White people are, like, soooo funny

All right, let me add myself to the list of white people who don't like Stuff White People Like. Leave aside the arrogance of declaring "white people" to be equal to a rather small group of self-satisfied, overeducated, affluent poverty-vultures. And I actively applaud its purpose--my demographic is a rich vein of humor. One that should be strip mined.

Unfortunately, SWL just isn't very funny. How can you take a target as rich and inviting as people who deliberately buy ugly shoes and produce . . . a dull thud?

Compare it to David Brooks, for example. Yes, David Brooks, the master of the mild funny, is more amusing than a 29-year old hipster who aspires to be a comedian. From Bobos in Paradise, his thoroughly amusing books on the annoying new elite stuffing themselves and their Restoration Hardware shopping bags into every Starbucks in the country:

Rule 1. Only vulgarians spend lavish amounts of money on luxuries. Cultivated people restrict their lavish spending to necessities.

Aristotle made the ancient distinction between need--objects we must have to survive, like shelter, food, clothing, and other esesntials--and wants, which are those things we desire to make us feel superior to others. The Bobo elite has seized on this distinction to separate itself from past and rival elites. Specifically, the members of the educated-class elite feel free to invest huge amounts of capital in things that are categorized as needs, but it is not acceptable to spend on mere wants. For example, its virtuous to spend $25,000 on your bathroom, but its vulgar to spend $15,000 on a sound system and a wide-screen TV. Its decadent ot spend $10,000 on an outdoor Jacuzzi, but if you're not spending twice that on an oversized slate shower stall, it's a sign that you probably haven't learned to appreciate the simple rhythms of life.

Similarly, it is acceptable to spend hundreds of dollars on top-of-the-line hiking boots, but it would be vulgar to buy top-of-the-line patent leather shoes to go with formal wear. It is acceptable to spend $4,400 on a Merlin XLM road bike because people must excercise, but it would be a sign of a superficial nature to buy a big, showy powerboat. Only a shallow person would spend hundreds of dollars on caviar, but a deep person would gladly shell out that much for top-of-the-line mulch.

You can spend as much as you want on anything that can be classified as a tool, such as a $65,000 Range Rover with plenty of storage space, but it would be vulgar to spend money on things that cannot be seen as tools, such as a $60,000 vintage Corvette. (I once thought of writing a screenplay called Rebel Without a Camry, about the social traumas a history professor suffered when he bought a Porsche.) In fact, the very phrase "sport utility vehicle" is testimony to the new way Bobos think about tools. Not long ago, sport was the opposite of utility. You either played or you worked. But the information age keyboard jockeys who traffic in concepts an dimages all day like to dabble in physical labor during their leisure time, so hauling stuff around in their big mega-cruisers with the four foot wheels turns into a kind of sport.

Or try James Wolcott, who is ten years older than David Brooks:

After watching Barack Obama's searing, soaring, grandiloquent, angel-summoning, devil-dispelling speech about race in America, a speech that had Andrew Sullivan and Chris Matthews emptying the silver drawer for superlatives, I ankled it ot the elevator, headed down to the lobby, and walked with my arms outstretched toward the bus stop on the corner to hug every black person waiting for the 104 and do my bit to close the gap of suspicion that divides us. You'd be surprised how many Upper West Siders of all persuasions aren't interested in receiving a hug from a stranger at a bus stop on a chilly day, and how many of them carry canes that they wield with striking force, even after one hugs the sidewalk and achieves the fetal position. Oh well, live and learn.

Or this blast from the past:



These are people who know how to make fun of a demographic. Reading Stuff White People Like is like waiting for a sneeze that won't quite come--I keep thinking I'm about to laugh, but I never do.

Presented by

Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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