Why Kids Can’t be Rebels
Western society is fascinated by rebellion. From rebels without a cause to Rebel Alliances against the Galactic Empire, we think rebels are good for standing against something. More importantly, we think rebels are cool. That is why we celebrate celebrities who live completely backwards lifestyles. That is how people can proudly wave the flag of a rebel nation and not feel like losers.
For better or worse, we think rebellion is cool. That is why teenage rebellion has become such a trope of our culture. Teenagers want nothing more than to be thought of as cool. What is cooler than standing up to authority? But it is not enough to be strong in your convictions yet still easy going, like Superman. In order to be a rebel, in order to be cool, you have to be dark and brooding like Batman.
In order to be a teenage rebel, you have to know about suffering and strife. You have to act like the weight of the world is upon you alone. Nobody can understand your tortured souls, and so you turn to rebellious music. Music that gets your blood up and makes you feel like you can fight the system. Nobody understands the teenage rebel like music. But, while music understands the teenager, the teenager cannot understand the music. When I was a kid, I thought I knew what it felt like to be oppressed. I thought I knew the satisfaction of sticking it to The Man. It is tough to be an adolescent. You feel like an adult, but everyone tells you you’re not. And then you grow up and realize everyone was right. As a kid, The Man is a teacher, or maybe your parents. These people tell you to do stuff, and although you don’t realize it, it is stuff you are told to do for your own benefit. If, for some angsty reason, you fail to do your homework or take out the garbage, there are really not many consequences.
Sure, there are no lasting rewards for doing everything perfectly as a teenager. But, aside from the greatest mistakes, there aren’t many punishments for screwing up either. When you grow up you might think The Man has become your boss, your spouse, the government, or corporations. The truth is, for an adult, The Man is the collective will of every other human being. They don’t even have to be alive anymore to dictate your behavior.
As an adult, the things The Man commands you to do are rarely for your own benefit. They are for the benefit of others. And you can’t really rebel against this. It doesn’t make you cool. It just makes you a jerk.
And so the responsible adult turns to art to satisfy that rebellious itch. Music, literature, comedy, and other forms of art appeal to adults, but not because they represent reality. No normal grown up really thinks they can change the world with pure petulance. Art presents to us a fantasy where we can do and say whatever we want with no consequences. And it teaches us a fundamental part of the human condition: The Man can make you do things; The Man can even make you say things. No one but yourself can control what you think. Kids and teenagers simply haven’t lived long enough to feel put upon. They haven’t spent enough time with disappointment to be intimate with it. They haven’t been brought back from the brink enough to understand hope. If your age denotes experience points, then I say you have to be at least level 20 before you can select the “Rebel” class. When you reach 80 you can choose, “Curmudgeon.” The truth is, you cannot Rage Against the Machine until you are a part of it.