Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Life lessons from the author of 'Stuff White People Like'

The Internet can’t change your life.

It can’t take an idea you had on a coffee break, lift you from obscurity and make all your dreams come true in six months.

Except when it does.

That’s what happened to Christian Lander, the creator of Stuff White People Like. Lander, an aspiring comedy writer from Toronto, was discussing “The Wire” with a friend from work when the conversation took a turn that changed his life.

He started with an obscure WordPress blog read by 25 friends, then his site got noticed by Comedy Central, creating a media avalanche that turned it into a overnight viral phenomenon.

Christian talked about his success in an utterly charming YouTube video recorded at the Google compound.

“I hadn’t sent out any ads, I hadn’t begged any popular bloggers to put it up. It was completely word of mouth and it hit me like a ton of bricks,” Christian said. “I kept saying to myself, This is as big as it’s going to get,’ and it just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger.”

Then, the literary agents started calling. “For anyone who wants to be a writer,” Christian says, “it’s really, really tough to get a literary agent.” A fact this columnist can cheerfully confirm. “You have to send in query letters and unsolicited manuscripts and it’s really, really difficult.”

Christian describes himself as a failed academic writer and a failed journalist. “I’d tried to make it as a writer before and I’d failed…repeatedly,” he said, “and here I am starting this blog as a joke and literary agents are literally knocking down my door to try and get me to sign with them.”

“Until this point,” Christian said, “people kind of liked me. Here’s this guy, he started a blog and isn’t it amazing that he got all this traffic. No ads on his site, he’s not making any money, so I don’t hate him. And then I got a book deal. The second I got a book deal, everyone hated me.”

Lander started with one idea and 25 readers. Within a month and a half he had an A-list blog, a book deal and a legion of people who hated him.

The reviews turned ugly and the blog comments turned hostile. “There started to be a lot more comments about how awful I was: You’re a terrible writer, you’re not funny… All this stuff until I just couldn’t read them anymore. Every time I saw them it would get to me. I’d had a blog for a month and a half; I wasn’t used to any of this.”

Corporate America is killing itself trying to find a magic formula for success on the web, but Lander said, “People have a really good ability to see through projects on the Internet that are just done to make you famous.”

Christian has rubbed shoulders with some of the funniest people on the Web, and they all have one thing in common. “They started something because they thought it was funny,” he said. “They weren’t trying to have millions of hits; they weren’t trying to be famous. Readers can see through people who don’t really believe in what they’re doing.”

So the lesson is, “Do what you believe in and don’t try.” Good advice for blogging; good advice for life.

Haters like to mock Christian for his “stupid little blog” that “anybody could have thought of.”

An audience member nailed it when she said, “Black people have been writing this blog for years like, on our own.”

But Stuff White People Like is insider humor, humor written by a white guy who is willing to make fun of himself and all the little quirks that run his life. It slaps a class label on a group of people who thought they were above class, and I think that’s where his worst critics come from.

As Gore Vidal said, “America will go to almost any lengths to avoid acknowledging the existence of a ruling class.”

There’s a class of young liberal white people in the world today who are deeply offended by the idea of class. Lander’s book assigns a class to people who don’t believe in class and pins a label on people who thought they were beyond labels.

Christian Lander’s book exists at the intersection of white liberal arrogance and grudging GenY humility, and the results are beautiful to behold. Their first reaction is to take offense, like someone has just cracked open the Ark of the Covenant and made a Lolcat from the sacred text.

Then the GenY programming kicks in, reminding them to never take themselves too seriously. The result is a mixture of snotty people trying to pretend they’re not offended and an army of good-natured “outsiders” who never really thought much of Ikea in the first place.

Mix these groups together and Christian’s comment section becomes a passive-aggressive Internet singularity, like a living section of Al Gore’s brain.

Christian’s success can teach us a lot about the Internet, and a lot about the future of media. It’s real, it’s funny, and it grew from the ground up.

Now a thousand top-down, top-heavy media companies are going to throw money at the problem and try to copy his success.

Haters will come out of the woodwork to try and tear him down. But having a good idea isn’t good enough. You have to follow through. Christian Lander started like an amateur and followed through like a professional.

Only the first part was luck.

Written by Michael B. Duff

January 9, 2009 at 16:43

Posted in Books

2 Responses

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  1. I like your analysis. I think the GenY thing sorta sums up the reaction to it nicely…

    …although I would add that I believe a significant portion of his readers knew and understood immediately that they were the ones being made fun of, class and all.


    January 9, 2009 at 18:01

  2. i sent #101 Being Offended to my uber-liberal friends who like to jump on anything that might slight a minority or ethnic group, and got no response from them. i think they might have…been offended. but as the blog post proscribes, they don’t care to defend white people, only others.


    January 20, 2009 at 07:41

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