How the beat generation changed our world
By Ayra Fouad, Contributor
This is the story of how a late 1950s literary revolution inspired a generation of hippies to change the world.
Today, the greats of beat poetry — often referred to as the beat generation — are one-sidedly depicted as maniacal characters who are always on the hunt for their next acid x. While this image isn’t all that inaccurate, it is important to recognize the immense impact they’ve had on the way we think and live today.
No singular defining writing style was used by the beats; instead, an unconventional approach and their own individualistic style determined the aesthetic. This unique style expressed an unconventional outlook on the world and society as the poet’s experienced it. With each stanza, they broke as many rules as they could.
The beats were the voice of political dissidents — stressing the importance of environmental consciousness and the fight for change, while emphasizing the need for more freedom of self-expression and spirituality. They constantly broke societal taboos, all through the bluntness and vulgarity of their poetry.
San Francisco columnist Herb Caen combined the words beat and Sputnik — the name of the satellite launched by the Soviets — in an attempt to indirectly label those who subscribed to the beat generation poets as communists. Thus was born the title “beatnik.” To this day, hardcore beat poetry fans brandish this title and wave it around for the whole world to see, even though they realize it sounds like something a toddler would name their favourite stuffed bunny.
Beatniks heavily in uenced the start of the hippie movement by participating in peaceful rallies and protests, all with the goal of fighting against segregation and discrimination. Their fight to make the world more open minded and accepting by giving people the opportunity to freely express themselves is something that echoes to this day in Canada — be it through modern day hippies or the average Calgarian.
Meditation for example, is a modern practice that has been adopted by many. Even on our very own MRU campus, students are provided with a meditation room just off of Main Street. Meditation, spirituality and yoga were all practiced by the beat generation long before it became mainstream. Their religious experimentation was something that was largely frowned upon at the time, but later inspired the practices of mindfulness that many of us partake in today.
Although many are becoming increasingly conscious of Indigenous affairs, there is still much learning to do and change to be made. Jack “King of The Beats” Kerouac wrote in On The Road, “The waves are Chinese, but the earth is an [Indigenous] thing. As essential as rocks in the desert are they in the desert of ‘history.’”
He openly shared his opinions about such issues decades before any action was taken against the poor treatment of Indigenous communities. Though he was born in America, his French-Canadian roots heavily influenced his ideas.
Throughout history, the beat generation’s effect on our societal outlook was quite immense. Though the beat generation will die with the last beat poets, their essence is present in our day to day lives and societal conceptions. As Michael McClure once replied to a curious student, “Where’s the beat generation? It’s in you somehow.”