Beatniks / The "Know - Nothing Bohemians" or Intellectual Rebels?

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When talking about beatnik subculture as the one represented by those “know - nothing bohemians”, one needs to have in mind that this was some kind of a stereotype generated by various media outlets throughout the years of the 1950s to 1960s. However, the following paragraphs of this article will show that beatnik subculture relied more on some superficial aspects of the so-called Beat Generation – “those intellectual rebels” literary movement that began with Jack Kerouac in the 1940s. 

by GRETA UBAITE

illustration MARTYNA JAN

 

Beat Generation was a great bunch of early hipsters, who did not accept the usual ideas and rules of that time American society. Central elements of Beat culture were a rejection of standard narrative values, adoration of the American and Eastern religions, refusal of materialism, experimentation with psychedelic drugs, sexual liberation and exploration of everything and everywhere. 

Beat Generation was a great bunch of early hipsters, who did not accept the usual ideas and rules of that time American society.

Activists of the Beat Generation were misunderstood and mocked in the media. The latter assigned to them many stereotypes. With a variety of oversimplified and conventional formulas at their disposal, reporters fell back on the nearest stereotypical approximation of what the Beat Generation resembled to. In magazines, they were portrayed as negative rather than a positive part of society. Beatniks were shown as nihilists, unintellectual and even as criminals. 

In magazines, they were portrayed as negative rather than a positive part of society. Beatniks were shown as nihilists, unintellectual and even as criminals. 

This criticism was largely due to the ideological differences and divisions between the American culture and the Beat Generation, including their Buddhism-inspired beliefs. Many of the Beat advocates believed that the core concepts of Asian religious philosophies had the means of elevating American society's consciousness, and these concepts informed their main ideologies.

Later, in 1958 the term “beatnik” was coined by Herb Caen and became quickly enough some kind of a popular trend existing among young college students. Being a beatnik evolved into a popular label associated with a new imaginary stereotype – the man with a goatee and beret reciting nonsensical poetry, wearing black turtleneck sweater, horn-rimmed glasses, rolling his own cigarettes and playing bongo drums.

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Being beatnik evolved into a popular label associated with a new imaginary stereotype – the man with a goatee and beret reciting nonsensical poetry, wearing black turtleneck sweater, horn-rimmed glasses, rolling his own cigarettes and playing bongo drums.

The “trademark look” of the beatnik style belonged to bebop trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. Also, famous American artist Andy Warhol represented beatnik style very well! And of course, Audrey Hepburn in the musical “Funny face” played a truly beatnik-inspired role. Thus, both for women and men beatnik style implied fully black looks. Let me picture you this: black leotards, black tight pants and long, straight, unadorned hair. Not to forget – a cigarette was the main style attribute! 

Usage of marijuana and other drugs was highly associated with the subculture. Suburban couples used to have “beatnik parties” on Saturday nights when they explored their mental and physical abilities and their extremes through various sexual and psychedelic experiences.

Beat Generation embodied an image of life that looked like a constant dangerous funny game – to be either condemned or imitated.

Beat Generation embodied an image of life that looked like a constant dangerous funny game – to be either condemned or imitated. Even though we may presume now that the mentioned images did not accurately reflect the reality of the Beat movement, stereotypical looks created by the media are still subconsciously in our heads. And as for style inspiration, it is regaining popularity and becoming a booming trend nowadays. Superficially or not, many want to be the new intellectual rebels sitting in their favourite bohemian café.  

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