During the latter half of the falling-crime mid-century, the Beat Generation and their followers emerged as antagonists of the conformist and materialist majority. Three traits capture the flavor of these efforts:
- A paralyzing self-consciousness -- obsessing over and shouting about doing your own thing, rather than just doing your own thing.
- A retreatist approach to the problem of material abundance, instead of discriminating between the good and bad sides of materialism and technological change.
- And a profound naivete about the potential dangers of blind experimentation, whether artistically, sexually, or drug-related.
In these ways their view of the world was not very different from the mid-century mainstream, just that they took the opposite course of action from the majority, who still shared their assessment of the world.
The mainstream strongly fretted over whether what they thought, felt, and did was within prescribed boundaries, but they chose to stay inside while the Beatniks chose to stand outside. The mainstream had a simplistic view of materialism -- that it's either full steam ahead or withdraw into a pre-industrial age -- but they chose to dream about what gadgets to buy while the Beatniks abandoned material comforts. And the mainstream knew little about what might happen if they got hooked on pot, gave the go-ahead for homos to screw each other, or pushed the shock value of experimental art, but they chose to abstain from those things while the Beatniks blindly cheered them on. Same perception and appreciation of the real world, just a different course of action based on that.
How did the entire generation of Beatniks come to share these traits? Like their mainstream counterparts, they came of age mostly during the falling-crime period of 1934 to 1958. Such periods are marked by higher level of cocooning compared to the rising-crime periods just before and just after. That obviously explains the naivete, and almost as obviously the self-consciousness -- being more cut off from society, you have a heightened awareness of yourself as an island with sharper boundaries. The black-and-white view of materialism or technological change may also stem from social isolation -- being more embedded in real social life allows you to see first-hand what is good vs. bad about buying a car, working hard just to earn more money and not other reasons, and so on. When you're more isolated, you imagine it more simplistically going either one way or the other, with less of a reality check from your social interactions.
To give a brief example of someone who did not succumb to these mainstream tendencies, consider Sloan Wilson, author of The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, a sincere reflection on mid-century materialism. He was born in 1920, and so went through infancy, childhood, and even early adolescence during the (extended) Roaring Twenties, when people were out-and-about, engaging with the real world. Gregory Peck, who played the title character in the movie, was born in 1916. So they were part of the Greatest Generation, whose formative years were the rising-crime Jazz Age.
A few of the Beats were part of that generation too -- Lawrence Ferlinghetti (b. 1919), the sick fuck William Burroughs (b. 1914), and the halfway likable and conservative Jack Kerouac (b. 1922). But everyone else, including the most visible and hyped-up figure, Allen Ginsberg, was born in the second half of the 1920s and the early '30s, making them part of the more sheltered Silent Generation.
Who are their descendants today? Since the main influence on the zeitgeist is the trend in the homicide rate, we just look at who was born in the same place relative to its peak. The earlier peak year was 1933, and the most recent peak was 1992. So adding 60 years to the birth years of the Beatniks, we get people who were born in the second half of the 1980s and early '90s -- namely the Millennials.
They're in their 20s now, and we're in the same place in the homicide / zeitgeist cycle as the early 1950s. As in that time, most young people today are gadget-worshiping, cocooning conformists. Who, then, are today's Beatniks? They don't want to call themselves by any label since they, like, don't fit neatly into society's boxes, man. Meanwhile everyone can identify them ten miles away. I prefer the term "indie faggots," although the more common terms "hipster" and "hipster doofus" do connect the group back better to their mid-century ancestors.
Given the anti-materialist poses of the Beatniks, I guess I really mean the sub-group of hipsters who try to live off the grid, and not the ones who can't leave the house without their laptop and phone. The funkier-smelling hipsters are also the sub-group more likely to get into weird sexuality, whereas the check-out-my-Mac hipster chicks are as frigid as mainstream girls.
Where will this all lead in the near or medium term? Well, where did it lead before? Once the crime rate began rising during the 1960s, the zeitgeist changed direction, moving away from the '50s and toward the '80s. Because it doesn't change completely overnight, a fair amount of mid-century culture was still hanging around throughout the '60s and early '70s -- just diminishing steadily over time. Kennedy's New Frontier and Johnson's Great Society were fading holdovers from the heyday of liberalism under Roosevelt and Eisenhower. The Sears Tower was a fading holdover from the heyday of the International Style in architecture.
And the hippies were a fading holdover from the heyday of Beatniks. They were not a harbinger of things to come -- they were still sleeping in the naive mid-century, when the rest of the population was waking up to reality in the New Wave age. They were also closest in age to the Beatniks. Of course some of the hippies were Silents themselves -- a 25 year-old in 1969 was born in 1944. The prototypical ones, though, were the oldest Boomers, born in the late '40s. They therefore grew up through childhood during falling-crime / cocooning times, although the environment flipped around when they went into adolescence.
By the time you get to mid-'50s births, you find very few hippies because they went to college in the mid-'70s or later, after the counter-culture had died off circa 1973. Think of Kevin Arnold from The Wonder Years, or perhaps your own parents. The youngest Boomers, like the guys in Duran Duran, probably weren't even in middle school during the Sixties counter-culture.
Now, the next crop of hippies are probably just being born, so it's too soon to draw comparisons between them and their ancestors. But they'll have a similar relationship with the Millennials as the hippies did with the Beats. Sounds fucked up that so many people will come to idolize Millennial indie faggots, but it happened once before. Thankfully most of them won't, and the sheltered generation will be ignored or even disobeyed on account of their cluelessness -- that happened once before too.