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Insider’s Perspective: The Hip and the Square

By Harry Ransom Center

In the fall 2006 exhibition Norman Mailer Takes on America, visitors were asked to record their thoughts on three different topics that Norman Mailer had responded to over the course of his writing career. Composition notebooks and pencils were provided for visitor response, and the notebooks have become part of the Ransom Center’s archive.

Norman Mailer’s “The Hip and the Square: 1. The List” in Advertisements for Myself (New York: Putnam’s, 1959)
Norman Mailer’s “The Hip and the Square: 1. The List” in Advertisements for Myself (New York: Putnam’s, 1959)

One of the notebooks addressed the ideas of “hip” and “square.” Norman Mailer started thinking in earnest about the idea of “hip” in 1956 when a Village Voice reader wrote to him at the newspaper with the following question: “Tell me, what is your definition of a Hip person? A third rate rap artist or a boy who digs Shakespeare, Milton and Freud?” Mailer’s answer, in a Voice column: “Could be either.”

In the year that followed, Mailer wrote frequently about the opposing terms “hip” and “square,” both of which are still in use today. Here are some of the responses that visitors came up with to define the terms.

HIP 
Text messaging
Square
Solar
Grasshopppers
“Pop”
iPods
Walkman
China
Platinum
Brooklyn
Spirituality
Physical activity
South First
Prius
Hip Hop
Flip-flops
The naked
Jon Stewart
Stephen Colbert
Shade
Kinky
Crocs
Mailer
Mailer
Facebook
Sketchy
Now
PBS
John Lennon
The Fleur Cowles room
Foucault
Cooking
Blogosphere
Psychiatry
Intelligent women
Converse
Math
Self-involved
Modernity
Starbucks
Mailer then
Austin
Jeans
Smacking gum
Hot pink
Imperfection
Sushi
Stripes
Permed hair
Tofu
Target
Stick-on earrings
Unicorns
Paper scraps
Reagan
Veronica Mars
Indie
Homosexual
Cowboys
You
Weird glasses
Plastic frames
Hybrid
Suspenders
Man purses
Being square
Barton Springs
UT
80s rock bands
Patterns
ACL
Mac
Dell
No. 2
Flared trousers
Ninjas
Cigarettes
Organic
Tinky Winky
Polly Pocket
Bangs (swept to one side)
Lost     
Stripes
Brangelina
Healthy food
Childhood obesity
Fred Cantu
Grey’s Anatomy
Old Lost    
Jon Stewart
Barack Obama
DVD
Jessica Alba
Mikes and Ikes
T-shirts with slogans
Tapas
Leggings
Cycling
Tofu
Independence
Moped
Sexy
Hippie
Cartography
Anonymity
Keeping old things
Nature
Love
Honesty
McSteamy
Ellen
Topolski
Mary Kate Olsen
Political apathy
Live music
Home cooking
Kurt Vonnegut
Jeffrey’s
Liberty Lunch
Writing on alley walls
Emo kids
Colorful clothing
Hips that don’t lie
Writing letters
Bands or hip-hop
True self
Leaders
Hookah
Vintage
Lexus
Just being
Clubs
To seduce without meaning to
Crushing
Christmas
Feminism
Spiderman
IMDB
Halliburton
Marilyn Monroe
JFK
Village Voice
Gay marriage
“With the program”
Jung
Libertarians
Henry Miller
Hyperlink
Digital
UT 
SQUARE
Talking on cell phone
Sophisticate
Oil
Crickets
“Soda”
Walkman
iPods
Europe
Gold
Manhattan
Religion
Couch potato
South Congress
SUV
Rap
Flip-flops with heels
The dead
Bill O’Reilly
Ann Coulter
Sun
Perry
Shoes
William Bennet
Bush
MySpace
Shady
Never
MTV
Paul McCartney
The Tom Lea room
Freud
Microwaving
Cable news
Psychology
Dumb blondes
Nike
Religion
Human
History
Folgers
Mailer now
Dallas
Khakis
Blowing bubbles
Teal
Trying too hard
Pasta
Floral prints
Curling irons
Dead animals
Wal-Mart
Hoops
Goats
Notebooks
Clinton
The O.C.
Punk rock
Metrosexual
Cowboys
Me
Contacts
Wire frames
Hummers
Belts
Backpacks and pockets
Everything else
Circle C Pool
OU
Rap
Minimalism
CMT
Dell
Mac
No. 1
Tight jeans
Black belts
Lung cancer
Veggie-eaters
Barney
Bratz
Bangs (across the forehead)
Desperate Housewives
Plaid
TomKat
Fried things
Skinny tykes
Katie Couric
ER
New Lost
Conan O’Brien
Colin Powell
VHS
Britney Spears
Good and Plenty
Plain clothes
Conventional meals
Bell bottoms
Driving
Chicken
Mom
Motorcycle
Slutty
Preppie
Mapquest
Fame
Shopping
Controlled environment
Lust
Doing what’s “right”
McDreamy
Oprah
Thomas Kincade
Ashley Olsen
Rallies
CDs
Fast food
Stephen King
Elaine’s
6th Street
Writing on books in museums
Straight edge
All grey
Hips that lie
MySpace
Orchestra music
Posers
Followers
Cigarettes
Gap
Volkswagon
Trying to be hip
Frat parties
To seduce purposely
Liking
Easter
Patriarchal societies
Superman
MySpace
Peace Corps
Laura Bush
LBJ
New York Times
Gay divorce
“Doesn’t get it”
Freud
Democrats/Republicans
Arthur Miller
Sequential
Analog
A&M

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