How The Beats Influenced Social Movements In The Later Half Of The Twentieth Century

1698 words - 7 pages

Essay Question: How did the beat generation influence other sociauikhuhuhjl movements that occurred in the second half of the twentieth century?
By Brydie Siryj
The origins of the beat movement can be traced back to Columbia University where Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Lucien Carr, Hal Chase and others met. It was at Columbia University where the future beats discussed and shared ideas that would later lead to the experimentation of drugs, alternative forms of sexuality, interest in Eastern religion, rejection of materialism and the creation of the spontaneous prose that would occur throughout the 1950’s. These central elements of the beat generation would see a new form of American ...view middle of the document...

The Beat movement’s contribution to the arts may also be seen as a force for other movements such as the civil rights and ecological movements of the time. But most importantly, the obscenity trials for ‘Howl’ and ‘Naked Lunch’ gave the Beat’s publicity and resulted in a freer America.
In 1957, Allen Ginsberg’s poem ‘Howl’ faced a heavily publicised trial for Obscenity. The poem was considered ‘obscene’ as it referenced sex (heterosexual and homosexual) and illicit drugs. Chester MacPhee stated that “The words and the sense of writing are obscene” then claiming that “you wouldn’t want your children to come across it”. Despite the opposition, Judge Clayton W. Horn ruled that the poem was not obscene stating that it had “redeeming social importance”. This trial brought national attention to the beat movement and came to symbolize the struggle for literary expression. Ginsberg was also heavily involved in other censorship battles of the time, including William Burrough’s ‘Naked Lunch’ obscenity trial. Through ‘Howl’ being acquitted of obscenity charges, Ginsberg paved the way for other poets and authors to express their sexuality and views freely.
Although William Burrough’s was reluctant to be a part of the gay rights movement, his influence on the movement is seen most notably in his open avowal of his sexual orientation and fantasies. Where Burrough’s influence on the movement is seen as subsidiary, Ginsberg is considered to have had a more active role in the gay rights movement. His most notable contribution to the gay rights movement was in 1965 Ginsberg was deported from Cuba for publicly protesting at the persecution of homosexuals. Some people have dubbed Ginsberg the front man for the gay rights movement; however much of what Ginsberg contributed to the movement is commonly debated. Randy Wicker, a New York activist said that Howl “was certainly liberating”, however “He never was involved in the gay liberation movement”. Ginsberg’s involvement in the movement may be seen as sporadic, however, like Burroughs, Ginsberg’s involvement is most prominently seen in his visibility as an out gay man whom celebrated his sexuality through his writing and appearances. At this point in time where the gay civil rights movement was just merely a political protest, Ginsberg turned it into a celebration of the sexuality that deserved to be socially acceptable.
Ginsberg’s and other Beat’s influence also extends to the anti-war movement both directly and indirectly. The Beat’s influence is often seen as indirect due to its heavy influence on musicians of the time, including Bob Dylan, The Beatles and the Doors. Bob Dylan and The Beatles are renowned for their many anti-war protest songs of the sixties, therefore the Beat’s influence can be said to have contributed to these musician’s political ideals. The Beat’s opposition to war and military-industrial machine civilisation is also commonly seen in the works of Burroughs, Huncke, Ginsberg and Kerouac....

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