It’s too bad that the movie “Howl” reduces the sociopolitical meaning of the Beats to the obscenity trial that took place in San Francisco in 1957, when Lawrence Ferlinghetti stood accused of printing and selling “Howl,” Ginsberg’s explosively profane long poem.
Hollywood loves self-righteously to portray now-unchallenged liberal causes under siege, even though in this case the cause of free speech was vindicated when the presiding judge ruled that “Howl” was a work of “redeeming social importance” and that Ferlinghetti was innocent.
What the movie should have spun out into its own subplot was the fact — never mentioned in the film — that the judge, W. J. Clayton Horn, was a conservative jurist locally renowned for his Sunday-school Bible classes. Horn might well have been as much an outsider in San Francisco’s sophisticated social circles as Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg were in the eyes of the law.
It takes an outsider to know an outsider.
Or perhaps Horn had a glimpse of the future. The eventual assimilation of Beat hedonism ensured that by the end of the millennium, white middle-class Christians like him would themselves be marginalized — at least by the dominant culture — as the “silent majority.”
All your Mo’s are belong to us!
Original news report: