Elizabeth Ru.


If one were to try and think of what the Merry Pranksters would be like in today’s world, drugs and the amount of usage would be at the center of that decision. However, the true modern-day Prankster would be someone or a group of people who are using drugs not solely to get high, but as a means to finding to something else. In the case of Kesey and his followers, what they were chasing was intersubjectivity; the most important aspect about the Pranksters was not that they used drugs heavily; it was that they were using it as a way to find something they were all looking for. I put forward, however, that the commercialization of the hipster scene in San Francisco has taken a huge part in influencing the amount of drug use that is prevalent today. As is hypothesized throughout the book, one of the main concerns with the San Francisco scene is that many people were migrating there looking not to connect with people or to find intersubjectivity, but instead to get high on marijuana and LSD and have a good time. These drugs became popular with younger people, who are not necessarily participating in it for the meaning they have found behind it, but to have fun. More and more people start to take these drugs, and at end of the book the Acid Test Graduation fails: the people who actually were looking for some meaning behind the drugs to find a connection to each other, fail, and cannot find that significance. The others though, especially the younger generation separate from the Merry Pranksters mentioned at the end of the book, continue to do the drugs; but without that meaning behind it, it is only drug use. That drug use without importance or a purpose to it that was left behind after the Acid Test Graduation failed essentially, through its commercialization and popularization, is what helped spawn the widespread drug use among youngsters today.

It is intriguing to note that in “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test”, Wolfe describes very passionately the relation between the experience of LSD and music. On page 250, Wolfe states that, “The Dead were the audio component of the light projections” of the acid tests. He also mentions other bands such as the Beatles and Jefferson Airplane which have this same representational effect on the Pranksters. This is intriguing because it implicitly points to the possbility that the Merry Pranksters are merely an evolved form of the Beat Generation. If the Beat Generation heightened their experiences and enlightenment with marijuana and the movement and spontaneity of jazz, then the Pranksters heightened their experiences with the either driving or ambient beats that rock and roll had to offer. Wolfe states, “There was something wholly new and deliriously weird in the Dead’s sound” (251). Thus, just like jazz represented the beliefs and lifestyle of the Beats, the “deliriously weird” quality to the Dead’s music represents the beliefs and lifestyle of the Merry Pranksters.

On page 9, Wolfe describes North Beach, the former haven of the legendary Beat Generation as “dying”; it has been corrupt with “tit shows” and with tourists crawling all over it trying to see these “hipsters”. These tourists who have come to the area merely to observe and participate but never to believe or respect the people or the values that exist in the area. They represent the same type of white, middle Americans who have also come out to the area not to search for any meaning in their life, but for kicks and good times. This sort of shallowness in participating in the scene but never really believing in it really comes through on page 62 when Kesey expresses his frustration at the Perry Lane crowd for their lack of appreciation of Cassady. The Perry Lane crowd are thus the very same type of people as the tourists; they both participate in the scene but never really believe in it. They never believe in the knowledge and insight Cassady can offer them into their lives, because (since they are from white middle America) they do not know how to appreciate or listen or actually respect anyone below their own class level. The class levels have not been transcended here; in a way, they are hypocrites, and they are merely using the drugs and the scene as an image that they can use to justify their need for kicks and for drug use. Thus the contrast between these two types of people and two different scenes (North Beach vs. the tourists, Cassady vs. the Perry Lane crowd) really illustrates the idea of the corruption of the Beat Generation; the idea that the commercialization and the popularization of the drugs within the scene have corrupted the original ideals and morals of the Beat Generation.

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