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BEATNIK ORIGINS

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Beatnik Movement

The Beatniks, coming from the Beat Movement, started in the 1950’s. Starting in New York City by a group of writers, the name soon became known to the entire country. Their first work noticed worldwide was Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, which was based on graphic sexual language. They were known as a counterculture and antimaterialistic because they were an extreme of modern day culture. The Hippie movement is thought to have been influenced by the Beatniks. This strange and new subculture had unusual thoughts and views compared to mainstream society.[1]

Central Issue

This new culture was different than the country had seen thus far. Men with goatees, berets, and playing bongos were assumed to be a Beatnik. There were very few women in this group, but they were seen to wear black leotards and longer than normal hair lengths. The term “Beatnik” was first coined by a San Francisco writer suggested that this subculture was far out from the mainstream society and was possibly pro-Communist; the “nik” comes from the prefix from the Russian “USSR” space shuttle Sputnik.[2] Their central elements were the rejection of mainstream American Values, use of drugs and alternative forms of sexuality, and interest in Eastern Spirituality. Some of the drugs they used were marijuana, benedrine, and morphine.

Conclusion / Historical Significance

The Beatniks were the first subculture of America that dealt with people’s lifestyles and political views and not because of race or ethnicity. Their specific views laid the path for future groups and movements to take place. The Beatniks are what are thought to have started the Hippie Movement of the 60’s. One of the Beatnik writers, Kerouac, once said, “The Beat Generation was on bottom, but they were looking up.” 

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