Revisiting Purpose: Past & Present Misrepresentations of The Beats

Over the past few days, I’ve been sharply reminded why I am led to study this specific area. My reasons have further developed, and thus, I feel it would be appropriate and helpful to explain and reiterate:

I’ve chosen my topic in order to explore its racial context because the element of race is something that is frequently omitted or misrepresented in reflections on the beat generation.

"Beatniks" were stereotyped beats, boiled down to a commercial fad ( Source: http://theqit.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/BEATNIK.jpg)

“Beatniks” were stereotyped beats, boiled down to a commercial fad
( Source: http://theqit.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/BEATNIK.jpg)

The purpose of my work is not to diminish the literary accomplishments of the beats, nor is it to dismiss the value and impact of their social rebellion–I will not deny that their resentment of a society with a high-pressure, narrow idea of “respectability” was justified. However, there have been plenty of papers written on the negative stereotyping of the beats, and their reduction to an adolescent fad; on the distortion of their intentions by media and government; on their advocacy for integration and civil rights, and of the freer world for which they ached.  We have dissected the vices and virtues of the beats before–their “taboo” activities in tandem with groundbreaking literature and innovative socio-political, philosophical, and cultural ideas–but our analyses have been narrow.

My goal is to take all this with a grain of salt, and to make possible a more holistic understanding of the beats by taking all of their virtues and vices into account by presenting what our historical accounts have left unobscured but unaddressed: racism. Beat culture, in spite of its stated support for People of Color’s Civil Rights, was deeply racist–in ways that are so often unexamined and disregarded.

This past week, I unearthed a seminar-capstone paper from a student at Western Oregon University. It contained the standard “heroization of beats with tremendous oversights” perspective, which exemplifies exactly what my work criticizes. I plan on forming part of my ideological criticism in response to this paper, and think it will help me to gain a greater understanding of where our cultural blindspots are. I think that it is essential to revisit our understanding of literature, and recognize its potential as a historical tool to inform us of times past. There is so much in beat literature that has not been explored in depth; that we are not using to fully inform ourselves about beat ideology. The evidence is all there.

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