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Rebellion as Adolescent Stage and Performance Stage Inspiration

Treatment Scene in US Staged A Clockwork Orange - Peter Zuehike, Bradmays
While not as loud as earlier generations, youth rebels today are part of growing up and helping to create some great art works, just like their fathers.

Musicians, film makers, poets and writers have expressed rebellion against parents, governments and norms of the time, provoking outrage through their music, clothes, hair, tattoos, piercings and public behaviour. The Decadent Thirties, and Swinging Sixties with its “protest movement,” stand out. However, history is littered with parents and children falling out, each unable to understand the other. Accumulated wisdom and proffered advice is usually rejected. Each generation makes its own mistakes.

Historical Rebellions, Uprisings and Wars

There are shades of rebellion: from passive resistance via civil disobedience, through subversion to revolt, insurrection, mutiny, terrorism, revolution to war, civil or international. Rebellion means refusal to obey orders or systems, sometimes tolerated to preserve peace, but frequently opposed. Governments usually resist protest, like Tiananmen Square in China in 1989 or UK’s 1990 “Poll Tax” riots.

In medieval times, there were regular peasants revolts across Europe, against feudal tyranny. In England Wat Tyler led one in 1381. The English went into civil wars and executed their King, Charles I in 1649 as “tyrant, traitor, murderer and public enemy.” During the French Revolution (1789-99) the bourgeousie guillotined their king and queen, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette in 1973.

The Jacobite Uprisings of 1688-1746 sought to re-establish Stuarts to English and Scottish thrones. American dissenters to British rule during the wars for independence 1775-1782 were called rebels, as were confederate southerners by the north during USA’s civil war 1861-65.

Generations of Angry Young Men

Historically prevalent and natural as adolescent dissension is, according to a 2006 survey about British identity reported in the Guardian, the youth of today are not in revolt. It found the majority of British 16-25 year olds were as interested in savings accounts, jobs, babies, home-ownership as their parents. 80% wanted marriage/children, 82% felt family is important and 92% wanted to own homes.

This image is miles from public perception and media portrayals. There, stereotypical teens behave badly, apparently bad ones ending up unlikely heroes. The 1967 movie Teenage Rebellion shows the youth of the day taking drugs, partying, hanging out. It’s a documentary, but many viewers didn’t believe the footage was of genuine hippies.

The website Fandango offers a top ten of troubled, rebellious movie teens. Dead End (1937) showed boys fighting in a poor neighbourhood, raging against their environment, and starred Humphrey Bogart.

Two movies from 1955 became cult classics. Rebel Without a Cause, featured James Dean as the ultimate misunderstood teenage rebel, released after he died at 24. The motto “Live Fast and Die Young” naturally got associated with him. The Blackboard Jungle added to teenage angst and rebellion, race relations and student-teacher tension, featuring early Sidney Poitier and rock & roll music from Bill Haley & the Comets, which caused cinema fights between youths when first released.

Imagining a future of teenage refusal to conform, Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 A Clockwork Orange focussed on a psychopathic, ultra-violent leader undergoing brutal shock treatment. Immediately controversial, banned for years, it studied rebellion and the system that contained it. Less well-known, Over the Edge (1979) was a realistic youth rebellion tale.

1980’s Foxes portrayed the female restless teenage angst angle. The Outsiders and Rumble Fish, both from Coppola in 1983, experimented with the teen genre to offer thoughtful, socially-relevant interpretations of growing up. Freeway (1996) was based on the Little Red Riding Hood tale, and portrayed a prostitute’s daughter’s hitchhiking trip to see grandma, facing dubious characters.

A young teenage pair go from bad to worse in thirteen (2003). The story was a warning to parents with gritty truth about what teens get up to. Brick (2005) was a mix of film-noire and teen rebellion, where dissent was inspired by insecurities, betrayal and power alliances.

Teenage Revolt in Songs and Words

From the same movie came Teenage Rebellion song by Glass Family. The following year, The Beatles produced their first overtly political song, John Lennon’s Revolution, chiming in with the 1968 unrest that spread across Europe.

In 1965 The Who produced My Generation: “Why don’t you all just fade away, stop trying to dig what we all say.” Twisted Sister came up with We’re Not Gonna Take It in 1984: “We’ll fight the powers that be, just don’t pick our destiny.” US band, Beastie Boys in 1986 created: “Your pops caught you smoking and he said ‘no way’, that hypocrite smokes two packs a day,” in the song (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (to Party!).

UK punks, Sex Pistols, produced many rebellious songs, including Anarchy in the UK: “I am an antichrist, I am an anarchist.” Lyrics, music, costume, attitude – all designed to offend/outrage the establishment. That’s rebellion.

On stage, John Osborne’s classic 1956 play Look Back in Anger introduced Jimmy Porter, a young man railing against the world, boring & stupid people, his life, wife, frustrations, thwarted hopes and dreams. That is a feeling many young people can recognise. That Osborne created it when he was 30, shows how youthful hormones make real, lasting artistic inspiration.

First published on Suite 101,18 June 2010.

Photo: Treatment Scene in US Staged A Clockwork Orange – Peter Zuehike, Bradmays

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