625: Rebellion

A Thousand Things to Talk About
625: Rebellion

What was the most rebellious thing you have done (that you’re willing to admit to)?

Full episode script

Rebellion is such an interesting and complicated concept. Usually defined as some kind of act of resistance against some kind of established authority, It’s normally invoked in one of two situations – when teenagers act out against parents, or when individuals take action against their government or political authority.


And use of the word has been dropping pretty precipitously. Taking a look at Google Books’ Ngram viewer, the word “rebellion” had an occurance of .0035 percent in 1800, and by 2008 it was down to .001 percent.


For teenagers, rebellion is often framed as something negative — an unpleasant but necessary part of growing up that parents try to temper or manage. There’s thousands of advice articles on dealing with defiant, rebellious, or antisocial kids. There’s also statistics showing that the quote-unquote normal ways of rebelling may not be happening nearly as much.


As Mark Easton wrote in 2012 for the BBC, quote:

Teenage rebels are not what they were. Adolescents are increasingly turning their noses up at drugs, booze and [cigarettes], with consumption by young people the lowest at almost any time since we started measuring these things.


Drugs: Last week, the Home Office published analysis which suggests the proportion of 16- to 24-year-olds that have ever taken illicit drugs has fallen from 54% in 1998 to 38% now.


Tobacco: Last month, NHS analysis suggested the proportion of English 16- to 19-year-olds who have never smoked has risen from about two-thirds in 1998 to three-quarters now.


Alcohol: It is a similar story with booze. In 1998, 71% of 16- to 24-year-olds questioned said they’d had a drink that week. Today it is 48% – far lower than their parents (about 70%).


Yet get past the question of parents and teenagers, and suddenly rebellion and rebelliousness aren’t viewed so negatively. In fact, rebellion becomes something to celebrate. The Global Investigative Journalism Network, for example, highlighted 10 artists who had undertaken acts of artistic rebellion against their oppressive governments. And there’s plenty of discussion of the value of acts of resistance for an adult’s mental health and well-being.


So what gives? Is rebellion something to be quelled, unpleasant, unnecessary, and damaging — or is it necessary, valuable, and vital to a free society? My guess is it depends on who you ask.

This script may vary from the actual episode transcript.