I feel like it’s a surprising conundrum of my generation, that we were raised on self-esteem programs that taught us to value ourselves, and yet we place our cultural self-worth in the concept of being different — in being a “rebel,” in being in opposition to something. We are terrified of being cliche, as if it’s somehow not cliche to eat sandwiches or drive a car or wear pants. We set ourselves apart by buying a slightly different version of a product mass-produced in China and count ourselves brave.
I looked at someone’s Tumblr profile today and it had a note that he wouldn’t ever conform to expectations. This sounds nice on paper. It sounds like something a rebel would say. But what if those expectations are that he would be a loving boyfriend, or come to work on time, or any number of the things we expect reasonable adults in a civilized era to do? These inclinations are a very different way of living than true authenticity. To avoid cliche, to avoid expectations, to stay ahead of the curve — this all requires being reactionary. It lets other people direct you and gives you an arbitrary list of things you are no longer allowed to do. I think this sort of social terror is largely to blame for the current disastrous state of indie bands/culture/Lana Del Rey, but that’s another essay. What I don’t understand is where it comes from.
It bears remembering that the still-relevant Rebel Without a Cause doesn’t have an entirely truthful title. James Dean’s character is bullied and pushed around by the other teens simply for existing. He does the right thing when he can. He becomes a “rebel” because society won’t accept him for who he is — not because he wants so badly to be different.
If I had one day when I didn’t have to be all confused and I didn’t have to feel that I was ashamed of everything. If I felt that I belonged someplace. You know?
I don’t know. Do we?