Ten ways hippies differed from beatniks

While many hippies were profoundly influenced by beatnik writers such as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg and their alternative lifestyles, many beatniks were contemptuous of the flowering of the hippie movement.

The term “beatnik” itself was coined by San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen on April 2, 1958, after the Russian Sputnik satellite went into orbit. It quickly encapsulated what had been happening since the early part of the decade in the city’s North Beach district.

The word hippie probably springs from the much older word “hipster,” and came to prominence when 100,000 young people from across the country converged on the city for the Summer of Love in 1967.

Here are ten ways the two cultures differed:

  1. Prime time: 1950s and early ’60s, the beats. Late ’60s and early ’70s, the hippies. A half-generation apart. My guess is that unlike beatniks, hippies grew up with television in the house, along with rock ‘n’ roll, and that this influenced the thinking.
  2. Hangouts: Coffee houses and bookstores, especially in San Francisco’s North Shore and Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, for the beats. San Francisco’s Haight-Asbury districts before moving out to communes and college campus fringes, for the hippies.
  3. Philosophical roots: Nonjudgmental, noncombative attitudes influenced by Eastern religions and philosophies, along with nuclear arms opposition, for the beats. Hostility to the military draft and parental control, plus opportunities for sexual freedom, for the hippies.
  4. Personnel: The beats were a much smaller group, primarily poets and essayists, centered on the fine arts and artists themselves. The hippies sprang largely from runaways, initially, and drug experimenters, musicians, war protesters, and laissez-faire independents.
  5. Political orientation: Beatniks eschewed political involvement but did benefit from crucial court decisions, especially involving pornographic expression. Hippies were politically vocal, especially with protests and rallies.
  6. The beat, er, sound: Jazz, primarily, and folk, for the beats. Breakthrough venue: Newport Festival in Rhode Island, starting in 1954. For the hippies, rock and some folk, for the hippies. Breakthrough venue: Woodstock, 1969, as well as the Filmore Auditorium in San Francisco beginning in 1966.
  7. Threads: Dark clothing, usually black with a European look, for the beats. Women went for dark leotards and long, straight dark hair. For the hippies, clothing was anything comfortable, often ratty, drab as well colorfully excessive with occasional global or back-to-the-land historical flavors. Think Gypsy, Native American, even India for influence.
  8. Recreational drugs: Beatnik pot use became widespread among hippies. LSD, though, was definitively hippie. Beats were known for cool. Hippies, for stoned.
  9. Mass media stereotypes: Turtleneck sweaters, bongos, berets, and dark glasses, for the beats. Tie-dye, long hair, headbands, tassels, beads, and bell bottoms, for the hippies. Both usually portrayed in negative light.
  10. Artistic expression: Poetry and novels, the beats. Rock and filmmaking, the hippies. Abstract impressionist painting, the beats. Installation art, performance art, and graffiti, for the hippies.

7 thoughts on “Ten ways hippies differed from beatniks

  1. Great list! Adding:
    11. Emotional tone was muted/restrained existential angst and studied apathy for beatniks; intense rage against authority and injustice with peaceful, loving care for each other and animals/Mother Earth and unbridled joy for hippies.
    12. Cigarettes, coffee and whiskey for beats; pot, shrooms, vegetarian and organic food for hippies.
    13. Glorified urban living for beats; back-to-the-land communal farms or shared lifts/squats for city hippies.
    14. Ignoring or adultifying children for beats; romanticizing the freedom of or nurturing children for hippies.
    16. Mostly white, middle class or privileged adults for beats; teens through elders, all backgrounds, often highly educated, for hippies.

  2. Interesting. I’ve often been called a hippie, but I don’t really know why. Sometimes I get a hankering to look up what the actual definition is of a hippie, but it keeps changing, depending who wrote it.

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