Rebels have a long tradition in teen narratives. However, in the contemporary teen drama, yesterday’s rebel without a cause has become an obsolete relic. This symbol of an alienated youth uncertain of its future has given way to rebels that know exactly what they want and how to get it. Faced with the genre’s perennial juxtaposition of “the haves and the have-nots” (Veronica Mars), the rebel with a cause does not simply defy society, s/he defies society creatively and succeeds because of this. Even though teen dramas lavishly depict rich people in trendy clothes, they simultaneously contain an alternative culture deeply critical of this glitzy mainstream. And they use exactly this anti-mainstream sentiment for their education in creativity.
My clip features selections that highlight several central aspects of this phenomenon, starting with the kind of clichéd teenage rebel whose routine isn’t taken seriously anymore. In contrast to this, we see Seth Cohen, The O.C.’s aspiring comic book artist, the hyperarticulate digital native Veronica Mars, and the young writer Dan Humphrey, Gossip Girl’s newcomer to the Upper East Side from hip Dumbo. Their respective aesthetic projects are visually and narratively connected to their status as outsiders. They vilify the decadent consumption of their surroundings, are irreverent, non-conformist, and dare to think outside the box.
Through the creative rebel, contemporary teen dramas educate their audiences in how to succeed in a creative meritocracy that rewards those who use their alternative stance to produce and consume new, alternative, and highly aestheticized thoughts and products. Within this framework, deviant behavior is not portrayed as being detrimental to your professional future anymore, but rather the opposite. It emerges as the prerequisite for success in the professional world through aesthetic expression of the individual subject and his or her innate creative faculties. In the logic of these shows, the outsider becomes hegemonic and creativity is a crucial economic and cultural competence for the post-industrial American economy.