“I shambled after as I’ve been doing all my life, after people who interested me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn…”
– Jack Kerouac, On the Road
Of the characters that Bob Denver played in TV, Maynard G. Krebs is my favorite. Largely forgotten by younger people, Maynard G. Krebs was the foil for Dobie Gillis (the kid with many loves) and although he became the TV sitcom’s most lovable character in the days before Gilligan, Bob Denver’s real role was a straw man. No, he wasn’t in the Wizard of Oz, but Krebs was a way for popular “square” culture to dismiss the most influential literary and cultural movement of its time without really addressing it.
Krebs was a shallow but funny guy whose life revolved around avoiding work. He was the square world’s idea of a Beatnik, to be laughed at like Bones and Tambo were by previous generations. Students of the Beat Movement will have a hard time associating such an idea with the actual founders of that literary movement, like Kerouac. Jack Kerouac, from a working class family who identified strongly with the working man, was just that. He worked on merchant ships and in the railroad yards, played football for Columbia and labored most industriously on his first successful literary effort, On the Road. His speech was not punctuated with “Like” or “man” nor was he, according to some, like his estranged daughter Jan, particularly loveable.
The Beats were a challenge to squareness, bourgeois propriety, and conventional family values. Krebs, TV’s stereotypical Beatnik was just an affable buffoon with bongo drums, trying to avoid work. You were invited to laugh at and to dismiss the straw man who like a straw broom would sweep away the disturbing Beat Movement; goatees, Zen, reefer and all.
Much of the stereotyping was about work and its avoidance, as though the greatest fear of our culture is that anyone can question the central role of work; as though any question would lead to some kind of collapse. Most of us who wore our hair long in the mid to late 60’s were used to having “Get a Job” shouted at us. Along with the dismissive stereotype however, was the ability to find something likable about the people we were reducing to clownhood.
Our stereotypes today are more vicious and so are our responses to “off center” ideas. Concepts like gay marriage and abortion frighten us more than the Beats ever did and the people who advocate such things are too diverse to reduce to charming but lazy buffoons. It’s understandable to be nostalgic about Maynard G. Krebs and an era when we could at least chuckle at people we couldn’t understand rather than to tear our world apart with anger and intolerance.
Capt. Fogg Human Voices