By Mary Fauldsstaff writer
Part 2 of 2
April 2010 – Michael Boyer’s book The Hollywood Culture War cites 10 men who significantly contributed to the decline of traditional Judeo-Christian morality in America. This second part of the series focuses on six of those men whose influence continues to resonate in American culture: three Beat Generation writers, a Harvard University professor, a friend of Hugh Hefner and a billionaire financier.
In the 1950s, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac were friends who met in the offbeat Greenwich Village. “They were working odd jobs. They often shared apartments together, and they were aimless,” said Michael Boyer, author of The Hollywood Culture War. Beyond that, the three were drug addicts and alcoholics and fancied themselves philosophers as they debated as to whether it was really even necessary for people to work.
A child of money, Burroughs’ parents sent him a monthly allowance when he graduated from Harvard in 1938. Even after he married and had two children, he never thought it necessary to work, and he whiled his time away with heroin and amphetamines.
To escape a drug charge, Burroughs and his family fled to Mexico in 1948. It was a few years later, during a drunken game similar to Russian Roulette, that Burroughs shot and killed his wife. He soon found himself in a Mexican prison.
His brother came and bribed the officials, so his trial was conveniently postponed. During that time, Burroughs wrote his first two novels, Junkie, highlighting his affection for drugs; and Queer, putting a spotlight on his appetite for homosexuality. His friend and former Greenwich Village roommate, Ginsberg, helped to get Junkie published in 1953, when Burroughs returned from Mexico.
“Junkie was very similar to Aleister Crowley’s Diary of a Drug Fiend,” said Boyer. “All three men were very anti-Christian. They wanted to free society, just like Crowley did, from the ‘bondage’ of Christianity. They wanted to get rid of Christ from the spectrum of society.” (See AFA Journal, 3/10.)
Kerouac was considered the leader of the group, dashing and handsome. From 1947 to 1950, he traveled around America, stopping at seedy bars and various places “on the other side of the tracks.” He continued with heavy drug and alcohol use, as well as engaging with prostitutes.
“It wasn’t one trip he took during those years,” said Boyer. “It was three separate trips in which he literally criss-crossed America. He kept a diary about the whole time he did this, the people that he met, the things he did. So when he finally returned, he slipped into trying to write books and poetry. Really bad, amateurish stuff.”
It was at this time Kerouac developed his relationship with Ginsberg, who was also a struggling poet. They found their audience in the Greenwich Village coffeehouse crowd, where their offbeat prose and performance were accepted.
Ginsberg already had a working relationship with second-tier publishers in Manhattan since he himself had a book published. Howl, a diatribe of his angst-filled life, came out in 1956 and is considered the beginning of the Beat Generation.
Ginsberg talked Kerouac into writing about his travels, which he did in a 21-day drug-induced frenzy. That fictionalized account of his journal entries was published in 1957 and titled On the Road.
“The book itself was then (and, to me, now remains) bad literature. It’s a bad book, it’s a bad story, it’s poorly written,” said Boyer. “However, you have people who claim it is their bible.”
Boyer said the post-war secular press was infatuated with these rebels. Ginsberg capitalized on this by talking about his “New Vision” for American youth. He thought that middle-class comforts were something to be disdained.
“Most adults were very happy with the emerging middle-class lifestyle,” said Boyer. “They really didn’t care to be going to coffeehouses and waking up at 6 a.m. puking in a back alley bar. But to Ginsberg and his ilk, that was considered living.”
As the ’60s faded, Kerouac did as well, dying in 1969 from advanced liver cirrhosis due to his alcoholism. Burroughs and Ginsberg remained and formed powerful connections in Hollywood and beyond.
Turn on, tune in, drop out
Dr. Timothy Leary started out as a psychology professor at Harvard University. However, after experimenting with hallucinogenic mushrooms while on a trip to Mexico in 1960, he went down the pathway of hardcore drug use.
When he returned from his trip, he convinced Harvard administrators to allow him to experiment on the effects of LSD on graduate students. It didn’t take long for word to get to the administrators that Leary had begun recruiting undergraduates, and parents began to complain. Leary was summarily fired.
Leary spent the next few years in a drug-induced haze running marijuana from Mexico with his young adult daughter, getting arrested in 1965. He now began a crusade to legalize drugs with the help of the beatnik Ginsberg. Ginsberg became the bridge from the Beat Generation to the hippies.
Leary’s moment came in 1967 at the Monterrey Music Festival. The hippies in that area were starting to catch on to the Ginsberg idea of looking at things: to embrace drugs, to reject Christianity and to embrace Zen Buddhism.
“During this gathering near the Golden Gate Bridge, there were about 30,000 young people gathered,” said Boyer, “and it was then that Leary declared that it was time to ‘turn on, tune in, and drop out.’ That great philosophical proclamation made it into all the media outlets and he was, well, it was almost like he got validation. From that point on, kids said, ‘If Doctor Timothy Leary, from Harvard University, says it’s okay to use drugs, then it must be okay.’”
Boyer said despite how the media tries to portray the youth of the era, 99% of the youth weren’t represented by the 1% that were in San Francisco at the time.
“What’s really sad about addressing those 30,000 young people is the really good, potentially sharp minds that could have done some great, positive work,” said Boyer. “Leary helped wipe out a generation of American youth, and his effects are still being felt today.” In fact, Leary continued speaking out in public for the legalization of drugs until his death in 1997.
Money without morals
George Soros, the wealthy son of Hungarian parents, spent most of his life making billions. Boyer said the main reason George Soros makes the list was his monetary support of liberal causes.
Soros had a friendship with Ginsberg, the beatnik/hippie who campaigned with Leary in the ’60s and ’70s for the legalization of drugs. Boyer said Soros credits Ginsberg with educating him on why drugs should be legalized.
“Soros and Ginsberg became friends in the mid-1980s,” explained Boyer, “so much so that Ginsberg was a regular weekend visitor over at Soros’s East Side penthouse, right up until his death in 1997.”
It was his money that funded the original California ballot initiative back in the 1990s to create the so-called “marijuana clinics” that have now popped up in scores of other states.
Soros has continued to support liberal causes, including hate crime legislation, taking away churches’ tax-exempt status, and removing the prison system entirely in favor of rehabilitation over incarceration.
Goodbye, Golden Age of Hollywood
In 1930, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) adopted a production code to stop the entertainment trash coming from Hollywood, as it was perceived by many Americans. The studio heads agreed to the code, but many in the industry grumbled about it. Regardless, Boyer said that code ushered in what many believe was the Golden Age of Hollywood.
For nearly 30 years, studios complied with the code, but by the 1960s, writers, producers and actors wanted to do racier fare and abolish the code. One of those who supported that cause was Hugh Hefner. He had started a section in his Playboy magazine called “Sex in Cinema,” pushing for the MPAA to kill the code.
Hefner’s dream would soon come true when, in 1966, Jack Valenti was named president of the MPAA. Valenti had been a high-ranking official in President Lyndon Johnson’s administration, but left for the more lucrative MPAA post.
Valenti was friends with Hefner and many young producers and directors, and they were putting pressure on Valenti to do something about the code. “A lot of the old Hollywood crowd was very happy with the code,” said Boyer. “They knew how to work with it to tell compelling, good strong stories without having to resort to salaciousness.”
However, in 10 days in 1968, Valenti abolished the code that had taken nearly 10 years to put together and had stood for decades. He instead invented the ratings system. “What Jack Valenti did with the help of Hugh Hefner,” said Boyer, “is to take all the pornography that used to exist in the backstreet and the gutters and the alleys and the subways and bring it to Main Street.”
The effects were noticeable quite quickly. In 1965, 45 million people went to the movies on a weekly basis. That year the Academy Award winning film was The Sound of Music. In 1969, weekly movie attendance dropped to 17 million, and the year’s Best Picture was Midnight Cowboy, an X-rated film.
Boyer said the bottom line about these 10 men is that their combined efforts took away the Judeo-Christian values system in America in a relatively short amount of time. He said it is possible to win it back, but it will take a tremendous grassroots effort.