Feature Films, Schools of Thought
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Wes Anderson’s Bottle Rocket: A Pleasant Onslaught of White People Jokes

Blonde Sorority Girl (BSG): So, you go to school in Arizona, right?
Anthony: No I was in the hospital.
BSG: Oh, what for?
Anthony: I went nuts.
BSG: Oh you poor thing, how did it happen?
Anthony: You really wanna know?
BSG: Yeah, I do
Anthony: One morning, over at Elizabeth’s beach house, she asked me if I’d rather go water skiing or lay out, and then I realized that not only did I not want to answer that question, but I never wanted to answer another water sports question or see any of these people again for the rest of my life. 3 days later I was on my way to the desert and that’s that. (smiles)
-long pause-
BSG:  (in an admirable voice) You’re really complicated, aren’t you?
Anthony: (earnestly) I try not to be…”

– Bottle Rocket

I’ve been a dedicated fan of Stuff White People Like since its manifestation because frankly I love white people jokes. They are great for trillions of reasons, but at the core there are just a few that make them almost universally acceptable.

Firstly, jokes about the majority group are rarely offensive: they don’t insult the minority, as essentially no one is singled out, and they don’t insult the majority because…well…they’re the majority. What I mean is, it’s easy for white people to read a white person joke and tell themselves that it doesn’t apply to them due to the massive amounts of white people with differing socioeconomic status’ and regional cultures. This makes it so that one stereotype cannot apply as the general idea of white people in America besides the shared benefit of white privilege. If you are confused about white privilege click here to read about it from the experts.

Secondly, jokes about those with privilege also rarely offend, because privilege is something that is envied. It seldom offends the wealthy, for even though we are criticizing them, society still endorses privilege as superior and that’s a belief most everyone participates in. Therefore, the privileged most likely doesn’t feel that bad about themselves when they read a joke at their expense and then take a drive in their Porsche or maintain their expensive daily habits like eating out for dinner every night.

Not only are white people jokes basically inoffensive, but they are also refreshing; we’ve spent way too many decades making fun of the marginalized. White people jokes are like one big inside joke where everyone is on the inside.

So back to Stuff White People Like, which is just a well-educated financially stable white guy making fun of other financially stable white people, of which some of my favorite entries of things white people like include #63 Expensive Sandwiches, #11 Asian Girls, and #73 Gentrification. Another entry, #10, is director and fellow white person Wes Anderson, who really fits the bill as he is from Texas, is well educated, and makes hipster films. As far as enjoying his films, I am guilty as charged.

I first fell in love with “The Royal Tenenbaums:” the character development is perfect; the attention to detail, supreme; the storyline is quirky to just the perfect degree! My love affair continued with “the Darjeeling Limited” and then “Rushmore.” I was on a Wes Anderson-a-thon. The colors! The wit! The white people problems! It was all wonderfully executed; Wes excels at taking problem free situations and creating issues of the most ridiculous kind. Suddenly, I hit a rut with The Life Aquatic. It was just a little meh’ for me. For this reason I never got around to seeing “Bottle Rocket,” which is silly if you think about it, seeing that it’s the film that started it all.

With the release of “Moonrise Kingdom,” which I saw on NYC’s premier day, I was re-inspired. “Moonrise Kingdom” was delightful. “Bottle Rocket” is not quite like “Moonrise Kingdom,” which errs closer to the stylings of “The Royal Tenenbaums.” “Bottle Rocket” is far more immature, in a most delightful way. It is a whimsical journey through the most extreme white people problems to the caricature degree. It made me giggle because it was ridiculous almost to the point of stupidity, which I normally loathe in a film, but the constant irony and spot on delivery of the lines kept me entertained. I redirect your attentions to the exemplary scene:

Blonde Sorority Girl (BSG): So, you go to school in Arizona, right?
Anthony: No I was in the hospital.
BSG: Oh, what for?
Anthony: I went nuts.
BSG: Oh you poor thing, how did it happen?
Anthony: You really wanna know?
BSG: Yeah, I do
Anthony: One morning, over at Elizabeth’s beach house, she asked me if I’d rather go water skiing or lay out, and then I realized that not only did I not want to answer that question, but I never wanted to answer another water sports question or see any of these people again for the rest of my life. 3 days later I was on my way to the desert and that’s that. (smiles)
-long pause-
BSG:  (in an admirable voice) You’re really complicated, aren’t you?
Anthony: (earnestly) I try not to be…”

Genius, really. Anthony says he was in the hospital for “exhaustion.” Put together with the above quote, it’s a hilarious situation. Anthony is suffering from “exhaustion” of the banal, white world of privilege. The entire film is documenting three well off, Southern, white boys attempting to live a new, exciting, and less “white” life by engaging in petty crime. It’s hilarious because their attempts are all wrong. Take for example the scene where they rob Anthony’s house. Yes, that’s right, Anthony robs his own house. Ah the delicious irony! Anthony continues his quest for the exotic non white privileged life by falling madly in love with Inez, the maid at the motel they’re hiding out at, who barely speaks English.

My favorite part of the quote is: “and then I realized that not only did I not want to answer that question, but I never wanted to answer another water sports question or see any of these people again for the rest of my life.”

Water sports is the perfect choice for this moment. Not only does it sound ridiculous and leisurely, but it also oozes with white people problems. Water skiing semantically connotes money – to go waterskiing you need:

1. Access to a large body of water, 2. A boat, 3. Skis and equipment, and 4. Leisure activity time.

It’s funny because it’s not really a problem at all, but rather a privilege to be able to water-ski. I for one would love to be at Elizabeth’s beach house where my only decision was water skiing vs. laying out.

Ok, enough with the contextual analysis. Here is another quote from the film I really liked. Anthony has surprised his little sister Grace, who looks around 10 or 11 years old, at school:

“Will you just put ‘em in the box Grace? You’re really getting into the bad habit of asking a huge amount of questions.”

Maybe you have to see the delivery to truly get that one. Point blank, this film is highly enjoyable.

If you find yourself with some free time, I recommend you spend it sipping on some artisan, pour over, fair trade coffee; accompanied by an expensive sandwich, specifically from some overpriced deli like Katz’s or Zingerman’s or whichever local hot spot serves free range, kosher, organic chicken; while reading some white people jokes, obviously on your MacBook Pro; and followed by a healthy viewing of Bottle Rocket. Then tweet about it with #ironic.

2 Comments

  1. Black comedians all seem to have race as part of their routine but white comedians seem to just do funny stuff. I think that it is quite a double standard that white jokes are classified as not offensive.

    • Hi Carl, thanks for reading! However, when you call something a “double standard,” that assumes that the two entities are equal, which I’m sad to say that white people and minorities are still not completely equal in many ways. I can tell you this with confidence being both white and a minority race in addition to holding a degree in the matter. If by “offensive” you mean racist, the reason that making jokes about white people is not academically or technically considered racist is because white people are the majority. There’s a lot of scholarship about why the minority acting out on the majority can not be classified as racist and if you’re interested I can gladly point you in the right direction!

      Let’s think of it this way though. Would you agree with the following statement: If someone made a joke about a typical white male, it would be less offensive to most people versus a joke about someone who is gay, Jewish, a female, homeless, or a person of color. Why is this generally true? Because it is a joke about the majority. If you make a joke about a Mexican person, a group which is not equal to white people in terms of salary and societal treatment, then you are exercising your superiority as a white person over them and whatever stereotype you are placing on them. You are saying something unflattering that you (and in turn most white people) don’t do or participate in. If a Mexican person tells a joke about a white person, it might be him saying something unflattering about white people, but the reason this is not considered “racist is because he is still the minority and has less power and is treated unfairly. He is not exercising superiority because he simply doesn’t have any to exercise. Other things can give him superiority like wealth, but he will always be racially inferior to the white man in societal America. I hope this helped and I hope I didn’t offend you or anyone in the process.

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