A Nation of Outsiders: How the White Middle Class Fell in Love with Rebellion in Postwar America

Grace Elizabeth Hale, Oxford Univ., $29.95 (400p) ISBN 978-0-19-539313-2
Hale (Making Whiteness) explores the mainstreaming of outsider status in a sweeping, thought-provoking study of America's postwar political and cultural counterculture. Although Americans have a history of appropriating from minorities, from the 1950s on white Americans began identifying with them, imagining that "people living on the margins, without economic or political or social privilege, [possessed] something vital, some essential quality that had somehow been lost from their own lives." Like Elvis Presley and Jack Kerouac, the white middle class borrowed the black and working class blues and critical stance toward the establishment. "Rebellion" went mainstream and lent romance, moral weight, and authenticity to movements as diverse as beat literature, rock and roll, the Jesus Freak movement, even prolife activism. Hale is able to explain, at least partially, the failure of so many 20th-century social movements: fantasies about the authenticity or purity of blacks or the poor became more persuasive than doing the "hard work of creating a system of economic justice." While sometimes slow-moving and too secure in the validity of its central argument, this polemic offers a refreshing take on recent cultural history. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 01/17/2011
Release date: 02/01/2011
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