Sunday, October 29, 2017

Jack Kerouac Living on Social Media


A Certain Afternoon at the Public Garden

        “So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars'll be out, and don't you know that God is Pooh Bear? ...” (Kerouac 1957)

Brad Parker reads Kerouac on YouTube
        It was a beautiful day in early summer when a gentleman sitting on the bench read aloud from a novel titled On the Road. In the mid-afternoon sunlight at the Public Garden in Boston, MA, he introduced a masterpiece crafted by writer Jack Kerouac, adding “The last paragraph is especially famous” (“Reading Kerouac by Brad Parker #1”). His fluent yet touching reading was captured by my iPhone, posted on YouTube, and shared on Facebook. He, who performed an excellent recital, is no other than Brad Parker, 70, one of the core members of that Jack Kerouac Facebook page.

Facebook page "Jack Kerouac"
        As Parker is quick to note, Kerouac is indeed an exceptional writer who coined the Beat Generation in 1948. Kerouac named an underground, youthful literature movement this term, as he later recollects, “The Beat Generation, that was a vision that we had . . . in the late forties, of a generation of crazy, illuminated hipsters suddenly rising and roaming America, serious, bumming and hitchhiking everywhere, ragged, beatific, beautiful in an ugly graceful new way” (Kerouac, 1957). The Beat writers are often engaged with alcoholic and drug experiences, and they tried to bring the liveliness of popular music into the literature world. In 1998, Kerouac's best-selling On the Road was selected as one of the 100-best English-language novels of the 20th century by the Modern Library, which confirmed the great writer's legacy and the Beat beginnings of American counter-culture.

       The Kerouac Facebook page has grown to a community where more than 8,300 worldwide members discuss Kerouac each day. His work, fifty years since his premature death in 1969, is still vibrant enough to gain more readers. For such enthusiasts, the Social Media page provides two kinds of significance: information and interaction.



Information on Kerouac Page

        Parker is a Kerouac expert, whose book Kerouac: An Introduction published in 1989 is perhaps the best concise introductory biography of Jack Kerouac, and he has been contributing to the Kerouac Facebook page for six years (“Brad Parker ≈ On The Road @ San Francisco Main Library”).

Jack Kerouac by Tom Palumbo circa 1956
        He believes that many members want to know more of Kerouac's real life because his writings are “ninety-nine percent novelistic autobiography” (Parker). In search of Kerouac's real experiences, Parker and I have traced Kerouac's road trips. In October 2016, we took a train to both his and Kerouac's hometown, Lowell, MA, and Parker posted on Facebook the event we attended, focused on Kerouac's estranged daughter, Jan Kerouac, who was also a writer and passed away in 1996. We met Gerald Nicosia, one of the best distinctive Kerouac's biographers, and other participants who had seen Jan during her Lowell appearances, or who simply appreciated her literary talent. This year, we flew to Mexico City and visited several parks Kerouac wrote about and the apartments in Roma Norte at which Kerouac resided (on rooftop) to write Doctor Sax, Tristessa, and Mexico City Blues. Parker shared pictures of our Mexican trek on the Facebook page while introducing the French-Canadian American author, “I am 'through with living in America'” (Kerouac, 1952). Parker, in this way, not only informs readers but also entertains them, even sometimes confusing them with philosophical inquiries.

        Parker is also eager to mend people's misconception of Kerouac. For instance, some might say that Kerouac was an immoral car thief and a sexual omnivore relentlessly seducing women. "But this is about Neal Cassady," Parker told me. Cassady is a person depicted as character Dean Moriarty in On the Road. As Parker sees it, Kerouac was actually “rather shy and inhibited.” Another confusing concept is “beatnik,” the word one journalist created to describe a young person who dressed and behaved in a way deviant from the society, the term being a combination of “sputnik” and “beat.”  It is true that Kerouac and the Beats influenced the “beatniks” and “hippies” of the 1950s and 1960s, but Parker concludes “Kerouac never personally embraced them.”

        Thanks to contributors like Brad Parker, the Kerouac Facebook page is full of valuable information. Any member can access it and deepen understanding of Kerouac and his work.


Interaction on Social Media

CouchSurfing arranges free stay for travelers
        Along with Facebook, Parker is familiar with other Social Media services. For our Mexico trip, he found an excellent room via Airbnb, and in Boston he habitually shares his room with travelers via CouchSurfing for free. When I asked him why, he answered, “I might want companionship because I have no family. And young people always revitalize me.” By acting an uncle figure, he enjoys learning pop culture from his guests, earning a myriad of warm bonds and positive references.

        The same thing is seen on the Kerouac Facebook page. "When I go to Barnes and Noble, one of the largest bookstores in Boston, I find people are still buying On the Road. It's never been out of print," Parker emphasizes. The Facebook page, as well, includes many new fans, so Parker enjoys seeing their reactions and interpretations of Kerouac literature.

        Such interaction has urged him to write a new book. “I'm trying to write a much larger, better, deeper biography of Jack Kerouac,” said Parker. He has recently visited the Jack Kerouac Archive at the New York Public Library to scrutinize newly-endowed materials. He is on the way of discovering the great author's real character and genius.

        Inherently, we can elicit the wisdom of the crowd from Social Media. And I am one who has known the power of that Facebook page. When I looked for an audiobook of On the Road, many experts helped me find the right one. Also, Kerouac fans have no borders; we can discuss different language versions of On the Road—which has been translated into 32 languages. It is quite fascinating that we can talk about subtle differences between different translations.

A Japanese version of "On the Road"
        In addition, interaction is a key term of Kerouac literature. While traveling over America and Mexico, Kerouac interacted with and meticulously depicted people. One study argues that On the Road is an ethnographic portrait of mid-twentieth-century America, in which the author “connects his own social worlds to the culture and society of his time” (Amundsen, 2015). Perhaps Social Media today might play the same role that Kerouac did. It can become historical evidence that reflects our real world, for our progeny living fifty or 100 years from now.


Can You Hear the Beat?

        “Kerouac is complex. This is why it took me years to write,” Parker grins. Such complexity can be derived from the tragic memory of older brother Gerard's young death, enthusiastic studies on philosophy, and unwavering attitude towards reaching higher levels of writing. Kerouac's writing style—spontaneous, creative and wild—is likened to a lively jazz riff. Kerouac was, as a matter of fact, a jazz fan who wrote articles about jazz for his college newspaper at Columbia University.

Parker at Mount Auburn Cemetry, 2017
        Parker strongly suggests that each Kerouac reader “read aloud at least twice, and not slowly!” in his book. He has emphasized, in his recent videos, that one should try to feel the cadence of the way Kerouac reads. I hope those YouTube videos will help new fans understand Kerouac's literature more deeply.

        The spirit of Jack Kerouac has carried into Social Media, with much information and opportunities for interacting with members in various ways. The Facebook page “Jack Kerouac” is for you, from novices to experts. Did you find his novels too difficult? No worry. Just feel Kerouac's unique voice inscribed on paper. Then you will hear Kerouac's "beats" right here on Facebook.

Works Cited

Amundsen, Michael. "On the Road Jack Kerouac's Epic Autoethnography." Suomen Antropologi: Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society, vol. 40, no. 3, Sept. 2015, pp. 31-44. EBSCOhost.
“Brad Parker ≈ On The Road @ San Francisco Main Library, January 2013. 13 February 2013.” YouTube. Web. 10 July 2017.
Kerouac, Jack. "Aftermath: The Philosophy of the Beat Generation." Esquire. 1958. Print.
Kerouac, Jack. “On the Road.” New York: Viking, 1957. Print.
Kerouac, Jack. “Jack Kerouac: Selected Letters.” London: Penguin, 1996. Print.
Parker, Brad. "Kerouac: An Introduction." Lowell: The Lowell Corporation for the Humanities, 1989. Print.
Parker, Brad. Personal interview. 9 July 2017.
Reading Kerouac by Brad Parker #1. 1 June 2017. YouTube. Web. 10 July 2017.

Is Social Media Really an Expression of Diversity?

I start my day by checking Facebook and Twitter accounts just after rubbing my eyes. I click on the rainbow-colored button which Facebook has recently introduced to celebrate Pride month and to represent the LGBTQ community. I see some of my friends showing a profile with the French flag to mourn for the victims of the Paris terrorism in 2015. An American acquaintance posts pictures of the march in Washington D.C. protesting the current presidency, proudly showing her "love trumps hate" T-shirt and pink, cat-ear-shaped hat. Those are all fine. I have already been loaded with information and have lost my appetite before breakfast.

At the same time, I am a little frightened of being so accustomed to the cultural norms on Social Media. All major Social Media platforms—including Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and LinkedIn—promote the importance of diversity and express the support for minorities. But what is diversity? It does not mean appreciating immigrants and deprecating others. It does not mean superficial messages for a particular group of people. It does not mean a disdain for the President. (I see the diversity of the definitions of "diversity.") Then I came to realize that Social Media, in fact, can narrow one’s perspectives in some ways: Social Media population does not accurately reflect the real world’s demographics, peer pressure prevents Social Media users from expressing ideas contradictory from their norms, and free speech is being killed by activists in the name of political correctness.

First and foremost, although the Internet and smartphones have become commodities, one should not assume that the Social Media population is exactly reflecting our real world. Take Facebook, the world’s largest Social Media platform. Demographic studies show that the core users of Facebook are young adults, under 30. In the US, 87% of under-30 Internet users have Facebook accounts, whereas only 63% of Internet users aged from 50 to 64 have theirs (Vermeren, 2016). Thus, most of prevailing opinions on Facebook are voiced by the younger generation, who are anxious about their futures and tend to be rebellious against the establishment. There is also a trend in ethnicity. Facebook researchers report that the bulk of the users are whites, yet Hispanic users have been rapidly increasing since 2008. (Chang, 2010) The discrepancy between the ethnicity on Social Media and that in the real world can lead someone to misunderstand the whole world is dominated by whites and Hispanics. Furthermore, Facebook is more popular among college graduates than those who lack a bachelor’s degree (Vermeren, 2016). Interestingly, statistics also conveys that Democratic Party supporters and Social Media users are somewhat overlapped (Vermeren, 2016). The tangible world in which Social Media users reside might be a customized universe not of their own making.

Aside from Social Media demographic, peer pressure may implicitly narrow one's perspectives. Social Media is literally the place where people are supposed to be social. Opinions and ideas are formed as a group standard, and the closer one interacts with a group, the harder it becomes to challenge.

Consider a Harvard student who roots for Donald Trump. Historically, being a conservative is hard at Harvard, a place “surrounded by sea of blue.” Since conservatives are a minority, they would have a hard time finding their supporters, and some may remain quiet not to be offended by others. On the other hand, the majority, liberals, might believe that they are absolutely right and might marginalize others. Harvard Crimson writer Luca Schroeder reveals such dilemma seen at the prestigious college. Schroeder writes a story of a freshman who is for Republicans but has worked on the Democrat campaign. The person explains the reason, "Because I so wanted to be with my roommates and with everyone else" (Schroeder, 2015). The author describes it as "the choice between social comfort and political conviction."

Isaac Inkeles ’16 is another example of a conservative student who keeps himself from arguing controversial issues. He is a former editor of Harvard Salient--conservative college newspaper--and sees same-sex marriage as a potentially dangerous change for the society. Also, he has disagreed with the option to choose preferred gender pronouns during registration: “It’s like, do we need to politicize and change the English language?” (Schroeder, 2015) However, he did not claim his argument much, feeling that "people won’t take it in good faith and just assume that it’s bigoted or irrational" (Schroeder, 2015).

The same thing is happening on Social Media. We see many people dehumanizing their adversaries and labeling others with harsh words such as "racist", "xenophobic," and "uneducated," which is totally opposed to the concept of diversity. Everyone thinks differently, based on their upbringing and ideology. Unless we develop discussions and respect otherness, we would not be able to have wider viewpoints.

As a final point, our standpoints might be concentered due to some sort of universalism--the idea that there is only one universal truth--being formed through Social Media. For instance, in 2012, fast-food franchise Chick-fil-A not only grilled chicken but also put a fire on Social Media. Dan Cathy, the president of Chick-fil-A and a Baptist, criticized gay marriage on the radio by stating that the younger generation is so prideful and arrogant that they are redefining marriage. Facebook and other Social Media users instantly reacted. Boston Mayor Tom Menino wrote a letter to Cathy, telling him that his company is not welcome in Boston. This letter was quickly spread across Social Media, where Cathy had turned into a villain, and apparently, there was a boycott on Chick-fil-A driven by the LGBTQ community. (Cote, 2012)

If someone gets blamed on Social Media, it is quite hard for him or her to fix a bad reputation. Anyone can be an influencer. Information is widely spread at the speed of light. Anyone can jump in the conversation, thus creating a huge social whirl within a few days. Thanks to the First Amendment, everyone has freedom of speech. So, what was wrong with Cathy? The underlying idea behind such phenomenon is so-called "political correctness." It is a term describing policies that keep specific groups, often defined by sex or race, from discrimination and disadvantages. The context has shifted over time, and today people may think some of the policies are excessive and have issues such as self-victimization.

In addition, Social Media companies are naturally governed by Western-centric ideas. Westerners, for example, often rebuke Japanese who hunt and eat whales despite the fact that hunting whales is strictly limited to specific purposes in Japan and they have never been over-hunted. This conflict comes from the difference between how we see the world, nature, and animals. Of course, anyone can dislike whale hunting, but we need to admit the existence of such tradition in order to vary our perspectives. I would not be surprised if Facebook adds the “save-the-whales” button someday.

Everyone is different; everyone is the same. The key to true diversity is not ignoring others or overvaluing a specific minority, but accepting the difference in how we are and how we think. You don’t have to “like” others. It’s your choice. Keep distance instead of trying to “correct” others. I hope Social Media will eventually brew such diverse culture. And I really dream of a diverse world, as one of the minorities, a Japanese expatriate in the United States.

Works Cited

Chang, Jonathan, Itamar Rosenn, Lars Backstrom, and Cameron Marlow. "EPluribus: Ethnicity on Social Networks." Proceedings of the Fourth International AAAI Conference on Weblogs and Social Media (2010): n. pag. Web.
Cote, Joseph G. "For Some, Chick-Fil-A President's Comments on Gay Marriage Crossed the Line." Telegraph, the (Nashua, NH), 27 July 2012. EBSCOhost,,ip,cpid&custid=bhc&db=nfh&AN=2W61510361656
Schroeder, Luca F. "The Elephant in the Room: Conservatives at Harvard." Commencement 2017. The Harvard Crimson, 1 Oct. 2015. Web. 26 June 2017. <>.
Vermeren, Iris. "Men vs. Women: Who Is More Active on Social Media?" Brandwatch. Brandwatch, 20 June 2016. Web. 26 June 2017. <>.