The Lineages of Conformity in Mailer’s The White Negro: Superficial Reflections on the Hipster”

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Norman Mailer’s 1957 essay, titled “The White Negro: Superficial Reflections on the Hipster”, traces the lineage of conformity (and, as a result, nonconformity) in American society post World War II, as well as the counter-cultural reaction of the time, the “white negro”.
Considered a cultural phenomenon, these “white negros”, or “hipsters”, as Mailer deems them, distanced themselves from white culture, and adopted black styles of clothing, language, and music. However, this phenomenon seemed to be somewhat isolated, appearing specifically in cities where the “Negro culture” had much to offer, in places such as New York, New Orleans, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. (Mailer) These hipsters represented a fascination or an interest …show more content…

Mailer argues that this act of violence, though not necessarily a particularly physically taxing effort on the youths’ part, and not necessarily “therapeutic” due to the circumstances, “the hoodlum is therefore daring the unknown, and so no matter how brutal the act it is not altogether cowardly.” (Mailer) The courage stems from the idea that not only are the youths murdering another human being, they are also trespassing, creating conflict with authority, and introducing a “dangerous element (Mailer) into their lives, thrusting the young hipsters into direct conflict with society.
In this way, the hipster is also considered an outlaw. A nonconformist, a hipster can only function on the fringes of society. Mailer’s mid-twentieth century hipster opposes society as well as any sense of collective responsibility, leading a lifestyle like a “petty criminal, hobo, a carnival roustabout or a free-lance moving man in Greenwich Village”. (Mailer)
Nevertheless, for all Mailer’s attempts at situating the hipster within the context of post-world war trauma, this persona exists across socio-historical boundaries. There will always be individuals ready to seek liberation and self-gratification through violence rather than submit to rigid societal mores.
Like Mailer’s definition of a hipster, today’s

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