When you think of rebellion a collection of stock images tend to flicker through your mind, playing like an old time newsreel.
You think of mass protest; you think of speaking truth to power (be it in the political, employment or educational arena or otherwise); you think of James Dean. Or at least I do. It’s not an ambitious leap, I grant you, but the image of Dean, resplendent in his famous white shirt and jeans combination, trembling with angst, visibly quivering with resentment and anger, the archetypal ‘rebel’, pushes itself abrasively to the front of my mind whenever I ponder the idea of rebellion. To me it sums up the misunderstood rebellion – the need for someone, anyone, seemingly content in their life and their surroundings, to break out and scream their statement of discontent to the indifferent world. It exemplifies the need to tear the cosy suburban comfort blanket into shreds as you search for your own place in life.
All of us, at some point in our lives, have had a James Dean moment. A moment where the meagre acts of conformity and acquiescence become consumed by the fiery desire to sabotage it all. To change course. To darken the edges. My own such moment came somewhere in the midst of the mid-to-late 1990s. An age of transition. For both myself and the wider world. Clinton, New Labour, Cool Britannia. There was a sense of the ‘new’. A sense of change. But this wasn’t the free love and community era of the 1960s. No, no, no. This was the 90s. This was organised rebellion, carefully regimented and straight-jacketed ‘change’. As for myself it was much the same as Primary School, and all its faded promise, readied itself to give way to the rigours of High School and a continuation of the academic drudgery that had encircled my life from the age of 5 and had thus far refused to loosen its grip.
Now most writers would use the power of language, the descriptive brilliance of the written word, to help the reader’s mind conjure up the image of myself as a young boy seemingly happy with his lot, an airbrushed façade of contentment, whilst internally beginning the battle for control, the battle to carve my name into the realms of the unpredictable and the interesting. Desperate to shake off the polite tag handed to me by my teachers. Desperate to unshackle myself from the ‘nice boy’ image carefully constructed during my formative years.
But this writer? Well, this writer simply asks you to imagine yours truly as the young protagonist bedecked in Dean’s white shirt and jeans combination, hair slicked back, complete with a look of smouldering angst etched upon my face. That should nicely summon up all the necessary themes and emotions into the scene. Never mind of course that the actual scene would have likely seen me bedecked in a Reebok jumper and Adidas popper trousers combination, head shaved, and fully complete with the cheekiest of looks scrawled upon a face on the cusp of an outbreak of acne. Let’s just stick with the James Dean image shall we? Agreed? Good. Let’s move on.
So allow me to set the scene. Whilst the realms of literature seem to be filled with childhood reminiscences played out amidst scenes of glorious, life-enriching sunshine, complete with sweeping meadows and rolling rivers to be frolicked in, the same sadly cannot be said for the reminiscences of a Scottish boy from a council estate. Whether or not the weather, on this particular occasion, was in fact overcast is debatable but given that’s the image my mind has clung to all these years later, that’s the weather we’ll have to use. And so, on this gloomy overcast day somewhere in the limited space of time between the end of the school day and tea-time, I found myself starting to tremble with the angst, resentment and need for rebellion that I’ve already covered ad-nausea in the 600-odd words up until this point of the story.
The reason for which? I can’t quite recall. But let’s be honest, it could have been down to any one of a myriad of reasons. Maybe it was down to the fact that my stomach hadn’t taken too kindly to the assault of questionable crab-apples I’d launched down my throat only minutes earlier. Quite possibly it could have been due to the patchwork of recently-acquired jaggy nettle stings, barely quelled by the standard dock leaves antidote, covering the lower reaches of my leg. Or perhaps it was simply down to my eternal rage (still not abated even in my adult years) at the universe’s cruel decision to rob me, in quick succession, of a trio of my favourite sugary treats; Lucky Charms, Cadbury’s Strollers and, of course, Creamola Foam. Any, or all, of these reasons could have been the catalyst for the actions I am about to detail for you.
So there I was, angrily kicking the heads off the withered long-since yellow, and now simply puff ball, dandelions that littered the overgrown park at the back of my childhood home. When I looked up. And spotted it. A wall. A newly built wall. One built onto the back of a factory. And one which would later encase a water tank. But for then, it was simply a wall. One in which the cement holding the bricks together had not yet hardened. One that seemed to call to me; ‘sully me’, ‘sabotage me’, ‘inflict your simmering rage upon me’. To which I duly obliged. Pushing each unsolidified brick methodically to the ground. Destroying the wall and the work which the gone into creating it. All of which I was seen doing. Clearly. By a neighbour. And because of which I, very shortly after, found myself detailing my name and address, in amongst a downpour of tears and apologies, to the local constabulary’s finest.
A rebel without a cause I certainly was.
But James Dean, I certainly was not.