The White Negro

Superficial Reflections on the Hipster

By: NORMAN MAILER

A Digital Scholarly Edition

Our search for the rebels of the generation led us to the hipster. The hipster is an enfant terrible turned inside out. In character with his time, he is trying to get back at the conformists by lying low . . . You can’t interview a hipster because his main goal is to keep out of a society which, he thinks, is trying to make everyone over in its own image. He takes marijuana because it supplies him with experiences that can’t be shared with “squares.” He may affect a broad-brimmed hat or a zoot suit, but usually he prefers to skulk unmarked. The hipster may be a jazz musician; he is rarely an artist, almost never a writer. He may earn his living as a petty criminal, a hobo, a carnival roustabout or a free-lance moving man in Greenwich Village, but some hipsters have found a safe refuge in the upper income brackets as television comics or movie actors. (The late James Dean, for one, was a hipster hero.) . . . it is tempting to describe the hipster in psychiatric terms as infantile, but the style of his infantilism is a sign of the times. He does not try to enforce his will on others, Napoleon-fashion, but contents himself with a magical omnipotence never disproved because never tested. . . . As the only extreme nonconformist of his generation, he exercises a powerful if underground appeal for conformists, through newspaper accounts of his delinquencies, his structureless jazz, and his emotive grunt words.
— “Born 1930: The Unlost Generation” by Caroline Bird Harper’s Bazaar, Feb. 1957

First published in Dissent, Fall 1957, where Mailer was a long time contributor and board member. Later, it was published by Mailer in Advertisements for Myself, 1959. Most recently it appears in Mind of an Outlaw, 2013. Added to Medium as part of an educational project and an example of a potential Digital Humanities scholarly critical edition.