Many students today are more interested in examples to follow than ideas to promote. They look for styles of life that will allow them the substance or illusion of personality. They search for external marks that may validate a hoped-for internal distinctiveness. It is a shortbreathed desire, eager for quick and dramatic manifestation, for outbursts of resentment or ecstasy rather than long-range expectations.
And it is this situation which explains the curious popularity of beatnik styles among such students. That somewhere there are genuine beats I do not doubt, just as somewhere there may be genuine hipsters. But anyone familiar with an American campus these days knows that, most of the time, what one encounters is a mimicry of the beat style—and one, it is no surprise, that comes almost effortlessly. Despite the hostile sermonizing it has evoked, the beat style has not been shunned by the campus squares; rather, it has been embraced by them. There is a general cultural fascination with the beatnik: coffee houses are overrun with people watching people watching people; folk song albums by the Kingston Trio are at the top of the EP hit parade; churches and synagogues are holding “beatnik dances”; Hollywood has just issued “The Beat Generation”; Tommy Sands (of “Sing, Boy, Sing” fame) has recently recorded “Sinner Man”; Zen, distilled out of its cultural milieu, has become a household item, no bigger than a breadbasket; boatneck sweaters and sockless sneakers are publicly acceptable attire; “Villager” shirts are the latest bestsellers in men’s fashions....
For just $19.95 a year, get access to new issues and decades' worth of archives on our site.
Print + Online
For $29.95 a year, get new issues delivered to your door and access to our full online archives.