Beatnik slang is in some ways an invention of the mass media, a safer flavor of the Beat Generation made palatable for mass consumption. Movies and television featured kooky characters that assumed this stereotype. Other films presented a more hard edged vision. But none of them really captured the life, times and writing of Kerouac, Ginsberg, Snyder, Burroughs, Cassady, Ferlinghetti and the rest. A calcification of the Beat spirit is under way, the Beat Museum has opened just around the corner from City Lights.
While it only treats the Beat generation peripherally, the television series Mad Men provides a strange and wonderful picture of how foreign that world was. It chronicles the dominant cultural themes that created a Beat Generation at the margins. It’s a history that is disappearing from our memories and emerging into our imaginations.