Christopher Ei.


In the “White Negro,” Norman Mailer manages to paint a semi-utopian picture of the future America by upturning two of society’s great inequalities: bodily difference and racism. He transforms his world of hip from the mainstream 1950s built upon the average to an underground society inspired by the ideal. Every hipster is to some extent sexually disabled or unable to attain an amazing orgasm: “everyone in the civilized world is at least in some small degree a sexual cripple” (PBR, 595-596). Through the hipster slang, Mailer invites the reader into the equalized world of the subterranean, where everyone to some extent is mending. Everyone is in a constant battle for orgasm, trying to reach “Mecca.” Instead of being judged as “average” or “disabled” in the mainstream world of conformity, they are all in the process of “recuperating,” with people at different stages according to their prowess in the battle “of colliding explorers” (596).

To Mailer, it is the African-American that is most ready to live in this continual state of war, for he has been brought up between “a life of constant humility or ever-threatening danger (586). The black man is already outside the made-up societal rules that pertain to 1950s conformity, and thus, he has a head start towards reaching “Mecca.” It is fitting that Mailer chose to call the ultimate orgasm Mecca for it is the holy site in the Islamic religion, which is/was generally thought to be a “black man’s religion” because of Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X. By portraying the African-American with agency and a head start, Mailer overturns the racial stigmatism of 1950s and elevates the African-American to a status of equality in agency. By showing a future where two of society’s great inequalities of racism and bodily difference are remedied to some extent, Mailer fulfills Walt Whitman’s desire for literature to move the public by showing them the way.

In 1870, Walt Whitman saw America as a giant with growing appendages and a disappearing soul. Has America changed much since Whitman put his fears and orders into “Democratic Vistas?” Sure, we’ve seen technology advance at the speed of light and our country fights war after war for peace, but our art, which is not limited to Whitman’s printed word, mostly speaks for sex and petty romance. The talent-less whines of Simple Plan flood our airwaves; depth-less page turners fly off the shelves at record pace; nowhere is a modern day Whitman, Kerouac or Dylan to be found.

The heroes of my generation are either from my father’s generation or across the Atlantic. Where is my Jack Kerouac or Bob Dylan? I don’t want the Rolling Stones or vapid Hollywood to be the only ones with balls. Where is my generation defining novel or socially aware musician? After all, injustice was not left in my father’s generation. America is still hollow in its center. Whitman’s predictions have come true. The federal government is no longer trusted (whether it ever was is open to debate); “churches…[of] the most dismal phantasm I know, usurp the name of religion” (937); the written word is dying with every Instant Messenger conversation.

Only art, as Whitman knew 136 years ago, can save the country, give it a soul. Without art holding the mirror in front of our face, America falls deeper into a pit of hollow darkness. Technology, commerce, and art CAN coexist, but America needs to restrain its animalistic tendencies at times and prefer Ginsberg to the dollar.

All quotations from “Democratic Vistas,” Walt Whitman, 1870.