Hippie Versus Beatnik

Written by audrey farley
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Hippie Versus Beatnik
Beatnik culture is a literary forerunner of the hippie culture. (Hemera Technologies/Photos.com/Getty Images)

"Beatnik" and "hippie" are similar in term and concept, indicating a person, trend, fashion or behaviour marked by bohemian customs and tastes. Both beatniks and hippies are identified as having radical and somewhat aberrant ideas and as rejecting cultural norms. Although the terms beatnik and hippie are sometimes used interchangeably, there exist a few precise differences between the labels.

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Etymology of Terms

The word "beatnik" is founded on the word "beat," which became popular after World War II as a slang term for a person who was poor, lazy or exhausted. "Beatnik" was first used by Herb Caen, who derisively applied it to members of the "Beat Generation" of poets in San Francisco. Caen wrote of the bearded poetry lovers, "They're only Beat, y'know, when it comes to work." The term "hippie" refers to "hip" people, who were "in the know." The exact first use of the word is unknown, although some attribute it to Jack Kerouac, the founder of the beat movement.

Differences in Usage of Terms

Importantly, the term "hippie," when it is used to denote a person, describes a person of the hippie generation of the 1960s and 70s or a person inspired by the hippie generation. The word "beatnik" specifically denotes a member of the beat generation of poets or a person inspired by the beat poets. The term "beatnik," applied to culture, refers more specifically to the beat music, literature and poetry loving culture, which originated in San Francisco with Jack Kerouac in the 1950s. The word "hippie," when it describes a movement, refers to a cultural trend that originated in the 1960s in Europe and the United States. The hippie cultural trend was a response to established conventional social and political norms and values.

Origin of Movements

Historians and cultural critics disagree about whether the hippie movement engendered the beatniks or vice versa. "The Hippie Generation," for instance, claims that Jack Kerouac is considered the father of the beat movement and, thus, the grandfather of the hippie movement. Other historians contend that Kerouac and the Beat movement were the products of an already existing hippie culture, even if Kerouac may have been the first to apply the term "hippie" to the subversive, anti-war culture which so influenced him. What is, for the most part, undisputed is that Kerouac founded the Beat generation. Kerouac maintained as much himself in "Origins of the Beat Generation," an address to Brandeis College students in which the author and poet describes a revelation that the "beat" lifestyle was "beatific."

Relationship of Beatnik and Hippie Movements

The beatnik and hippie movements both advocated social change, reform and revolution. But more precisely, the beatnik movement was a literary movement that gave expression to the visions of the hippie cultural movement. The famous beatnik poets include Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso and Peter Orlovsky. These poets used verse, which was inspired by beat music, art and ideology, to change the social consciousness. Interestingly, beatnik poets reinforced cultural ideals both thematically and formally, breaking rules of syntax and structure and exploring radical themes in their verse. The beatniks' rejection of conventional form and genre reinforced the norm-defying trends and discourse of the hippie movement at large.

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