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Development of Subculture of the Beatniks

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How did foreign media impact Australian youth culture of the beatniks during the post war period?

The Australian youth sub culture of beatniks were significantly influenced by foreign film, music and television amidst the post-world war period. (Education Portal, 2014) The perfect way to describe the beatniks is that they loved to live life to the full whilst also living dangerously. They were a subculture that was heavily influenced by fashion and foreign music. A subculture is a culture within a larger culture that express some sort of subversion to normalcy. (, 2014) They are groups that have values and beliefs different to those held and expected by society. Subcultures bring together like-minded people who feel misunderstood and neglected from societies standards. This allows for people to develop an understanding and sense of their identity. Such subcultures can be characterised by trouble, toughness, excitement, fate, smartness and autonomy which set each apart.

Each subculture includes certain characteristics and important features that individualises them from each other. Such characteristics for the beatniks were believed to live want to live a life full of danger and excitement without the pressure of society expectations. There beat generation reflected a negative stance rather than positive as they were constantly under the influence of drugs such as heroin and cocaine. They stressed the importance of improving ones inner-self above material possessions and heavily believed in philosophy involving antimaterialism and soul searching. The beatniks were the sort to question the future and known to criticise consumerism, consensus and normalcy (Beatnik – Definition, 2012). Their subculture was often found to be involved in violence, vandalism and delinquent gangs. The women generally wore dark clothing such as black turtleneck sweaters opposed to frilly and fancy hair as the style went counterculture seen in the mainstream culture. They kept their long and straight hair as it was represented as a rebellion against the middle class culture of beauty salons. The men’s style reflected of a young artist from France as they chose to wear tight cotton sweaters, similar to the women, berets, black shoes and pants. They wore black as it was a favoured colour and reflected the classic beatnik look, however the men occasionally chose turtlenecks or horizontal striped shirts and was emerging as it was the stereotypical look for the men.

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In relation to music, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Lou Reed and The Beatles were all major influences on the Beatnik subculture as they felt inspired by the Jazz genre that originated from England and the USA. (, 2014) They not only followed the Jazz culture but also the fashion styles Jazz musicians and bands chose to wear. The beatniks shadowed the ‘Beatles look’ by copying the introduced fashion of long hair and dark clothing. This type of music culture created new ideas and values that transformed the subculture to a different state of being. They were influenced by the Beatles beliefs and values as the beatniks chose to not conform to the mainstream culture but to created their own and stand by what themselves and what they believed in. Also from the music culture they created a new class of bohemian culture and developed it to make it their own. (, 2014) From the music culture the beatniks were influenced to follow the portrayed lifestyle of simply not caring and having fun, the subculture then altered this slightly to fit their way of living which was to include danger. Jazz music contributed to the beatnik’s interest of playing the bongos in their free time as they saw this as a way of expressing who they were. This music culture heavily influenced the beatnik subculture by developing their way of life and fashion style which became their way of expressing themselves.

In addition to the influence from the music culture, television had a vast influence on Beatnik culture and lifestyle as it exposed them to see a way of living. Television shows such as ‘The many loves of Dobie Gillis’ was the first ever TV show to express the beatnik culture and lifestyle to society. (, 2014) This allowed the public to witness a day in the life of a beatnik as it exposed their beliefs and values. When this show was created, the beatnik subculture had barely developed and inspired many people in society to join and follow the beat generation therefore creating a larger beat community. A man named Jack Kerouac was the ‘’founder’’ of the Beatnik subculture and he was an author who published two books that were the first to reflect on the life as a beatnik, (‘Go’ and ‘This is the Beat Generation’). As Kerouac and his books became extremely popular with the general public, there were numerous interviews and news stories about him questioning his inspiration to why the beatniks? (, 2014) The same as the television shows Kerouac was an influence to the Beatniks as the media was publicising what the subculture was all about. Again, society saw this and was in some way encouraging the public to join the beat generation. As a result, television was an influence to the beatniks as it was a way of conveying to society that they were people who did not want to follow society expectations and to express who they were, which was greatly accepted by the people in society.

As film had only started to increase in popularity due to the majority of society starting to own a television, the influence of film to any subculture increased. There were an increasing number of films that were produced about their subculture influencing the general public and the beatniks themselves. These films influenced the beatniks as most were about how teenagers were rebelling against the normalcy of society and developing their own identity. The film companies wanted to make as much money as possible and therefore needed that maximum number of viewers shaping their films in relation to rebellion. This influenced the beatniks as they saw this as a way of breaking away from society expectations and finding a sense of identity that society was trying to end. (, 2014)

In conclusion history shows that the subculture of the beatniks was greatly influenced by varied foreign medias such as film, music and television. The explosion these foreign media forms allowed the general public to experience the beatnik lifestyle by bringing the subculture to Australian shores. This media allowed the subculture to see new beliefs and values towards life by showing them that it was okay to have self -expression. The beatniks expressed this new found identity through their fashion and the lifestyle they chose to lead.


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