Good Question: What Was The Beat Generation All About?

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) – A new generation of San Franciscan’s may not be aware of the role the city played in a social movement led by a group of people known as the beatniks.

In his video report, Ken Bastida visits San Francisco’s North Beach to find the roots of the beat generation.

ANSWER: According to Brandon Loberg of the San Francisco Beat Museum, the phrase, “Beat Generation” was first coined by author Jack Kerouac to describe a group of New York based philosophy and literature students in 1948.

“The Beats” as they were known, were all about questioning conventionalism and the establishment. “Beatniks” were eventually displaced by the “Hippies” by the mid 1960’s.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

  • J. Brandon Loberg

    It’s nice to know my answers to the interviewer for this article were completely ignored in favour of preconceived notions. Next time, i’ll just shrug my shoulders and say, “Whatever you think it was about, man.” (That was sarcasm, by the way.)

    While, yes, the Beat Generation began as a core group of friends–self-identifying writers, college students in New York City in the mid Forties–the term ‘beat’ was coined by writer Herbert Huncke. ‘Beat’ was jive slang, meaning ‘down and out’, which Huncke identified with in the sense that, having weathered the Great Depression and World War II, his generation had been stripped down to their bare essentials. Kerouac would later put his own, more positive spin on the term, describing ‘Beat’ in the sense of ‘beatific’, in the sense of the Biblical Beatitudes (Kerouac being a devout Catholic, after all). Kerouac said frequently that he saw his generation as “compassionate and sympathetic,” and in fact took profound offence at the suggestion that the Beat Generation was a “revolution” or “insurrection.” He disliked the hippies; he considered them disrespectful and illiterate.

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