This apparently is what the Beats are doing. On the whole, they are loutish creatures who disapprove of work. As a consequence they seldom have the funds to buy kitchen gadgets, those shiny chrome-plated symbols of success which fill American homes…”
by moritz thomsen
I have been relaxing this evening over a package of PASTEURIZED prunes (at least that’s what it says on the package) and reading a clever and very malicious article in Life magazine about the Beatniks, those curious and malignant rebels who are congregating in our largest cities. The whole tone of the article is so vicious and condemning that it puzzled me until I realized that Life magazine, whose income is derived from advertising, must, of necessity, be outraged by an segment of our society that scorns the products of our society, and which in a broad sense, ceases to consume.
This apparently is what the Beats are doing. On the whole, they are loutish creatures who disapprove of work. As a consequence they seldom have the funds to buy kitchen gadgets, those shiny chrome-plated symbols of success which fill American homes. Their theory seems to be that they can be as miserable and unhappy without a 1960 refrigerator as anyone else can be with one.
What makes the Beatniks outcasts and traitors to the American dream? It is not the marijuana smoking, the overindulgence in vino, their propensity to pass life away in fruitless and meaningless conversation, or the absence of a marriage license framed above the conjugal bed. What makes them evil and dangerous is simply the fact that they won’t buy our nice, new products.
Sin, according to a group of goofy definitions that I heard the other day, is whatever your society says it is. In the past we allowed the church to make up the rules, but lately, and more and more we have handed over the power of defining sin to the advertising people. Look at T.V. for 30 nights in a row and I’ll guarantee that you’d rather be caught red-handed in an adulterous affair than be accused of having bad breath.
Smoke-stained teeth or armpit stain is becoming equated with armed robbery or bestiality. A man isn’t supposed to smell like a man any more; he’s supposed to smell like a rose bush, and if you don’t drive a new car, or aren’t seriously considering mortgaging your soul for one, you are just about as seditious as Captain Nolan who cried in a moment of folly, “Damn the United States,” and was sentenced to be forever a man without a country.
We are a nation of consumers—the largest, most wasteful, most extravagant people in the history of the world. A Chinese would grow fat on what each of us throws in the garbage pail, but what is so dangerous is that our existence is beginning to hinge on the wastefulness and folly of our consumption.
Imagine what would happen, for instance, if everyone in the country decided to drive his present car for one more year. Detroit and Flint, Michigan, would disappear off the face of the earth, as though hit by hydrogen bombs; the denizens of Madison Avenue and the poll takers would be clawing at one another’s throats like wolves, and the chaos would spread so rapidly that the Russians could probably make an unopposed landing on the east coast.
What scares me is that industry is becoming so complicated and so interrelated that the same thing might happen if, for example, the American people as a group decided to stop buying toothpicks.
After his discharge from the Eighth Air Force after World War II and before joining the Peace Corps in 1964, Moritz Thomsen spent 20 years as a farmer in Los Molinos, California, a small agricultural town near Chico and Red Bluff, in Tehama County. His first book, “Living Poor: A Peace Corps Chronicle” was not published until 1969, but in 1959 and 1960 he wrote a column for his local weekly, the Los Molinos Sun. The paper was short-lived, but Thomsen saved clippings of his “Mill Run” column, as well as the notebook he used to write out his columns each week in longhand. The clippings and notebook, now in the possession of his niece, Rashani Rea, provide a fascinating glimpse into the life and thoughts of Moritz Thomsen, eleven years after his death in Ecuador in 1991. Smokebox has been granted permission by Rashani Rea to reprint selected “Mill Run” columns, seen here for the first time since they were published some 41 years ago. For more on Thomsen you can read Marc Covert’s excellent analysis of his published output in the 3 part Smokebox feature Howls From A Hungry Place.