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On this day in 1959: Just what is the beat generation, anyway?

In the '50s, a group of subversive poets and artists concerned with disrupting the status quo and speaking out against racism, sexism, and materialistic society emerged.

They might not be a moral threat, but they're apparently not very attractive, either

A photograph of 20th-century American poet Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997), taken by his friend William Burroughs, part of an exhibit of Ginsberg's photographs at New York University's Grey Art Gallery February 5, 2013, in New York. (Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)

Today, the term 'hipster' conjures up images of cool young people wearing artisanal this, while drinking craft that on their bespoke everything. But the name first belonged to a particular set of black artists whose style, slang, and lifestyle were on the farthest edges of the cultural fringes.

In the '50s, a group of subversive poets and artists concerned with disrupting the status quo and speaking out against racism, sexism, and materialistic society emerged. They were dubbed the beat generation, and the squares just didn't know what to make of them.

In this 1959 clip from CBC's Assignment, we get a close if skeptical look at the beginnings of the movement from researcher John David Hamilton and reporter John Lurch. Despite taking cues at first from an "antisocial group" of jazz musicians, it is revealed that the beats weren't all "lazy wastrels who smoke marijuana and indulge in orgies" as some in society believed them to be. Many were well-educated, bright young people who "demanded more" of their materialistic society, and led "a very considerable withdrawal movement from the rat race."

Unlike today's tastemakers, the beat generation didn't seem overly concerned with a unified aestheitc. In fact, Hamilton reported that many of them were"not particularly attractive," anyway. They weren't preoccupied with being cool. They didn't have to be — they were meaningful.

Visit the CBC Digital Archives for more throwbacks like this one.

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