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James Dean Transfigured

The Many Faces of Rebel Iconography

By Claudia Springer

Publication Year: 2007

After the death of James Dean in 1955, the figure of the teen rebel permeated the globe, and its presence is still felt in the twenty-first century. Rebel iconography—which does not have to resemble James Dean himself, but merely incorporates his disaffected attitude—has become an advertising mainstay used to sell an array of merchandise and messages. Despite being overused in advertisements, it still has the power to surprise when used by authors and filmmakers in innovative and provocative ways. The rebel figure has mass appeal precisely because of its ambiguities; it can mean anything to anyone. The global appropriation of rebel iconography has invested it with fresh meanings. Author Claudia Springer succeeds here in analyzing both ends of the spectrum—the rebel icon as a tool in upholding capitalism’s cycle of consumption, and as a challenge to that cycle and its accompanying beliefs. In this groundbreaking study of rebel iconography in international popular culture, Springer studies a variety of texts from the United States and abroad that use this imagery in contrasting and thought-provoking ways. Using a cultural studies approach, she analyzes films, fiction, poems, Web sites, and advertisements to determine the extent to which the icon’s adaptations have been effective as a response to the actual social problems affecting contemporary adolescents around the world.

Published by: University of Texas Press


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Title Page

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p. iii


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p. iv


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p. vii

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p. ix

Contributions from readers, editors, friends, family, and colleagues have enriched the contents of this book and augmented the writing process. Thanks to Stacy Gillis and J. David Slocum for their editorial virtuosity on individual chapters published separately as articles...

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pp. 1-11

One of the legacies of American films of the fifties is their introduction of an internationally recognizable shorthand for dissent. The angry, alienated teen rebel who sneered at Eisenhower- era complacency from the big screen provided the world with a...

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CHAPTER 1: Birth of an Icon

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pp. 13-49

Central to the creation of the teen rebel icon is James Dean, the immensely popular actor with the tragically short life. Only twenty-four years old when he died, he encapsulated the idea of disaffection, and his presence is still at the heart of rebel iconography...

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CHAPTER 2: Disney’s Dean

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pp. 50-81

Demolition derby cars crisscross the screen as the fi lm opens, at first cruising in an orderly pattern through a dirt-track intersection but then starting to careen wildly. Accompanied by the lilting strains of Strauss waltzes, they smash into each other with increasing abandon, surrounded...

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CHAPTER 3: Rebel Wrecks

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pp. 82-98

With The Love Bug, the Disney studio trawled the cultural waters for hip and trendy references, decontextualized those references, and returned them to the culture in nonthreatening ways. The original and its remakes exemplify the strategy of...

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CHAPTER 4: The Teen Rebel

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pp. 99-133

"Teenagers” were a relatively recent phenomenon in the fifties, having emerged as a separate and unique sector as recently as the middle forties at the dawn of the postwar age. The postwar economic boom made it possible for many young people in the U.S. to...

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CHAPTER 5: The Postcolonial Rebel

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pp. 134-163

In the years since the birth of rebel iconography, its arc of influence has reached far and wide. Hollywood’s domination of worldwide film distribution, maintained with the assistance of the U.S. State Department, has guaranteed that its products receive the widest possible...

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CHAPTER 6: The Posthuman Rebel

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pp. 164-179

Of all of the decades of the twentieth century, the one evoked most obsessively by American pop culture is the fifties. Films, fiction, television, comic books, and computer/video games are fixated by that decade and have enveloped it in a haze of mythology that obscures...

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CHAPTER 7: The Virtual Rebel

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pp. 178-206

On the World Wide Web, you can enter your birth date and, on the basis of biorhythms, learn your compatibility with James Dean. After performing nearly instantaneous calculations on my date, the Web site informed me that I am 38% compatible with Dean, and it...


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pp. 207-224


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pp. 225-233


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pp. 235-248

E-ISBN-13: 9780292795518
E-ISBN-10: 0292795513
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292714434
Print-ISBN-10: 0292714432

Page Count: 260
Illustrations: 29 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2007

OCLC Number: 712979912
MUSE Marc Record: Download for James Dean Transfigured

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Subject Headings

  • Dean, James, 1931-1955 -- In mass media.
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