With Pope Francis announcing late last week he’ll release a rock album titled Wake Up! in November, the question arises: what the hell happened to rock ‘n’ roll? What happened to albums like The Sex Pistol’s Anarchy in the UK and The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers?
Now the Pope seems like a great guy, but aren’t genres like rock ‘n’ roll, punk and grunge supposed to be rebellious, filled with Kurt Cobain and Keith Richards types that fight authority? Isn’t the Pope working for the authority? Where’s the edge in that?
In the age of the Internet and corporate entertainment, we have more media and celebrities thrust upon us than ever before. But do we still have rebels in the same way? Maybe Miley Cyrus is this generation’s Sid Vicious, Che Guevara, or Ghandi and none of us noticed. But if rebels do still exist, what does it mean to be a rebel and what does the revolution look like today?
Former AQ fashion columnist Emma Chapple isn’t someone who screams rebel – she has a passion for Starbucks and Disney – but she keeps her ear to the fashion world and follows trends. Sure, now we can see James Dean as the look of the ‘50s, with hippie being the look of the ‘60s and punk and grunge for the ‘80s and ‘90s, but what’s the look
“I think it’s hard to pin a particular look for our generation. People have so many individual styles now,” said Chapple. “I’d say [the style of] punk is only used as an accent. It’s not the authentic thing it used to be.”
Chapple says a rebellious look in the fashion world is tricky to pull off. If you do what the fashion magazines and bloggers suggest you’ll be praised, but if you’re out of touch, you’ll be laughed at. She says the key is to find a twist while integrating what’s already popular.
She says “thrift” might be the defining look of today, but real rebellious fashion might take cues from even earlier times.
“I think rebelling in terms of fashion is just doing something very out of date. You
see a bit of that at St. Thomas, people wearing capes,” said Chapple. “When you’re dressing to the point that it’s impractical and you’re doing it obviously to make a statement, then that’s rebellious.”
She says one of the most rebellious things to wear today is a graphic T-shirt with something crazy or offensive on it, a formula hard to mess up. Still, she says fashion today is tame compared to previous decades.
Where punk was once fringe, now it’s high fashion. That’s part of the difficulty of rebellious fashion; you can only stay on the fringe so long.
“It’s hard to say [whether it’s possible to stay on the fringe forever]. We take so much inspiration from other years, other cultures. Now we’re in this very strange cultural exchange and time exchange of fashion.”
The quest to find the graphic T-shirt and cape-wearing rebel leads us to Dylan Sealy. He’s the type of guy who explodes in every direction when he gets into a passionate fury, leaving only his bleeding heart behind.
And while he doesn’t identify as a rebel or wear a cape, Sealy’s a vegetarian who listens to The Clash, which seems like good enough credentials.
Being a 23-year-old suburban male, he’s angry at most things, mostly the inconsequential. He’ll argue about a movie like he would about human trafficking.
This seems common today: people getting angry over pop culture where they once were mad about war, taxes and freedom.
“It’s profoundly easy to engage in consumer culture,” said Sealy. “Our generation has done it forever. We used to watch 30-minutes commercials like Pokémon, or Transformers, these really thin narratives.”
But for him, the significance of these little battles, like going vegan or deciding not to wear brands that use sweatshops, is where the true rebellion lies. While the effectiveness is played down, what makes a rebel is making a stand and deciding not to pay into the system anymore, even in small ways.
The conversation ultimately turns to whether a rebel needs a noble purpose, like Han Solo and Luke Skywalker destroying the Death Star to stop the oppression of the Empire, to truly be a rebel and not just contrary.
“While someone [who does something rebellious for other, self-serving reasons,] might taint the message, he’s still doing more than most everyone. That in itself is kind of rebellious,” said Sealy. “It’s a question of degrees not of absolutes.”
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