Friday, April 17, 2009

beat vs. nik

Today we takled about the major difference between the Beats and the Beatniks. The two terms are contermporarily used synonymously, however we learned that they are two completely seperate worlds. Here are a few snippets from my notes:

When Capitalism percieves a threat, it absorbs it, processes it, codifies it, repackages it and sells it for profit to the mainstream. This is what the Beatnik was. 

If a threat cannot be co-opted, it is criminalized (i.e. obscenity trials of the actual Beats). Both of these are ways to control the threat.

The Beatnik was an an abstraction of the perceived mentality of the Beats. Negative stereotype of the Beat: Lazy, drug addicts, sex crazed, etc.

Pre-meditated (inauthentic, unoriginal, copies) Beatnik products. Commercialized, bastardized versions of Beat cultural aspects. The EFFECTS were being appropriated and sold, not the ROOTS. The image, the delusion of that freedom were being sold. Beatnik kits, movies, books, clothes...cookbooks? Literally anything that could be sold for profit was processed and regurgitated. Not only did this make money, but it granted the companies control over the 'beat' image. Which is why today when someone says 'Beat' or 'Beatnik' they not only think they mean the same thing, they think that thing is the cheap abstraction that was put into the mainstream in the 60's.

These are just a few parts of the Wiki articlce that I thought hit on what we talked about:


In her memoir, Minor CharactersJoyce Johnson described how the beat stereotype was absorbed into American culture:

"Beat Generation" sold books, sold black turtleneck sweaters and bongos, berets and dark glasses, sold a way of life that seemed like dangerous fun—thus to be either condemned or imitated. Suburban couples could have beatnik parties on Saturday nights and drink too much and fondle each other’s wives.

Ann Charters observed how the term "beat" was appropriated to become a marketing tool:

The term caught on because it could mean anything. It could even be exploited in the affluent wake of the decade’s extraordinary technological inventions. Almost immediately, for example, advertisements by "hip" record companies in New York used the idea of the Beat Generation to sell their new long-playing vinyl records.

Prefacing The Beat Vortex, Thornton Lee Streiff found a false image resulting from an amalgam of earlier stereotypes:

Reporters are not generally well versed in artistic movements, or the history of literature or art. And most are certain that their readers, or viewers, are of limited intellectual ability and must have things explained simply, in any case. Thus, the reporters in the media tried to relate something that was new to already pre-existing frameworks and images that were only vaguely appropriate in their efforts to explain and simplify. With a variety of oversimplified and conventional formulas at their disposal, they fell back on the nearest stereotypical approximation of what the phenomenon resembled, as they saw it. And even worse, they did not see it clearly and completely at that. They got a quotation here and a photograph there — and it was their job to wrap it up in a comprehensible package — and if it seemed to violate the prevailing mandatory conformist doctrine, they would also be obliged to give it a negative spin as well. And in this, they were aided and abetted by the Poetic Establishment of the day. Thus, what came out in the media: from newspapers, magazines, TV, and the movies, was a product of the stereotypes of the 30s and 40s — though garbled — of a cross between a 1920s Greenwich Village bohemian artist and a Bop musician, whose visual image was completed by mixing in Daliesque paintings, a beret, a van dyke beard, a turtle-neck sweater, a pair of sandals, and set of bongo drums. A few authentic elements were added to the collective image: poets reading their poems, for example, but even this was made unintelligible by making all of the poets speak in some kind of phony Bop idiom. The consequence is, that even though we may know now that these images do not accurately reflect the reality of the Beat movement, we still subconsciously look for them when we look back to the 50s. We have not even yet completely escaped the visual imagery that has been so insistently forced upon us.

Etymology of the term beatnik

The word "beatnik" was coined by Herb Caen in an article in the San Francisco Chronicle on April 2,1958. Caen coined the term by adding the Russian suffix -nik after Sputnik I to the Beat Generation. Caen's column with the word came six months after the launch of Sputnik. It may have been Caen's intent to portray the members of the Beat Generation as un-American. Objecting to Caen's twist on the term, Allen Ginsberg wrote to the New York Times to deplore "the foul word beatnik," commenting, "If beatniks and not illuminated Beat poets overrun this country, they will have been created not by Kerouac but by industries of mass communication which continue to brainwash man."

Some other snippets from the article:

At the time that the terms Beat Generation and beat were coined, there was a trend amongst young college students to adopt the stereotype, with men wearing goatees and berets, rolling their own cigarettes and playing bongos. Fashions for women included black leotards and wearing their hair long, straight and unadorned in a rebellion against the middle-class culture of beauty salons. Marijuana use was associated with the subculture, and during the 1950s, Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception further influenced views on drugs.

The character Maynard G. Krebs, played on TV by Bob Denver in The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis (1959-63), solidified the beatnik stereotype, in contrast to the rebellious, beat-related images presented by popular film actors of the early and mid-1950s, notably Marlon Brando and James Dean.

The Krebs character, portrayed by actor Bob Denver, began as a stereotypical beatnik, with a goatee, "hip" (slang) usage, and a generally unkempt, bohemian appearance, studiously avoiding anything resembling work, which he seemed to regard as the ultimate four-letter word. Whenever the word was mentioned, even in a line like "That would work," he would jump with fear, yelping, "Work?!" He served as a foil to the well-groomed, well-dressed, straitlaced Dobie, and the contrast between the two friends provided much of the humor of the series.

Here's a video clip of the Maynard Character (let it load, then skip to 4:24):

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