Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Obligatory "Stuff White People Like" post

The lead character of the immensely popular '70s sitcom "All in the Family" was a fairly unreconstructed bloke called Archie Bunker. His racist, sexist and otherwise offensive attitudes were part of the show's comic fodder - they were held up for ridicule.

Yet when the ratings people broke down the figures, they found that the show was a big hit amongst viewers whose attitudes mirrored Archie's own.

People just filtered the satire out.

Even an ostensibly one-way communication like a TV show is in fact a two-way exercise. A reader, viewer or listener plays just as great a role in creating meaning as a writer, a director or a speaker.*

Which brings me to "Stuff White People Like" (via Toad).

Take a look at the posts, if you haven't already. They're witty, well-written and beautifully observed. A friend of mine described it as "too close to the bone to enjoy".

So who would you imagine to be the readership? People more or less like those being satirised, right? "Upscale, urban, thirtysomething, white, male hipsters" (thanks again Toad) who like to laugh at themselves.

Now take a look at the comments: "I'm white but I don't like X", "This is racist","I am a racist", "Let's seriously discuss the cultural and political implications of this post" - people who don't get it.

The fact that something is popular tells us very little in itself. What matters is why it's popular.

What you're saying's important, but it's what people are hearing that counts.

* This is the basic principle behind creative advertising, right? - you can't stop people flexing their interpretive muscles, so you may as well direct them by giving them a little something to work out

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