The 50’s, post-war era, were a time of big change. It was a time where the dominant culture was desperate for a reassuring planned order. The Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite to orbit the earth. The USA their first hydrogen bomb explosion test. These days also saw the invention of the solar cell, the establishment of a passenger jet service, the first successful ultra-sound of the heart activity and the world’s first nuclear plan. It was an era of evolution, materialization, globalization, commercialization and concretization.
But on an other end there was a strong intellectual undercurrent calling for spontaneity to end the psychological repression created by the war. A need of exteriorization and realization; new ways of expression. The emergence of Rock’n Roll. The pop art. The beat movement. The start of some big things that will change the world forever.
The beat movement was first started by the agglomeration of a bunch of mostly american writers who pushed the boundaries of acceptability of the conformist 50s. They used another, less formal and more chocking language to describe their perceptions. They listened to jazz music, consumed alcohol and drugs, wrote about sexuality, homosexuality, unsanctioned criminality, antimaterialism and such unspoken realities. They were bohemian hedonists, who celebrated non-conformity and spontaneous creativity. They embraced Zen Buddism and Amerindian culture. Their ideas were strongly influenced by the Dadaism and Surrealism movements that were themselves, a reaction to World War I. The Dadaism was against elitism and favored spontaneity; The Surrealism turned the Dadaist ideology into more positive social intentions and its focus on revelations from the subconscious.
The first, and probably the most important writing in the history of the movement was Ginsberg’s Owl. Its perverse, sexual and controversial ideas were the fuel of his fame. The era was in need for a more chaotic, Dyonisian existence. Soon after, Jack Kerouac’s On the road was published. It was the real start of a new counterculture; the vagabond, soul-searching minds that constantly re-redefine what bad ang good are. They were new ways of thinking and new ways of being. The book was named by Times Magazine one of the 100 best English language novels written in the 20th century.
It became some sort of a mild revolution of bums, artists and illuminated, instructed, intelligent people. They soon got enough attention from the media to be stereotyped into the beatnick we now know. The superficial dirty hipster with a goatee, wearing a beret, rolling cigarettes, playing bongos; and most of the time running bad-ass illegal transactions. This is a very exagerated caricature of how things actually were; the result of a very overview of something that was too different to be easily accepted. In response to this, Allen Ginsberg explained that some essential effects of the Beat Generation artistic movement could be better characterized in the following terms:
- Spiritual liberation, sexual “revolution” or “liberation,” i.e., gay liberation, somewhat catalyzing women’s liberation, black liberation, Gray Panther activism.
- Liberation of the word from censorship.
- Demystification and/or decriminalization of some laws against marijuana and other drugs.
- The evolution of rhythm and blues into rock and roll as a high art form.
- The spread of ecological consciousness, emphasized early on by Gary Snyder and Michael McClure, the notion of a “Fresh Planet.”
- Opposition to the military-industrial machine civilization.
- Attention to what Kerouac called (after Spengler) a “second religiousness” developing within an advanced civilization.
- Return to an appreciation of idiosyncrasy as against state regimentation.
- Respect for land and indigenous peoples and creatures.
So many artists have been known to be at one time involved with the Beats, noticeably Neal Cassidy (the real-life hero of On The Road), William S. Borroughs, Lucien Carr, Gregory Corso, Herbert Huncke, Peter Orlovski and John Clellon Holmes. The popularity of this movement only got bigger as the culture changed. It very fluidly led us into the sixties conterculture; the freedom and peace & love movements, the activism , The Beatles… BEATles. The beatnick turned into a hippie. Neil Cassidy, high on amphetmine; rapping about random glimpses of his existence. The exponentional use of psychedelic drugs like LSD, peyote and ayahuesca. The growth of the grano-environmental conscience and the persue of the antimaterialist vision that was first induced by the beat generation. The war against war. Times of decolonization, independance and cultural revolutions.