Rebel without a cause: A defense

- Joseph Uysetuan () - April 8, 2007 - 12:00am
I don’t think we just go up against anybody or anything without a reason.  There is always an antecedent that eventually triggers a circumstance which we call "cause."  This condition, in turn, produces an effect and raises an action or issue.  Obviously, our observation here does not go along with the words of the cliché "rebel without a cause."  There is a cause.  And we are here to defend that.

As we know, this clause was transformed into an adage because of the classic movie, Rebel Without a Cause, which was the origin.  But, I would rather attribute it to James Dean, the Hollywood legend who starred in it.  No question, he was the one responsible for the immortalization of the film, and along with it the cliché.

It was his rebel icon that reflected the discontent of the youth of his era, the 50’s.  It was so dramatic that he became the epitome of the lost, confused and troubled young souls of his time.  This influence is still felt to this day.  The title, "America’s First Teenager," was attached to his name and memory ever since.  It was his legend status that popularized the adage, left in time to become his personal legacy – the symbolic rebel identity.

Thus, Dean’s actual personality is often misconstrued and cinematically stereotyped.  He is often portrayed as that rebellious, rowdy, red-jacketed actor who recklessly drove racecars, rode fast motorcycles and died in a car crash due to alleged drunkenness or drugs (none at that time).  They branded him a juvenile delinquent, an ill-mannered youth, even a homosexual.  All these are merely misinformation or speculation.

However, there are those who are awed or impressed by his phenomenon.  To cite, they mistake him for some present-day actor or pop singer.  This is because of his perennial modern looks.  One frequently asks what’s in him that makes his fans go gaga over him.  They all jolted when told of his demise in 1955.  They are baffled why he has arrived at this legendary greatness.

My friends, I swear to that because these are on-the-spot remarks I heard with my own ears.  You see, I am a James Dean fan and I maintain a collection of his memorabilia where people come to view.  The collection can be viewed at my website, www.geocities.com/jamesdeanphilippines.  The whole site also appears in The James Dean Official Website where it is listed as a tribute site representing the Philippines.

As for those who have read any of the more than 200 books written about him, they will not point to him accusingly as the "rebel without a cause."  They will not judge him as the significant culprit behind the cliché.  Like any teenager of his era, or of any era, he had that rebellious attitude that is never missed during one’s adolescence. 

In his case, as with most of us who were there, he was rebelling against the hard times brought about by the ravages of the War.  He was rebelling against the men and nations that failed in wisdom and got involved in the senselessness of war.  He was rebelling against the institutions, society and the elders handling it.  All these fine-tuned the rebel syndrome in him.  Albeit unconsciously. 

Ironically, the roles he played in his movies, just three, completely reflected the alter ego in him.  We, the rising but dismayed generation of that time, also saw our reflection there.  Seeking a redeemer hero, we find in him hope, inspiration, a future for us.  We identified with him.  He was the tomorrow. 

Eventually, he helped heal the wounds of war.  On account of him, millions of youth all over the world became one identical voice because they were all feeling the same.  This is evident because his masses of fans also are found in the war-torn countries of England, France, Japan, Germany, and of course, the United States.  Needless to say, he has big followings in other countries where his films have been shown.  They share the same sensitiveness.  His aged fans are vanishing now but there is a new young breed arising.

Not only did he unite the juveniles of the world, he also established a new youth culture – a class that is "rebellious," self-reliant, responsible, expressive, dynamic.  That’s the youth of today and of the past decades.  Just note the way they dress, the way they act, the way they think and speak.  There’s a little James Dean in them.  Albeit unconsciously.

Were we disgusted and angry at the older generation that had caused the War?  We were.  Were we looking for a deliverer to whom we can empty out our feelings and frustrations?  We were.  Were we, though in pure innocence, able to measure in wisdom the psychological effects of the war?  We were.

If these are not causes, then what do we call them?  Thus, understandably, as we were then and as the youths are now, we were rebels with a lot of causes.  The Dean enigma can attest to that.  It is the revelation that unravels the "without a cause" myth.

The "rebel" phrase is just a metaphor created by the adults to magnify youth’s follies that they also wallowed in when they were young.  They just want to paint a "bad boy" image of the young.  This needs understanding, to consider the huge gap between the 50’s and this starting millennium.  There are a lot of effected changes of the times.

Comparably, we were so mellow and carefree, to think of the present day young blood.  Fifty years ago, hooliganism was called "juvenile delinquency" or "JD" (the actor’s striking initials), but the term is going obsolete now.  It’s too tame to be applied to today’s hoodlumism.  "Punk" was an unmentioned word in those days.  Street waifs were meek and innocent.  Spoiled brats were not barbaric or drug-crazed.  The deadliest weapon in a young thug’s hand was a switchblade.  They didn’t vandalize, sniff grass, stick up people. 

Okay, they were, just the same, juvenile delinquents, rebels sans the causes, so to speak.  They are still around.  Right in your neighborhood.  Suppose we turn the table on the elders and question them why?  Don’t they teach idealism and rules that are not there once we step out of school?  What causes hooliganism, vandalism, gang warring?  What roles are to be played by the family, the academe, the church, the government, the law?  What ails our social, political, economic, religious, cultural structures, systems and institutions?

Fifty years ago, Rebel Without a Cause did make an impact on both the younger and older generations of that era when it hit the screen.  By today’s standards, technical or moral, it is a squeaker.  Go grab a DVD copy.  I will not show you the trailer.  The answers are there.  Rebel without a cause?

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