Sunday, August 17, 2014

Rebels, Causes and Dark Brooding Men

Unlike many of my fellow Roses, I've seen and liked the James Dean movie, Rebel Without a Cause. His dark brooding looks and bad boy attitude, so reminiscent of Elvis in his early years, brought women to the theater in droves. Okay, most came in cars, but cut me some slack.

Whether in East of Eden or Rebel, Dean delighted audiences because of his blatant sex appeal. Remember, this was in the middle of the fifties when there were three channels on television and no sitcom could show a bedroom unless there were double beds for married couples. The United States was barely out of a devastating world war, trying to find its center, not yet ready to rebel against much of anything. That had to wait at least another decade.

Why were Dean and Elvis so magnetic? More than the brooding stares, more that the slicked hair, was their sex appeal, which ran counter to the then-current cultural norms. Other actors who went on to lengthy careers were more handsome than Dean but didn't have that something, the magnetism, he showed in every glower and mumbled line of dialogue.

Other singers during Elvis's era either were copycats in looks or were so squeaky clean that they belonged in the fifties. Pat Boone should have stayed in the fifties and not the tattooed ick he morphed into in the "oughts." Ricky Nelson. As clean cut as his parents. A good talent and a physical representation of the era.

So why did we need these rebels? Maybe it was because young people needed a reason to be different from the parental generation. Maybe it was a precursor to what would come a decade after Dean's death at 24 in 1955. After all, mass media was in its infancy with those three television stations and movie theaters providing the only moving images of stars. The Ed Sullivan Show brought musical acts into our living rooms, all but Elvis's pelvis waggling at the girls who screamed.

After a generation of deprivation with the Depression and WWII, youth needed an outlet. Our bad boys gave it to them. They opened the door for the later rock acts, hippies and social unrest of the sixties. Long live the rebels who show us it is all right to be different.


Betsy Ashton is the author of Mad Max Unintended Consequences available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The second book in the series, Uncharted Territory, will be released in June 2015. She lives for words and writing.


Margo Hoornstra said...

Good points, Betsy. All kids strive to be different. Thank God for that!

Jannine Gallant said...

Here! Here! Betsy! You bet you have to applaud different. Without rebels, we'd be stuck in one miserable rut. So even if I hate it when my daughter leaves the car radio on "her" station at high volume when I start it at 5am to go to work, you have to be happy music and other art forms aren't stagnating. Will one of today's teen stars be the next Elvis? Naw! Long live classic rock!

Betsy Ashton said...

Where I live I am definitely a rebel. I may be the only white chick in southwestern Virginia who actually like some rap and most hip hop. So, Jannine, I'm proud of being a rebel. And good for your daughter who love her own music. You rock, girl.

Diane Burton said...

What a great post, Betsy. You made me think that they were precursors, too, to the rebellion of the 1960's, when we started to question everything. I hadn't thought of that before. But your point about it being okay to be different is the best.

Alicia Dean said...

Love this post! I am with you on loving Rebel Without a Cause. And, anyone who knows me knows I'm a huge Elvis fan. He managed to cultivate the bad boy, dark rebel thing, yet still win over the hearts of parents and authority figures when he went into the army. A man for everyone! :) Who knows what would have developed for James Dean if he'd lived. Something we will never know.

Leah St. James said...

Fantastic insight, Betsy. Really interesting.