I instinctively baulk at the term ‘rebel’ – anyone can be one, it’s just lazy shorthand for defying any sort of prevailing code, mode, more etc. It’s not necessarily a thing to be (ala John Lennon’s ‘Working Class Hero’) because while ‘rebel’ usually means something cool and rather left-wing, it is also used to apply to Tory politicians who are so reactionary, they no longer fit in the ideological stance (whatever that may be!) of their party. I also dislike that ‘rebel’ is usually a self-appointed thing – ‘oh, I’m such a rebel, look at me’. And ‘rebel’ has also been usurped by the greedheads to show that people like Steve Jobs, in devoting themselves heart and soul to making money, were better (ruthless) leaders for being ‘rebels’.
I think where the waters have been muddied is in the distinction between ‘rebel’ and that truly, scarily decadent thing, an ‘individualist’, or (heaven forfend!) an ‘eccentric’. My aversion to ‘rebels’ began at school when I found myself ostracised by the general student (popular) population. In looking for somewhere to belong, I rather awkwardly and uncomfortably tried to make bedfellows with the soi disant rebels. These were people who dyed their hair, had piercings, wore nail varnish (male), dressed in black, didn’t listen to chart music etc. But the really curious thing I discovered is that a ‘rebel’ is essentially someone who seeks a different form of conformity, and it is often a much more inflexible and extreme form of conformity. They are people seeking a different context in which to flourish, and are prone to inverted snobbery. I remember meeting these people outside of school or on non-school-uniform days, and the first thing they would do would be to check the band t-shirt you were wearing was acceptable. Nirvana was in, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers definitely was not (much to my frustration, but not chagrin). Everything seemed equally consumerist – it was about buying things to prove membership – and rather superficial – all that mattered was an outward display of defiance of whatever was the norm. But the sadness of this was that these people were just deciding upon another norm to replace the norm they disliked.
Ahh, but maybe this hits on a deeper ontological point – that to want to belong is to desire in some way to conform or compromise. But what’s the alternative – pariahdom?
Naturally, I don’t expect people to agree, but I’m very wary of anyone who identifies, or is described, as a ‘rebel’.