After World War II, Hollywood once again had the luxury of taking on social issues, and with the release of both Blackboard Jungle and Rebel Without a Cause, 1955 was the year of the juvenile-delinquency film. While Blackboard focused on an inner-city high school and depicted some truly shocking behavior by its students, Rebel was, in many ways, the bolder of the two films. Aesthetically, its vibrant colors and CinemaScope frame were unusual choices for a social-problem film, and its story was told from the perspective of Jim Stark (James Dean), an angst-ridden teen from an affluent, yet troubled, home. With his pompadour, red jacket, white t-shirt, and blue jeans, Dean's Stark defined the image of the American teenager in the 1950s, yet, because that image has become so iconic, it has long since lost the sense of alienation and inner turmoil that permeates the film.
This seminar will, in part, discuss the character of Jim Stark and James Dean's star text to focus on the emergence of the category of teenager in the post-World War II era. Though the image of the dangerous, drag-racing teen with a death wish originated in Rebel Without a Cause, this archetype can best be understood in contrast to the larger, less defiant trends—the economic boom, suburban growth, and reaffirmation of the traditional nuclear family—that structured American society at mid-century. Put another way, join us to learn what caused Jim Stark to rebel.