I was listening to an Israeli poet on the radio this morning, as he spoke about the Beat Generation. They were talking about a new translation of one of Kerouac’s earliest books, and it lead to a discussion of the beat generation and beatniks… and what they wanted to change in this world. He belongs to the same generation. He met some of them. But he wasn’t really a part of it. He’s an Israeli poet and was more involved in what was going on here at the time. But since he’s met some of them, and was enthusiastic about them at the time, it seems natural to ask him about that very unusual literary generation, which has been more or less forgotten by most of us, in the long years since then. I too, was an enthusiast at the time. The beat generation influenced the way I looked at the world. And I was dismayed by the conversation, because of one thing he said. He explained that the Beat generation was so called because of the beat (rhythm) that came from the Jazz which they all loved. That wasn’t so. The word beat came from beatitude. Which is what they were looking for. It was what inspired many of them to study Buddhism to varying degrees.
My thoughts on this radio conversation lead me to the consideration of what we might learn about culture, and about the world, from radio and TV programs… and newspapers and journals. I discovered the beat generation while reading a journal one day, many years back. That was a time, when you could really learn some things from the newspapers, the journals, and the radio. I’m talking about a half a century ago. Communication was a little more formalistic then, than it is today. But to a large extent, the journalist tried to be accurate and unprejudiced. He reflected the mores of the society in which he lived, but most writers tried to present an objective reality. There was political commentary too, and gossip columns… but they didn’t masquerade as news.
Back in those days, the common style of writing, found in fiction, was the third person narrative. Little by little, this style was almost completely overtaken by the first person narrative. It wasn’t just the style of novels… The sense of awareness, after the sixties, became much more tuned to personal desires and accomplishments. The message was, ‘look out for the interests of no. 1’. It was me, me, me. Self realization became the most popular philosophical point of view, and with it, the new journalism, which got a great push from the popular writer Tom Wolfe, and then philosopher-writer Norman Mailer, both of whom lived in America. Instead of trying to present an objective reality to the reading public, the writer presented his own very subjective view of what was happening around him, or where he happened to be investigating. The subject of the writing became as much the writer, as the topic that he was writing about.
Since then, the news of the day have become increasingly influenced by this new style. And it is not uncommon for major newspapers and journals, as well as the mass media to present a one sided argument in favor of those causes adopted by the publishing company, the advertisers, or the journalists themselves. There are no apologies. There are no warnings. Very often, certain ideas and points of view are almost unanimously accepted by the forward thinking journalists, and a naïve reader might take opinion for fact, the way the two are intermingled. There are pampered minorities whose causes are trumpeted day and night, and ideological minorities whose attitudes are hardly mentioned, and when mentioned, are often the subject of ridicule. And so, I would suggest to the young, that they look upon the mass media as a source of entertainment and amusement. But that they study seriously any subject that truly interests them. Beware of popular opinion. It is so often wrong.