Friday, May 18, 2012

"Rebel without a Cause" (1955) & "We Are Young" (2011)

(Curiously, the German title for "Rebel" translates: "For They Know Not What They Do.")

“Rebel” is surprisingly thoughtful and reasoned, considering its title. Some may argue that it was the point where pop-culture and art began taking us all down the road of generational rebellion and youth culture distinguishing itself simply to be different. However, that is not really fair.

The film is largely a reaction to a reality that was already present in the culture. In the 50s, people were surprised to discover that “juvenile delinquents” were just as likely to be found in well to do families and neighborhoods. Poverty and lack of opportunity were not the cause. As is seen in the film, it largely was a result of the culture at large, and families in particular, losing a sense of purpose and meaning. In trying to avoid the cultural mistakes that led to the wars of the early Twentieth Century, the entire society became directionless.

While “Rebel” and other films that followed it highlighted the problem, none of them did any better than the culture in offering a solution. If Baby Boomers felt that their parents were not giving them enough direction in life, they in turn offered their children no better. The best they came up with was that every generation should come up with their own meaning.

The result we see today is that western culture is awash in rebellion and the cause doesn’t even enter the equation. The sorts of things that used to stand out as cries of desperation or efforts to be perceived as a rebel are the very definition of normal these days. (Who would have ever imagined that the decision to NOT have a tattoo would become the exception, not the rule?)

If this film were to be remade today, one wonders how it could ever be extreme enough to have an impact. What would the point be? One suspects there would be no point. A case in point would be an example like the music video to “We Are Young” by fun. An orchestrated, violent riot for the sake of a riot… An anthem to the very spirit of troublemaking for no reason at all… Lyrics that are cryptic to the point of disconnect.

“Rebel without a Cause” was a look at a perceived problem that instead became a fad, and unlike most of the styles in the fifties it never went out of fashion.

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