it, but a good gag. But most of it's just not that good, and I've been talking about why.

Reasonable choices that are better than all the other choices. Hmm, is that evidence of privilege, I wonder?

Who ever said they were better than all the others? My only point was that, if someone's doing something reasonable, simply pointing and laughing is neither commentary nor humor. If the fashion is flannel shirts, and you live in the Northeast and it's winter, there's no joke there - you have to create it. OTOH, flannel shirts in Miami in August only require a point and a laugh. Maybe still not incisive, but funny.

FWIW, I'm not especially fond of jokes with begin and end with mocking red staters or suburbanites. I wouldn't spend much time at a website that did nothing more than chronicle the quotidian choices of white Peorians (they went to Olive Garden! Har har.). You can make the joke work - The Onion's "Family found alive in suburbs" - but you have to work at it.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 6:16 PM
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people from NYC, which makes them not the sort of people who move to NYC

What's funny about leaving NYC for college is that upon meeting many people who want to move to NYC, one begins to feel as if one must earn re-entrance. I was born there, I deserve a spot when I go back, I tell myself. And then I realize that spot is waiting in my mother's basement; otherwise I have to get into line for the cheap apartments/expensive jobs like everyone else.

Shorter: "Losing My Edge," by LCD Soundsystem.


Posted by: destroyer | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 6:17 PM
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What's funny about leaving NYC for college is that upon meeting many people who want to move to NYC, one begins to feel as if one must earn re-entrance.

I feel somewhat similarly about Berkeley. I know far less about the kinds of things in the city that people who moved there for college or after generally know and want to know about because I left before I developed those kinds of interests, if I've developed them at all.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 6:23 PM
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If you had to classify the reaction here, would it be more like the above or more like, "I like my stand mixer"?

I haven't read all of the comments, but I always liked this line:

"In short, wealth and privilege have not entirely squandered their opportunities."

(the context)

I am speaking of the dilemma that Roland Barthes frequently grappled with. All his life, Barthes was a fervent advocate of the politically engaged avant-garde (the Writerly), and he was the most astute critic of the bourgeois "classical" (the despised Readerly). The rude fact that Barthes bumped his nose against repeatedly was, political convictions aside, all of his sense of pleasure and beauty was wrapped up in the bourgeois. The secret of his critique of Balzac, in his beautiful book S/Z, is that he loved Balzac. He found Balzac unbelievably sexy. And he found Balzac worthy of a book length investigation, a compliment he never offered Robe-Grillet. Barthes' term for this quality, this je ne sais quoi of the ruling class, was "the bourgeois art of life."
In short, wealth and privilege have not entirely squandered their opportunities. We need to discover some of the insight of Bardamu in Celine's Journey to the End of Night when, destitute and AWOL from WWI, he finds himself sitting in a bank in New York City. And for a moment he thinks he understands the reason for wealth: so the rest of us can have something beautiful to look at.

Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 6:27 PM
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We're drifting, I'll share my new McMegan theory*. She's like Joey Ramone and Vince Gallo, a Republican in a hip milieu where Republicans are transgressive and shit. (Being a libertarian wouldn't be trnasgressive enough, so she's torture-neutral and vaguely pro-life).

She knows how to talk to liberals, having been born into a liberal family, and if you've spent your whole life in a Republican-free environment, she's interesting.

Whereas if you've sent half your life avoiding swarms of Republicans coming at you from all sides, or if you've had significant, consequential disputes with Republicans, she's annoying as shit. (And the you seem unfair and mean, since you lump her in with all the other people you've known with her views, whereas in truth she's a unique little snowflake).

*My new theory is not meant to exclude darker, even more pejorative McMegan theories.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 6:27 PM
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Also, as I have no social life, my experience of Brooklyn is that if anyone cares about how I dress or shop, they keep it to themselves.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 6:29 PM
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That's annoying, too. But for each person who tries to mine you for knowledge and discovers you don't live up to their hopes, someone doesn't, and you do!


Posted by: destroyer | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 6:30 PM
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Why is sexism getting a pass? White men like asian women because they take care of kids and white women are a mess. Haha, misogyny is so funny! I guess if I don't find that blog to be funny I must be a tight ass.


Posted by: J | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 6:30 PM
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My son in hip Portland may have a similar problem, since the hip neighborhood is where he grew up doing dorky unhip kid things.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 6:30 PM
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420: Let's not. Why not focus on how that list mentioned nothing that happens in North Dakota?


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 6:32 PM
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423: Because we're laughing at the sexist assholes?


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 6:34 PM
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417, 418: Heh. I totally don't 'deserve a spot' in NY in any social sense. I just live here.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 6:34 PM
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Slowling working my way through comments:

discourse of white urban bourgeois

Should be "Urban Haute Bourgeois" in a nod to Metropolitans


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 6:37 PM
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Cripes, how long did you people spend digging through that site? I looked at a couple entries and then followed someone's kind link to the gente one.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 6:38 PM
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LB actually does seem quite un-New Yorkish to me.

But come on, let's slag on McMegan. It's not like she's a delicate pacifist flower who's unfairly picked on.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 6:38 PM
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430: Yeah, LB's position is the weirdest thing about these two threads, b/c she's the last person to have such pretensions and the first one to pretend those pretensions for the sole purpose of self-mockery.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 6:40 PM
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Thinking on it, I don't think of NYC as a place people are from. That doesn't stand to reason. But NYC is where people go.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 6:49 PM
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I actually have not looked at that site at all. Or read most of the comments on this thread.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 6:50 PM
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Here is my illustration of why I do not find that particular site very funny:

It is too easy to imagine Dennis Miller delivering most of the bits in a stand-up routine.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 6:56 PM
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Here's mine: how can any site survive on a single shtick? It's cute and funny at first, then it gets old.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 7:00 PM
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I skimmed through the site noting the topics, but didn't actually read it. At Unfogged are we supposed to read the links and shit?


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 7:01 PM
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You can shit independently from reading the links. At Unfogged, we are free shitters.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 7:03 PM
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You're stll after my chamber pot, Heebie, but I'm too clever for you.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 7:05 PM
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Me+Emerson's Chamber Pot= Love 4-ever.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 7:07 PM
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157.1: People who think they are better than other people for pretty much any reason at all are lame.

I'm not sure whether Nápi deserves great ridicule or great adulation for this comment, but I nominate it as a candidate for the Ur-comment of the whole blogosphere. Web 2.0 exists so people of all colors, creeds and classes can express a million variants of this sentiment.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 7:07 PM
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432: This is funny, because people from NYC milk it for all it's worth (or they can, anyway). When meeting new people the "I'm from New York. Where? Brooklyn. Where? Park Slope" conversation has been unaccountably beneficial.

I should probably thank The Squid & the Whale and trend pieces in the Times.


Posted by: destroyer | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 7:08 PM
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440 -- I can be a little more specific, since I was rewacting to a particular thing: People who think they are better than AWB are especially lame. People who think so and then tell her so are lame at a level not measurable by earthly instruments.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 7:26 PM
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376: I think about the status value of the things I buy. Sometimes pre-purchase (mostly clothes for work; important to seem as properly middle/upper-middle as possible when one is a secretary so that one isn't talked down to too much; this is a particular South Minneapolis Progressive Arty Lady type of clothing which definitely carries pretty specific messages about race and class) and sometimes post (music). And certainly there's a lot of semi-policing amongst my friends--generally not negative policing but a set of expectations about what an interesting (read "classly") person will read or talk about, and a set of expectations for justifying deviations. (I am permitted to talk to my grad student friend about science fiction because I talk about it in a way that reclaims it as worthy of study, not because I talk about it as something I just really, really like--the way I might talk about a record or a pair of shoes.)

On the race and privilege note--I just got back from hanging out with a friend. As I was ready to get out of the car, we started to talk about something serious unexpectedly, so I sat in the car and talked for about fifteen minutes. A neighborhood person in a van pulled up and asked us what we were doing there. Apparently my landlady saw the car and decided that we were criminals and was on the verge of calling the police.

I was a bit angry, actually, about which I am now ashamed. But anyway, getting angry was a function of being white, of course.

It was pretty depressing and momentarily made me wish, petulantly, that I could live somewhere else rather than in my lovely apartment in my nice neighborhood.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 7:29 PM
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442: I assumed as much. But I couldn't resist taking it out of context and posting it because I'm a white person who likes self-defeating recursion. Charles Barkley also illustrated this with his comments in the video posted last night when he lit into conservative Christians for being judgmental.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 7:39 PM
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445

McMegan is a Villlage explainer; excellent if you are the Village, but if you are not, not....


Posted by: lurker | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 7:39 PM
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446

Thinking on it, I don't think of NYC as a place people are from.

Same here. The only person I've ever met from NYC was a kid from Queensbridge who somehow got a scholarship to my prep school.

Everyone else---
"New York is the greatest city in the world, I can't wait to get back there."
"Oh yeah? Where are you from in New York?"
"Oh, New Rochelle." (or Great Neck, or more frequently than anything else, Long Island)


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 8:01 PM
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I think about the status value of the things I buy.

Is there any way to say that one doesn't without being decried as deluded? Yet there are degrees to which one thinks about such things, no? A lot of it has to do with the circumstances in which one's placed oneself: work and play among people who really don't care much, and you don't have to attend to it much.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 8:01 PM
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My dad was born in and grew up in New York City. I think he lived most of the time in Manhattan, but for a short time he was in Long Island, and at one point commuted from Manhattan to school in Long Island when they moved back to Manhattan. He left in the late 1950s.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 8:06 PM
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Parsimon, that's why I asked about using social signification as an important element in making the purchase. Dressing appropriately at work, or in general -- no big deal. That's how humans act in a civilized society, more or less. Buying a particular brand of coffee, handbag, wine, cheese, car primarily because it will tell people that you are better than them? Tell me you've done it to any serious extent, and I'll honestly say I'm surprised (based on a pretty limited interaction, but still . . .)


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 8:13 PM
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Buying a particular brand of coffee, handbag, wine, cheese, car primarily because it will tell people that you are better than them? Tell me you've done it to any serious extent, and I'll honestly say I'm surprised

What about...not to tell people that you are better than them...but to tell people that you, like them, are better than some other group of people?


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 8:18 PM
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436: I skimmed through the site and the Unfogged comments.

Now I'm bored and boring. (Not to mention white. I've never been white before. Privilege tastes like butter.)


Posted by: SEK | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 8:19 PM
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That kind of joke is always about distinguishing people who are really cool from people who are just faking it. There's no rejection of cool, social-climbing, consumerism, etc. Just the inevitable precession of coolness.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 8:22 PM
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Buying a particular brand of coffee, handbag, wine, cheese, car primarily because it will tell people that you are better than them?

I wore a really great sweater to a party once so that everyone would know how really great I am. It was mathy greatness.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 8:23 PM
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They were just looking at your boobs, Heebie. Nobody gives a shit about arithmetic .


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 8:25 PM
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450 -- I'll accept that. Have you done it Ned? What did you buy? Do you think it worked?


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 8:30 PM
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You could probably make a sweater design using mathematical notation to represent the limits of x, as x approaches greatness.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 8:30 PM
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Nobody gives a shit about arithmetic .

Heebie tricked you into revealing information from the chamberpot!


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 8:32 PM
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Maybe they ought to have a post about how white people like looking at Heebie's boobs. And her ass. Whether or not she's a Latina.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 8:33 PM
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455: Sure they do, they were all trying to extract the underlying three-dimensional surface from visible smoothed approximation. Inverse problems are hard, but fun.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 8:33 PM
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oops 459 -> 454


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 8:34 PM
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White people like us!


Posted by: Michael Franti and Spearhead | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 8:34 PM
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Buying a particular brand of coffee, handbag, wine, cheese, car primarily because it will tell people that you are better than them?

Nobody does it for that purpose, but people buy things to fit in to Group X all of the time. It's done unconsciously, I'm sure. But the idea that this coat or that coat is a decision I'm making based on some--gawd knows what, "authentic" sense of coatness?--seems not credible to me. Wine, I suspect is a great example: I read somewhere that I can't recall that someone set up a taste test for self-declared oenophiles, and it turned out many had trouble--and this I actually have difficulty believing, so who knows?--telling red from white. Someone else did something similar for various fancy and non-fancy forms of salt, as I recall.

If it makes people happy to buy X, they should do it. The only thing anyone objects to is claimed virtue as a function of such taste. And, almost uniformly, most people who buy X for happiness (inc. myself) laugh ruefully when caught being a ponce about it. And I don't think the site's needling was meant to be any deeper than that.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 8:37 PM
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I bought a pair of non-pleated pants recently as a result of comments here. I'm sure you all notice the difference.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 8:41 PM
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There was something not too long ago, maybe in Inside Higher Education, about how lit PhD candidates need to dress well and know what kind of wine to bring to party. That's a blatant case. But in the getting-to-know-you phase of introduction to a group, saying the right things about your tastes (and being able to back them up) is often very important. (For example in white-people groups).


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 8:43 PM
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462 -- You don't see claims to the contrary upthread?

I don't disagree with you about the White People site.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 8:44 PM
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Indeed, eb's comments are not pleated.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 8:44 PM
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464 -- OK, but I'd distinguish playing defense from playing offense.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 8:47 PM
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Buying a particular brand of coffee, handbag, wine, cheese, car primarily because it will tell people that you are better than them?

Napi, you're being a little naive, perhaps. As Tim says:

Nobody does it for that purpose, but people buy things to fit in to Group X all of the time. It's done unconsciously, I'm sure.

The only thing I'd disagree with there is that it's not always done unconsciously. But you know, this has been 'round the block in this thread by now.

To Napi's more specific, slightly rhetorical question whether I myself have bought things with status in mind (which was Frowner's original formulation): yes, but only status understood as fitting in to a certain environment. It's all about mimicry.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 8:59 PM
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Let John Quiggin cheer you up:

Whereas the losses from sub-prime loans and related derivatives markets are likely to be in the hundreds of billions, the nominal volume of outstanding contracts in the credit derivatives markets is in the tens of trillions, and interest rate swaps are in hundreds of trillions. Such amounts cannot possibly be repaid by anybody, so a breakdown in these markets would imply either wholesale bankruptcy or a government rescue involving the abrogation of existing contracts on a scale unprecedented in history. Either way, as noted in the article, large classes of financial assets, and the associated financial markets, may simply disappear.

Where's McManus?


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 9:02 PM
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I can tell you what the social-climber's treat of the future will be: Whole smoked carp with the heads on. You hear it here first.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 9:04 PM
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My wife has encouraged me to buy stuff to be more professional - in my case, a design professional, meaning with a certain amount of style - not cargos and flannels (which I was wearing in the 80s!), or a tweed jacket (which I thought was fine). So I have a few garments like that, plus I just bought a new pair of glasses which are totally a signifier purchase - moderately chunky, moderately rectangular. Not actually the cliche architect's glasses, but closer than I would've gotten without her influence.

Other purchases? Not so much. Obviously, my tastes are shaped by my milieu, but in terms of conscious purchasing, I'm almost always focused internally (which is White Priv, don't think I don't know it). Occasionally I have to bring wine or something to the home of someone I don't already know, and that's angst-inducing: is my default choice ($10 wine, overwrought food) suitable? But that's just the nature of meeting people - you want to give the right signals.

I happened to be wearing a sweater the first 2-3 times I met my wife; at the time, I hardly ever wore sweaters, and was concerned that she'd think I was "the kind of person who wears a lot of sweaters." I never had a clear meaning for that, but I just wanted her to get the right impression. I was also borrowing my dad's red sports car for a month, and was quick to clarify that my car was an elderly Saturn sedan. It was less about what I was signaling than about not signaling falsely.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 9:05 PM
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459 is fucking funny.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 9:06 PM
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Shopper! Shopper! Buying right,
From the merchants of the white,
What commercial brand you buy
Could frame thy fearful mimicry?


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 9:09 PM
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only status understood as fitting in to a certain environment.

But at that point you're not saying anything. A is A. People who eat fancy cheese buy fancy cheese to fit in with other people who eat fancy cheese. Deep.

Which is the whole complaint about the site (aside from the not-funny complaint) - either these choices are stupid for some reason, or they're inauthentic (the only obvious example of which is the unused Kitchenaid), or they're utterly trivial. I suppose there are some that signify unintentionally (going to Wrigley suggests that you're a tool, not a baseball lover), and those are potentially interesting to talk about. But the bulk? Not so much.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 9:13 PM
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459: Ah, the good old shape from shading problem....


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 9:15 PM
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A is A.

COMITY!


Posted by: OPINIONATED GRANDMA | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 9:16 PM
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who let the randites in?


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 9:18 PM
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468 -- The difference between 'fitting in' and 'better than them' doesn't seem to be registering.

Oh well, time to move on. Later, all.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 9:18 PM
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Deep

JRoth, I was replying to Napi specifically, who'd been talking about buying for a certain environment as not being a matter of buying for status. There's a blur on the meaning of "status" there. Which, you know, is what large portions of this thread have been about. I agree with you that it's not particularly news.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 9:21 PM
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The difference between 'fitting in' and 'better than them' doesn't seem to be registering.

Sure it registers. Good night!


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 9:24 PM
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Social climbing is trying to fit in at an higher level which is defined partly by exclusion, so that the effort to fit in is required.

If you're doing it totally for job reasons it's something different, but part of what people are talking about is the merger of personal identity, consumption style, job requirements, class status, and friendship choices.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 9:33 PM
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479: Sorry, didn't mean to be quite that snarky. Good night.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 9:38 PM
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Hey, just noticed the funny in 482. I'm white! And I apologized!

I take it all back. The site's hilarious.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 9:47 PM
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Status of one sort or other is a fundamental human need, like sex. Maybe even deeper than sex. The need for recognition and respect within a community, I'm talking about, that's basic.

Trying to satisfy it through material purchases can quickly become silly, granted.


Posted by: PerfectlyGoddamnDelightful | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:10 PM
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Well, sex isn't a need, but a vice. Also, you're confusing belonging and status (and yes, "status" sometimes means belonging, e.g. "citizen status".)

But relative status (high / low) is zero sum, so if high status is a fundamental need, there's necessarily a big bunch of people who systematically can't satisfy that need.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-17-08 10:37 PM
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I sense some overlap with 'NPR listening, latte drinking, NYT reading, overeducated coastal snob' Republican talking point
and the meta parody_Adbusters_ and SWPL.

When white people go away to college, they tend to study what are knowns as the Arts. This includes actual Art, English, History, Classics, and Philosophy. These can of course be broken down further into Film, Womyn's Studies (yes the spelling is correct), Communications, Gender Studies, and so forth... These degrees enable white people to spend four years of their lives reading books, writing papers and feeling great about themselves. It is a known fact that Arts students firmly believe that they are doing you/society a favor by not getting a job and reading Proust. They use this to protest for reduced tuition, more money for the arts, and special reduced student rates on things like bus passes.

202,203,208: Consumerism going brand name and mass market is more recent. _Adbusters_.


Posted by: Econolicious aka anonymous D. | Link to this comment | 02-18-08 5:44 PM
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Vans were hardly cheap. Nothing rad is.


Posted by: Jonathan | Link to this comment | 02-19-08 9:48 PM
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They totally were cheap, J. I got mine for like $15 new. Still got 'em. See remakes of them on feet all over town, but haven't put them on in ten years. Am considering it, but will probably look lame in them.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-19-08 9:57 PM
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Were you even alive in 1985? They were cheaply made, sure, but I really don't think they were cheap relative to other shoes at that point.


Posted by: Jonathan | Link to this comment | 02-20-08 1:32 PM
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I think Jonathan is right. I remember that I had fake Vans, because the real ones were pricey. Gawd, my younger self is so unbearable.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02-20-08 1:38 PM
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I had fake Vans, because the real ones were pricey

I had fake (Bass) Sperry Top-Siders, an unpardonable crime in 1980s New England. The humiliation still burns.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 02-20-08 1:48 PM
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