Even out in the middle of America, inquiring minds may have recently picked up some of the East Coast media/art-world buzz about a now-defunct Euro-crew called the Situationist International (SI). The Situationists are the subject of a new book called Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century, by pop critic extraordinaire Greil Marcus.
They are also memorialized, some would say embalmed, in a traveling museum exhibition called "On the Passage of a Few People Through a Rather Brief Moment in Time: The Situationist International 1957-1972." The exhibit, like its subject, started in Paris. It spent the winter months in Boston where it was visited by yours truly and thousands of others.
The Situationists were continental contemporaries, chronologically and otherwise, of our own beloved and beatified Beats. Formed in 1957 as a loose, anarchistic collective of avant garde artists and writers, the Situationists, like the Beats, were 1950s rebels-with-a-cause, determined to bang their heads against the conformist artifice of the postwar world and plumb the depths of its bottomless inauthenticity.
Our Beats are now, of course, the stuff of transgenerational legend. By 1957 they were already becoming quite well-known. This is in no small part because, as truly American cultural populists, the Beats were in love with mass popular culture. They loved it for the sheer thrill and sensation of it all, and also for its inherently democratic potential. They were eager to have their work, their ideas, their myth, and even their lives enter and transform the popular culture.