How To Be a Nonconformist: 22 Irreverent Illustrated Steps to Counterculture Cred from 1968
How To Be a Nonconformist: 22 Irreverent Illustrated Steps to Counterculture Cred from 1968
By Maria Popova / brainpickings.org

“Avoid socks. They are a fatal giveaway of a phony nonconformist.”

“Why do you have to be a nonconformist like everybody else?,” James Thurber asked in the caption to a 1958 New Yorker cartoon depicting a woman fed up with her artist partner. It remains unknown whether the cartoon itself, or this cultural dismay shared by some of the era’s counterculture thinkers, inspired the 1968 gem How To Be a Nonconformist (public library) by Elissa Jane Karg. One could easily imagine that if Edward Gorey, master of pen-and-ink irreverence, and Patti Smith, godmother of punk-rock, had collaborated, this would’ve been the result. But what’s most impressive is that Karg was only sixteen at the time, a self-described “cynical & skeptical junior at Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk, Connecticut,” qualified to examine nonconformity as “an angry and amused observer” of her “cool contemporaries.”

With her irresistibly wonderful black-and-white drawings and hand-lettered text, which originally appeared in her school newspaper and were eventually published by Scholastic, she offers 22 rules for becoming “a bona fide nonconformist,” poking fun at so many archetypes still strikingly prevalent — perhaps even amplified — today: the misunderstood artist-hipster, the troll grubbing for clout by spewing curmudgeonly comments, the protester-for-the-sake-of-protesting, the musician flaunting her mental health issues as a badge of genius. Rather than derision, however, Karg’s subtler message is a reminder that, as Toni Morrison memorably wrote in Beloved, “definitions belong to the definers, not the defined,” that a full life is about “allowing the various petals of our identity to fully unfold,” and that adhering to any prescriptive mode of living, even if it’s one that rejects the herd of mainstream culture, only flattens us into caricatures of our complete selves and transforms us into a herd of a different kind, one the cultural critic Harold Rosenberg famously called “the herd of independent minds.”

Karg, in true counter-nonconformist fashion, didn’t end up moving to New York City and commodify her brand of creative cynicism. Instead, she moved to Detroit, had two daughters, joined the socialist party, became a nurse, and led an earnest life as an avid advocate for women’s rights on the cusp of the second wave of feminism. Tragically, though perhaps poetically given her life choices, she was killed in 2008 at the age of 57 while riding her bicycle back from a socialist party meeting. She never authored another book, but did co-author the 1980 handbook Stopping Sexual Harassment.

Immeasurably wonderful, How To Be a Nonconformist is long out of print but surviving copies of it can be found online. Complement it with Exactitudes, the modern-day photo-anthropological record of the cultural phenomenon Karg satirizes.

0.0 ·
0
What's Next
Trending Today
10 Provocative Quotes from Ivan Illich's "Deschooling Society"
Daniel Lattier · 16,299 views today · Ivan Illich’s groundbreaking book Deschooling Society (1971) offers a radical critique of the institutionalization of education within modern societies. Illich believed that we...
This Text Message Exchange Between a Mother and Daughter is Pure Gold
Belinda Hankins · 7,677 views today · When Belinda Hankins got a text message from her 13-year-old daughter, who was shopping for period products, it started an exchange that will resonate with women everywhere. Enjoy.
Welcome to Marinaleda: The Spanish Anti-Capitalist Town With Equal Wage Full Employment and $19 Housing
Jade Small · 4,433 views today · With virtually no police, crime or unemployment, meet the Spanish town described as a democratic, socialist utopia. Unemployment is non-existent in Marinaleda, an Andalusian...
What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic
Asam Ahmad · 4,057 views today · Call-out culture refers to the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and...
Superblocks: How Barcelona Is Taking City Streets Back From Cars
5 min · 3,881 views today · Modern cities are designed for cars. But the city of Barcelona is testing out an urban design trick that can give cities back to pedestrians.
11 Traits of People With High Emotional Intelligence
Raven Fon · 3,787 views today · Lately, new ways to describe human interactions, social behaviours, and many facets of psychology have emerged on the social network scene. One of those descriptions is “high...
When You Kill Ten Million Africans You Aren't Called 'Hitler'
Liam O'Ceallaigh · 3,728 views today · Take a look at this picture. Do you know who it is? Most people haven’t heard of him. But you should have. When you see his face or hear his name you should get as sick in...
Who Are You? Watching This Breathtaking Video Could Be the Moment You Change Your Life
2 min · 2,372 views today · "Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work, driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for, in order to get to a job that you need so you can...
Throw (2016)
10 min · 2,332 views today · The first installment of Invisible Thread, an ongoing ELM passion project series, Throw tells the story of an outsider from East Baltimore, an area challenged by gang violence...
What You Might Notice If You Forgot Your Phone For a Day
2 min · 1,720 views today · There is a moment happening right in front of you, right this second, and you just might be missing it
93 Documentaries to Expand Your Consciousness
Films For Action · 1,591 views today · There are over 800 documentaries now cataloged in our library of social change films. That's probably way too many for any mortal to ever watch in a lifetime, let alone a few...
Ikigai - Finding Your Reason for Being
Chip Richards · 1,559 views today · What Gets You Out of Bed in the Morning? When asked what is the single most powerful contributing factor to one’s health and vitality, integrative medical...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 1,499 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
Fighting Trump - Residents Opposing Donald Trump's Scottish Golf Resort
14 min · 1,406 views today · Documentary on the residents protesting against Donald Trump's golf development on the Menie Estate in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Directed and Presented by James Trosh.
Real Change in Democracy Comes Not in the Voting Booth but Activism at the Grass-Roots
Ilze Peterson · 1,317 views today · Many years ago, the late Judy Guay, a low-income woman from Bangor, founded the Maine Association of Interdependent Neighborhoods in order to advocate for the neediest in our...
Doctors Response to Daily Mail Bigotry is Beautiful
Neil Tiwari · 1,200 views today · A poetic open letter to the Daily Mail newspaper from Dr. Neil Tiwari, in response to a bigoted attack on his colleagues, is going viral and it's beautiful.
Forest Man
16 min · 1,057 views today · Since the 1970's Majuli islander Jadav Payeng has been planting trees in order to save his island. To date he has single handedly planted a forest larger than Central Park NYC...
How to Criticize with Kindness: Philosopher Daniel Dennett on the Four Steps to Arguing Intelligently
Maria Popova · 905 views today · “Just how charitable are you supposed to be when criticizing the views of an opponent?”
Schooling the World (2010)
66 min · 837 views today · If you wanted to change an ancient culture in a generation, how would you do it? You would change the way it educates its children. The U.S. Government knew this in the 19th...
Maya Angelou's 3-Word Secret to Living Your Best Life
3 min · 779 views today · Dr. Maya Angelou says that in order to be the best human being you can be, you must follow one simple directive: "Just do right." Watch as Dr. Angelou reveals how you can never...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
How To Be a Nonconformist: 22 Irreverent Illustrated Steps to Counterculture Cred from 1968