The Beat Generation Held No Tea Parties

In a recent opinion piece published in the New York Times, Lee Siegel offered a list of reasons why today’s Tea Party enthusiasts are reflecting the same spirit as the Beat Generation, which gave rise to the likes of such talented people as Allen Ginsburg, Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, and Gregory Corso.

In writing this article, Siegel is really and truly wrong, on many counts.

First, and most important: there was no hate in the Beats, except possibly some self-hatred, while hatred is a primary emotion put forth by large numbers of those who attend Tea Party events. At bottom, the Beats simply despaired for an American culture gone so horribly sterile and rigid, and they sought a better way for themselves. Beats were fun-lovers rather than name-callers, and pleasure-seekers rather than moralists who decried the fun-loving activities of others.

Nor did the Beats ever seek to forcibly restrict what others did; they sought only the freedom to do their own things. For today’s Tea Partiers, freedom is both the Libertarian notion of strictly limited government that cares not a whit for social safety nets or helping fellow citizens who suffer misfortunes, freedom is also just another word for regulating others’ lives, including (but not limited to) others’ religious practices.

What’s more, the Beat generation was rejected by mainstream society, and sought to do their own thing without preventing mainstreamers from continuing along what the Beats openly decried as an unhealthy path. Today’s Tea Partiers, quite the contrary, are tied up very tightly with mainstream America, and are actively rejecting anyone who disagrees with them, most likely — although they deny it — because we have committed the unpardonable sin of coming from a different socio-economic or ethnic background.

Here’s another test: Make your own list of the “stars” who have emerged from or risen to the top of the Tea Party movement. Compare them to the stars of the Beats. However you choose to compare them, there is a world of difference between those who stand out from these two groups. Does it seem likely, or even possible, to you that the “spirit” which animated the Beats now animates the Tea Party?

I’m sorry, but Siegel’s column seems like another example of “false equivalence:” the mainstream media urge to prove that jerks on the Right are matched by equal and opposite jerks  on the Left (even when they clearly are not).
I also object to the story-line in Siegel’s column that “the Tea Partiers … exert such an astounding appeal.” He writes these words as if totally unaware that the New York Times and the rest of the mainstream media have been assiduously hyping every Tea Party utterance and activity to the max (while simultaneously ignoring the “dog bites man” stories about regular Americans who have consistently been giving every sign of disagreeing with the Tea Party’s “ideas”). Most polls have been showing for quite some time that, outside of its own small circle, the Tea Party has remarkably little appeal.

On the other hand, it is no doubt true — as Siegel cleverly reports — that at least one member of each group at some point mentioned a Chevy. I guess that’s enough proof for the Siegel and the New York Times that these movements really are expressing one and the same spirit.

Let’s remember the accuracy of this judgment next time Siegel or the New York Times offers another opinion.

Photo: Neal Cassady (on right), Jack Kerouac (on left)

Photo credit: tiseb

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