Mind Matters: Rebel, Rebel

Whatta ya got?: Marlon Brando (centre) wasn't short of things to rebel against in The Wild One.
Whatta ya got?: Marlon Brando (centre) wasn't short of things to rebel against in The Wild One.

When I was in primary school in the USA, we had to say the pledge of allegiance every day. I did not say the part where we pledged allegiance “to the flag”. My thought: Why would I pledge allegiance to a symbol?

So my rebelling began. No one knew I remained silent during that phrase, so I suffered no punishment.

When I was in high school, one day all the students were herded into the auditorium for a music performance. I did not see the point of the activity, but I had no choice but to go.

At some point, the audience rose to give a standing ovation. I applauded heartily but remained seated. One of my friends, sitting behind me, hit me in the head. I learned that overt rebellion can have costs.

At some point during my university education, I left my childhood religion. I was an altar boy no more. Back then I read an essay by H. L. Mencken about dead gods – the gods that people once believed in, killed for, and died for – that no one bothers with anymore.

Contemporaries cursed Mencken to everlasting damnation for that essay.

When I watch athletes in the USA rebel by resting on one knee while the national anthem is played, I think: I would like to rebel with them. It is for a good cause – protesting police brutality directed at blacks. Also, it looks like fun.

However, the hate-filled responses of very conservative individuals take some of the apparent fun away.

Does rebelling ever do us any good? Yes – it can be exciting, and it can lead to positive changes.

Adolescents are prone to rebel. Witness the lyrics in my favourite David Bowie song, Rebel, Rebel: “You've got your mother in a whirl. She's not sure if you're a boy or a girl.”

When I provide family counselling, I tell parents that adolescents may have a biological urge to rebel – as part of the process of becoming independent and separating from their parents.

I love the scene in the movie The Wild One where Marlon Brando, playing a young motorcycle hoodlum, is asked by a girl: “What are you rebelling against?” His response: “Whatta ya got?” 

As we age, we tend to rebel less. But I recently have seen many middle-aged men wearing black leather jackets and riding big motorcycles. I wonder whether they also love that scene in The Wild One.

It has been a long time since I did anything seriously rebellious.

I do not consider voting “yes” for same-sex marriage rebellious when the vast majority of Australians think the same way. I went to a eco-political protest last week with 100 other people. That was fun, but I did not feel rebellious. 

I feel an itch to go down the rebel path. How about you?