Who Cares About Books?: Stuff White People Like.
Christian Lander’s book Stuff White People Like (2008) is an amazing accurate account of bourgeois whites living in America. Often stereotypical and satirical, Lander hits hard with truth at what “the right white people” like and how they try to purge against “the wrong kind of white people.” The book presents entries that the “right” kind of white people like. One entry is about “Books”,
“The role of books in white culture is perhaps as important as organic food—essential for survival. However, understand that this is not about literacy or reading, but about the physical object of a book.
Try this out as an experiment. Show a white person a photo of a living room that features an entire wall of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. They are guaranteed to response by saying how much they would love that for their own home and that they are planning on having a living room just like that in the future.
This is because white people need to show off the books that they have read. Just as hunters will mount the heads of their kills, white people need to let people know that they have made their way through hundreds or even thousands of books. After all, what’s the point of reading a book if people don’t know you read it? It’s like a tree falling in the forest.
…the best things you can say are “You made it through Infinite Jest? Wow”…
…If you get them a book that they do not want, you will be forever viewed as someone with poor taste in literature. In the event you get them a book that they want and do not have, they are forced to recognize that they have not read it, which instantly paints you as a threat. There is no way to win when you give a book to a white person.” (Lander 187-188)
The “physical object” of a book is interesting. These kinds of whites don’t want to read a book which improves reading and literacy, but rather, the book is a physical object that represents class and power. It doesn’t even matter if this kind of white person has ever read it! The nature of being pretentious is unfortunately prevalent within the arts. English as a discipline as a similar background.
Dom DeLillo in his fictional book, White Noise (1985), wrote a word-salad story about upper-class white life in the 1980’s. The protagonist, Jack Gladney, is a professor of “Hitler studies” and teaches at “The-College-on-the-Hill.” Already written like a science-fiction novel, why would “Hitler” be so important to people? (Think Baby-boomers, WWII, The Holocaust, and be-nice-to-each-other multicultural society) DeLillo jabs at the novelty academic and his purpose to try make sense of the absurd. DeLillo describes the professors at the college,
“They are hear to decipher the natural language of the culture, to make a formal method of the shiny pleasures they’d known in their Europe-shadowed childhoods—an Aristotelianism of bubble gum wrappers and detergent jingles.” (DeLillo 9)
“The impression is one of pervasive bitterness, suspicion and intrigue.” (10)
The professors are cranks. Much can be said about the culture war what happened in the 1980’s. Ronald Reagan capitalism, electronic music on the radio, superfluous cartoons and materialism, and a nostalgic return to 1950’s America, 30 years later. Do professors like Derrida, Lacan, and Baudrillard even have integrity, or making sense of a world they want to resist against? Anyone with a Ph.D during could get it in Hitler studies, so as long one has the dedication, the money, and the rhetoric to back it up. The topic of “postmodernism” becomes the subject of the 1980’s zeitgeist.
John Berger, another one of these types, wrote in Ways of Seeing (1988) that art can be seen in many different ways (obviously). But in a way a postmodern critic can see it and how the boring normie (internet slang for normal person) misses it. See the elitism? However, he writes that art criticism belongs to, “the esoteric approach of a few specialized experts who are the clerks of the nostalgia of a ruling class in decline.” (Berger 32) Berger wants the non-elite classes to be enlightened through their own art criticism.
“Yet very few people are aware of what has happened because the means of reproduction are used nearly all the time to promote the illusion that nothing has changed except that the masses, thanks to reproductions, can now begin to appreciate art as the cultured minority once did. Understandably, the masses remain uninterested and skeptical.” (32-33)
Berger is referencing some of Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation (1981). This is the theory that what we perceived as real is actually “simulacrums.” For example, If I go to McDonalds, and order a burger, is it really a burger? Or, is it a thing with fake-meat in it, buns colored with dye, and presented as the shape of an actually burger? Some McDonald’s dropped the word “Chicken” from their Chicken Nuggets menu, creating just “Nuggets.” Berger relates to fads that elites likes. This might even be from Michel Gondry, Public Radio, and “Black Music that Black People Don’t Listen to Anymore.” By the way, all referenced by Lander in Stuff White People Like.
Berger continues that, “The art of the past no longer exist as it once did. It’s authority lost. …What matters now is who uses that language for what purpose.” (33) Interesting, because Berger is also concerned with “questions of copyright for reproduction…” (33) This gives away his Marxist desires to abolish private property. Berger feels like “power is everywhere” the same way Michel Foucault feels about things. Now, does high art really belong to the public? (this might be a heresy against postmodernism)
Walter Benjamin’s essay, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936), argues that art is so powerful, it can influence political motivations. In an age of reproduction, things are recreated and presented to be real. However, they are not “authentic” because they have a secret political agenda behind it. Art can be isolated and be appreciated by an individual. However, once it’s reproduced for the masses, it loses it’s original aesthetic and the meaning is changed. This is something like Hitler saying that the film Metropolis or the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche are advocates for National Socialism (they are!). Once art is produced for the masses, art caters for them. Quote,
“Every fundamentally new, pioneering creation of demands will carry beyond its goal. Dadaism did so to the extent that it sacrificed the market values which are so characteristic of the film in favor of higher ambitions – though of course it was not conscious of such intentions as here described. The Dadaists attached much less importance to the sales value of their work than to its uselessness for contemplative immersion.” (Benjamin, Section 14)
“Mechanical reproduction of art changes the reaction of the masses toward art. The reactionary attitude toward a Picasso painting changes into the progressive reaction toward a Chaplin movie. The progressive reaction is characterized by the direct, intimate fusion of visual and emotional enjoyment with the orientation of the expert. Such fusion is of great social significance. The greater the decrease in the social significance of an art form, the sharper the distinction between criticism and enjoyment by the public.” (Benjamin, Section 13)
This is interesting again… Lander writes about “Integrity.”
“”Selling out” is when an artist succeeds to the point where they are paid for their work and are exposed to a larger audience. This creates two big problems for a white person, the most immediate of which is the fact that this artist will now be enjoyed by a diverse group of people, including the wrong kind of white people. There is literally nothing more hated by white people.”
“If you are eager to impress this white person, say that you would take the money, then allow the white person to tell you how they would never put a dollar sign on their art. This will provide them much-needed comfort as they begin the long process of finding a new obscure artist to temporarily enjoy.” (140)
Benjamin was a Marxist sympathizer. Hannah Arendt helped publish it to really talk about the crisis of totalitarianism. After all, Benjamin writes “This is the situation of politics which Fascism is rendering aesthetic. Communism responds by politicizing art.” (Benjamin, Epilogue)
The political Left will sometimes go on rampages to destroy the past and start over again. I know Atari Teenage Riot wanted to “Destroy 2000 years of culture.” Let them. The art museum is a business anyway. Is there really a different experience to see the real thing when some replicate can do it better? Can the original Duchamp Fountain change my perspective of world, or can I have a better experience somewhere else? What’s so sacred and holy about original art pieces? Is there even a benefit to go see it? Some Millennials actually care about this coming election with Trump and Hillary because they are asking whether they are “authentic” or not.
“Is that Synthesizer Analog or Digital? Analog is sooo better.”
“Organic or Non-Organic? Organic is much better for you.”
“I have the first edition of Catcher in the Rye, it’s like reading it when it came out!”
Something sounds really bourgeois hear. Otherwise, it might be the truth that Western Civilization has a never-ending quest finding things that are “authentic.” This might be another honest thing that white people actually like.
Benjamin, Walter. "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." Walter Benjamin. Marxist.org, 2005. Web. 24 Sept. 2016.
Berger, John, Ways of Seeing. (1988) Print.
DeLillo, Don. White Noise. New York, NY: Viking, 1985. Print.
Lander, Christian. Stuff White People Like: The Definitive Guide to the Unique Taste of Millions. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2008. Print.