Dean drags the cigarette like he was born with it on his lips and his coat hangs high as if to protect himself from the world. Cool detachment; embracing life as an easy experiment. Balls to the wall.
Adopting James Dean’s “Live Fast, Die Young” attitude is alluring and forbidding. But isn’t that what makes it considerably attractive to embrace? Why does Dean’s misdemeanour glue him to history’s great icons? It’s his cool, unruffled persona that attracts youngsters. Youngsters took to his questioning of the hopes and fears we all live through – it’s a culture we can adopt. Teens at the time saw Dean’s major films and identified with the roles he perfected. In Rebel Without A Cause, Dean encapsulated the typical teenager, caught in between a world where no one understands him. It’s that selfish, centre-of-the-world complex that promotes a life that can be lived with little or no regret. In a modern world, where anti-social is hip, his significance lives on.
A little like Cobain’s youthful stardom and most recently Heath Ledger’s sudden death and ascent to honour, Dean’s ‘live life like there’s nothing to worry about’ guise, remains cool to follow, foolish and hip to adopt. Dean’s youth and promise and short life has made him a culture creature. The mugs, the fashion, the bedroom posters, the notepads, the memorabilia that’s scratched onto stickers, pens and books. In every Hollywood adoration haven, there is James and his sexual charisma, the perfectly sculpted hair, the brooding frown, the limping cigarette. The tainted, tainted Porsche Spyder and the unimaginable fate it had with the Ford in 1955. The raw masculinity and angelic, seductive presence on screen as if he was meant to impress and make an impression and then be taken away. Cruel.
The archetypal disobedient is what we all want to be. To stir up ‘The Man’ is something the youth all aspire to. This can relate to the world today. Now, youngsters are either divided into a social qualm where the ‘machine’ controls what you eat, consume, watch, wear and listen to. From grossly recorded mush and Disney Channel drone sitcoms, today’s world is a little spoon fed so that the big rich people can continue being big rich people and the teenagers can use their parent’s money to have what everyone has. On the other hand, there’s a new cluster that’s promoting the anti-man, anti-cool rebellion that seems so attractive. Dean was modernity at best. Perhaps his tragedy at best propelled him into stardom and fame. He is a pivotal name that leaves us all to think about our future, how we’re going to make it without conforming to what the government or our parents tell us. It’s a character hard to portray. In Rebel Without A Cause, his self-destruction and confusion is a theme stained in society (from back then to today).
Dean is a figure that never really died. Dean, with a clear talent for acting, gave Hollywood a new take: being the ruffled rebel who didn’t give a damn. Gone were the days when acting seemed to be done by big budget robots. Dean was real. Dean’s somewhat ‘perfectly timed’ death made him an icon – he was loneliness, fear, rebellion, hatred, cool and sex. A new life-on-the-edge mentality followed and that’s why James Dean is still a figure that can be increasingly brought up today.
What if James had lived on?
Would he have still been a mega brand?
His death made him eternal, ironically.