Thursday, September 16, 2010

Culture Shock 09.16.10: Dating site reveals the stereotypes that unite us

As much as people hate to admit it, the horrible, rotten depressing truth is some stereotypes become stereotypes because they're true — or at least partly true.

I mention this because OkCupid, a free dating site that claims about 3.5 million active members, has released an analysis of its users' interests, broken down by race, religion and ethnicity. Some of the results are surprising. Others are not. And some are surprisingly unsurprising, if that makes any sense.

To see the complete results, visit people-like. (And if you don't get the joke behind the title "The REAL Stuff White People Like," check out the humor website Stuff White People Like, at It's devoted to making fun of trendy, white, urban hipsters who think recycling is a spiritual experience and tell people they vote Democratic even though they never remember when Election Day is. (Now there's a stereotype for you.)

I'll stick to the highlights or, as the case may be, lowlights. To avoid offending any more people than absolutely necessary, I'll save most of my negative and sometimes humiliating observations for my own demographic, the North American white male.

OkCupid's analysis took 526,000 users at random and scanned their user profiles, looking for keywords and interests that made each gender and racial grouping statistically distinct from the others.

A quick look at the results tells me one thing I've always suspected: White guys have terrible taste in music. One word: Phish. It stands out like a pimple on prom night — the sixth most distinctive-to-white-guys term in OkCupid's results.

Also: Van Halen, Soundgarden and Megadeth. I don't know what OkCupid's median age is, but obviously it's old enough to remember when MTV still aired music videos.

In terms of sports, white males are more likely to prefer hockey and NASCAR. (Duh!)

I don't have an OkCupid account, but I confess to having the following "white guy" interests listed on my Facebook profile: "Ghostbusters," "The Big Lebowski," "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" and Robert Heinlein — all of which are tell-tale signs of membership in an exclusive white-guy subgroup known as "the geek."

Judging from the rest of the results for white males, I can conclude that we are more likely than other demographics to think we "can fix anything" even after "a few beers."

White females are distinguished by liking NASCAR, bad music (Kenny Chesney) and the typing skills of Nicholas Sparks.

OK, enough about white people. It's not always about us.

Black OkCupid users of both sexes tend to mention God and/or religion in their profiles twice as often as do whites, Asians and Latinos.

To my amazement, Latino men and women outpace other groups in their fondness for salsa. How is salsa not universal by now? Everybody loves salsa more than everybody loves Raymond.

Nearly everyone also likes sushi, but Asian men like sashimi, too. And both Asian males and females, as groups, are unusually fond of the book "Freakonomics" and author Malcolm Gladwell, which struck me as strangely random.

Now, if any of these or OkCupid's other findings depress you or offend you, keep in mind two points. First, OkCupid users are not necessarily representative of the larger public. Second, we're talking about people on a dating site, so obviously they're lying.

OkCupid profiles aren't about who you are but who you want other people, especially potential romantic partners, to think you are.

That does, however, raise an even more troubling possibility: Pretending to like 1980s hair bands is a successful mating strategy.

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