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

By Grace Elizabeth Hale | Go to book overview

Conclusion: The Cost of Rebellion

Through the end of the twentieth century, the romance of the outsider remained a compelling tool of white middle-class self-invention, especially for men. Alienated young middle-class whites continued to fall in love with fantasies of black difference and black culture. For white young people of privilege, hip-hop in the 1980s and early 1990s worked much as rock and roll had in the 1950s. Other alienated middle-class whites followed the path of the Jesus People in rejecting secular popular culture and liberalized religious practices and turning to conservative faiths. Some became Christian evangelicals, but others converted to Orthodox Judaism or fundamentalist forms of Islam. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, these acts of opposition had grown so common that people who performed them barely registered as outsiders at all. White youth who loved black music and white adults who became more religious than their parents ceased to surprise or shock other Americans. What had been forms of rebellion turned into new norms.

A relationship rather than a fixed set of characteristics, the outsider was never an easy persona to live. By the end of the twentieth century, the popularity of outsiders and rebels among white middle-class Americans made finding the edge, the boundary where outside began and inside ceased, increasingly difficult. Christopher McCandless and Timothy Treadwell both went looking for that line, that far-out and always moving place where a white middle-class man could still be an outsider. Both men pushed the rebel romance as far as the fantasy could go, to its logical extreme. In death, they became famous for their rebellion, their lives as outsiders the subjects of books and films and fan Web sites. Like the fictional Holden Caulfield long before them, they ran away from society and ended up as compelling symbols of what

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