The 50's Beatniks: The parents of Sixties counterculture
The 1950’s was a time of intense, new developments that would lead to one of the most defining eras in American history, The Sixties. The Fifties brought about new technology and new ways of thinking which would manifest itself in the epic clash of Vietnam, huge new waves of secular music, and a group of incredibly rebellious young people, all readily available to view on the home TV set every American had. Before the TV displayed it all, one expressed himself through writing, art, and radio. Art, writing, and new ideas all created a delicate vehicle for a future wave of eccentric, rebellious Hippies that thrived in The Sixties. However, a different kind of eccentric young person made it possible for the “way-out there” countercultures of The Sixties to arise, The Beatniks, or The Beat Movement. The 50's Beatnik movement consisted of entirely new, controversial literary and artistic works that would drastically impact and lead to the prominent hippie and beatnik counterculture of the 60's.
Every movement that makes something of itself has a prominent figure or figures that guides or sparks the progress of the movement itself. For the beatniks, the controversial poetry of Allen Ginsberg started it all. Allen Ginsberg wrote a disturbing, yet very unique poem called Howl which he read as a performance piece at a coffee shop in San Francisco. Immediately Ginsberg received offers to publish it, and thus the beatnik movement reached its infancy stage. A poem may not sound like a great way to appeal to the masses a new, incredibly different way of thinking, but upon reading the lines of Howl one can easily see its turmoil and harsh reality would even be striking to someone in today’s age. Ginsberg directs his message at the misguided youth who would eventually become the hyper rebellious Hippies of The Sixties. “who were expelled from the academies for crazy and publishing obscene odes of the windows of the skull,” and “who got busted in their pubic beards coming through Laredo with a belt of Marijuana for New York,” obviously depicts a rowdy crowd of young people that are already rebelling. Not only does Ginsberg suggest he’s talking to the troublemakers, he also directs his message at the intellectuals and the misunderstood. Perhaps these are all the same kind of people, but, “a lost batallion of platonic conversationalists jumping down the stoops off fire escapes off windowsills of Empire State out of the moon,” sounds much more like a misunderstood group of casual thinkers and talkers than malicious evil doers. Ginsberg’s poem brought to a life a strange group of people that enjoyed and dabbled in strange new ways of fiction and art. William Burroughs, an influential science fiction writer, added even more intellectuals to the mix of rebels and thinkers. Naked Lunch was outlawed in many states due to its obscene sexual imagery and constant reference to drug abuse, it quickly popularized the idea of hallucinogens and other outlawed substances in the late Fifties. Ginsberg and Burroughs created a generation of delinquents and thinkers who had their tastes tuned to the weirder, less popular side of American culture, and this type of thinking would be the more popular ideology among the young in The Sixties, rather than the weird sub group it was in The Fifties.
The Fifties created and morphed a group of people that would be the definition of The Sixties. The dirty, long haired, tye-dye donning, Woodstock attending Hippies of The Sixties came from the cigarette smoking, deep thinking, coffee shop loitering weirdos they called The Beatniks of the Fifties. Without the influence of the outlandish art and writing the Beatniks made famous, the type of behavior displayed on TV and at rock concerts would never have been acceptable nor would it have happened. The correlation between the two eras doesn’t seem like its too similar, but the rebellious behavior common for the young in The Sixties most certainly was harnessed and built up in The Fifties.