I'm Not The Rebel You're Looking For

So you want to read about rebels? Well, you’ve come to entirely the wrong place. Sorry.


I’m about as far from a rebel as it’s possible to be. To give you an idea of what I mean, here are a few scenarios from 20th century cinema to help.


Imagine Stand By Me, but with a character who, having heard the rumour about a bloated corpse amidst the rushes, leaves his more adventurous friends to it, hot-footing it home quicker than you can say ‘valuable life lessons’.


I’m the Neo from The Matrix who takes the other pill.


If James Dean was the ‘rebel without a cause’, I’d be the ‘rebel who absolutely, definitely, needs a cause and one that’s both legally approved and authorised by all available parties’. Which isn’t, I admit, a great title for a film.


You get the picture. 


To be a rebel is to possess a thrilling mixture of attributes. Bravery, recklessness, a sense of fun, a willingness to push boundaries, an ever-so-loose interpretation of rules, a suspicion of authority and a strong moral compass. I have some of those, I think – I’m as wary of Boris Johnson as the next person – but my personality is lacking in several other of those facets.


I never bunked off school to hang out with friends; I never went to a film that wasn’t age appropriate and I didn’t get steaming drunk until I was legally allowed to. The most rebellious thing I’ve done – which was in my early 20’s – was turning obnoxiously positive management emails into tongue-in-check Pravda-esque communiqués, which I then re-sent to half the office.


It’s not exactly Ferris Bueller, is it? If being a rebel is about living outside the lines or, at the very least, living within wobbly lines painted by a lawfully-intoxicated 18-year-old, then I’ve existed within the straightest of straight white markings.


It’s fear that’s done it, really. Fear of being told off by strangers, or teachers, or the police, or literally anyone in authority. The few telling’s off I’ve had from fleeting presences in my life have been seared into my brain. They’re largely irrelevant – not least to the person giving them – but I find the whole experience excruciating. I go to sleep and re-live my mild rebuke like it’s an Alex Ferguson-esque tirade.  


As I’ve got older, I’ve also begun to fear more fundamental things. Any remotely risky activity sends my brain scampering into dark corners. On a recent holiday hike, my mind sparked with images of being trapped on the top of the hill with barely a third of a gluten free bar to keep us going. When we crossed a miniscule stream, my immediate thought was of the rain arriving and turning it into an impassable flood on our return. Of course, the rain didn’t arrive and I’ve lived to tell the tale, but it’s becoming exhausting.


I’m not complaining – I’ve had as good as thirty-four years as I could wish for - but I sometimes wonder what it would have been like to have pushed the boundaries. There’s always been a mental force field that’s gone up, blocking me from going further, as soon as anything’s looked slightly precarious, or dangerous, or illegal. I wouldn’t have minded if that force field had been a bit less reliable; if it’d been made by cowboy builders rather than by precision German engineering.


Rebels are the people they make films about; the folk who lead popular revolts; the types who challenge authority and fight injustice. They’re the men and women who make life seem both limitless and fragile at the same time. They’re also the type that’ll have a few crooked bones and a poor credit rating but, hey, it can’t all be excitement and glamour.


It’s never too late to change, I suppose. There are more things to rail against than ever before, there are boundaries to push and there are illicit thrills to seek in a variety of small ways, but I guess I’ll  do it on my own terms – an unpaid Morrison’s bag here, a demonstration there.


After all, I’m not so different to you. If a rebel is Neil Buchanan’s Big Art Attack*, I’m the white canvas he paints on. And so, to varying degrees of beige, are you. The truly prominent rebels – the real and the fictional - have such a place in our collective minds because they are what so many of us are not.  So we can keep looking at them, slightly jealous we’re not them and also slightly relieved that we’re not them, all at the same time.


*look it up, kids


everyday rebellion, identity, rebel icons