“Just what are you rebelling against?”
“What have you got?”
Thus Marlon Brando replies to the overly kindly policeman in The Wild One, which might have set the tone but not the icon—although those people who ride in motorcycle gangs have never quite recovered from him. But the one that most truly gave them their lead was Rebel Without a Cause. The doomed James Dean was their primary role model, even if he didn’t actually play a bodgie type in the film.
For it was the attitude that the film so blatantly expressed, of frustrated youth determined to question the values of the society around them—isolated, alienated, misguided youth. Viewed in hindsight, it shows itself to be a far more powerful work than was assumed at the time. Throughout the adults scratch their heads at the destructive and dangerous antics of the young while the movie studies these antics at point blank range, but a blatant subtext, never expressed openly, lies just beneath the surface of these doings. It is the adults who are the problem, and the delinquent juveniles are entirely the product and reflection of their parent’s fears and repressions. Here then, lay the beginnings of what would soon become a global youth rebellion. And beyond, the realisation that youth culture is a vital function of a healthy society, and has much to tell us all about ourselves. But, of course, such things could not be seen with any clarity at the time, in the days when children should be seen but not heard.