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Cool People Rebel Against Authority

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"You don't wanna get mixed up with a guy like me. I'm a loner, Dottie. A rebel."
Pee Wee Herman, Pee-wee's Big Adventure

This is the general portrayal in fiction that any character who displays any sort of aloofness, indifference, or outright antagonism to an authority figure, for any reason, must be incredibly cool. Quite often the authority against whom the "rebellion" is directed is an Obstructive Bureaucrat, Mega-Corp, Evil Empire, or some variant. Usually the reason why The Revolution Will Not Be Vilified and part of why All Girls Want Bad Boys.

Expect "authority" to be heavily tainted in The War on Straw in some way or another, when the audience inevitably asks "What's so bad about the authority figure, anyway?". Indeed, deconstructions and parodies of this trope are becoming more and more common. Some works may point out that acting 'rebellious' to be cool is just another way to conform to a different authority. Others might portray the rebel as a needlessly belligerent and pretentious douchebag. They might also remind us that "The Man" is capable of good things (Governments protect people and provide services while big businesses produce things and hire people) as well as bad. This Values Dissonance can result in audiences Rooting for the Empire. See also Silly Rabbit, Cynicism Is for Losers!.

An offshoot of this is the Last DJ whose type of cool rebellion is quite effective and commands respect because it comes from a place of knowing and understanding the rules before you try to break them.

This trope is distinct from Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!, where someone is defying authority for moral and/or ethical reasons instead of being cool though there can be overlap.

Supertrope of Good Is Old-Fashioned, when coupled with Darker and Edgier. The supertrope of School Is for Losers. If the so-called rebel becomes too culturally influential, expect either Rule-Abiding Rebel or The Man Is Sticking It to the Man.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann plays with the trope. Once Team Dai-Gurren wins, they become their own authority, and the epilogue features the kind of ultra-high-tech society (and military) that wouldn't get built if everyone spent their time rebelling for the sake of rebelling.
    • Before his death, Kamina reveals his reason for wanting to fight. He fights so that those of the younger generation like Simon, Rossiu, and the twins can live in a better world. It's one of the defining aspects of his Hidden Depths. Ultimately though, he entrusts the future to Simon.
  • Hana from 7 Seeds. She dislikes being ordered around, rather taking up the reigns herself and often gets into fights or disagreements with authority figures because of this. Particularly when she refuses to properly play by her team's guide Yanagi's rules or gives him respect, as well as Ango, both with consequences.
  • Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion. Right there in the title. Heck, Lelouch attracting followers to his rebellion through sheer charisma is a major plot point. It helps that The Empire he's rebelling against is only a couple steps shy of being a Nazi regime.
  • In Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, Sanemi Shinazugawa at first behaves like this upon meeting Kagaya Ubuyashiki, he is rude, dismissive and outright insulting to Kagaya for never risking his own life while the demon slayers do all the fighting. Kagaya's apology and the revelation that he takes time to memorize the names and backgrounds of every single dead warrior, including Sanemi's best friend, absolutely stun Sanemi into silence and make him realize how wrong he was about him. To top it off, Kagaya says he doesn't need to respect or like him; just keep protecting innocent people.
  • Angel Beats!: The SSS. Since it's the afterlife, they can get away with quite a lot.
  • Ranma ˝: Ranma Saotome has little to no respect for authority. He physically fights with teachers on a regular basis and goes out of his way to piss them off. Then again, one of his teachers disciplines him with Ki Attacks, another one tried to make him confess love to Akane during his time as a teacher, and the principal of the school is just batshit insane, so it's kind of understandable.
  • In Robotech/Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Lynn-Kyle/Lynn Kaifun plays with this in a rather interesting way, as he looks like he ought to be a Cool Guy; he's Tall, Dark, and Handsome, self-disciplined, a master of combat martial arts, and unquestionably intelligent, plus the ladies drool over him. Some of his opinions about the situation they're all in are valid. Yet... his rebelliousness rings false, he comes across, over time, as self-righteous and selfish, increasingly so as time passes and his personal resentments against various people overcome the principles that he originally did espouse. By the end, he merely comes across as a selfish and destructive jerk.
    • The Macross continuity ups his jerkishness even more; he becomes the manager of a Fire Bomber knockoff that claims it's the original.
  • One Piece generally plays this straight, with the main characters all being outlaws (albeit ones who almost never hurt innocents on-screen) that semi-routinely clash against the tyrannical, conspiracy-seeding, slavery-supporting World Government; even the civilians they meet and befriend from island to island are generally expected to defy local authority in some small way, and Smoker establishes himself as a Worthy Opponent Anti-Hero among the Marines early on for his defiance of corrupt/stupid orders from above. There are, however, periodic subversions - notably Kohza in Arabasta, whose reasons for rebelling against Nefertari Cobra are understandable, but still the product of years-long manipulation from Crocodile.

    Comic Books 
  • Captain America in the 1970s grew increasing disenchanted with America until it climaxed with him becoming Nomad for a few adventures. Fortunately, he soon realized that he can still be Cap and fight for America's ideals, rather than its government. He ended up doing it again (this time without a name change) in the 2000s after a reporter told him that America was about Facebook and voting for the girl with the biggest boobs on American Idol, and not silly things like truth and justice and being able to trust in your government without looking like a fool.
  • John Constantine's defining trait; he's a Blue-Collar Warlock who dares to kick the snobs - rich, well-connected or supernatural - in the bollocks. Deconstructed in that while it always proves a worthy pursuit - he has no difficulty finding high-status Asshole Victims in desperate need of humiliation, pain and death - but going to war with the people who own the world inflicts a lot of collateral damage on the world, on him, and on his allies. None of them let him forget that, either. Some of them suggest that he's not so much a champion of the oppressed so much as an adrenaline junkie who uses powerful and amoral opponents as a source of schadenfreude.
    Clarice: Sticking your hand in something nasty, getting good and pissed off, getting the blood flowing—vintage John Constantine.

  • Child of the Storm plays with this. On the one hand, as part of Harry's opening up and being able to express his emotions more, he becomes more confident and much more of a Deadpan Snarker (due to the profound weirdness of his life, how much of this is being a Stepford Snarker is up for debate), and it is implied that he's playing this trope straight, since he lives with and looks up to the Avengers, who are collectively described by Word of God as 'an anti-authoritarian snark patrol'. On the other, he gets gently called up on it by Sean Cassidy, who reminds him that there are boundaries, and he visibly takes this on-board.
    • Likewise, the Avengers' habit of acting on more or less their own whim and following their own consciences, combined with their raw power, is not portrayed as a good thing. As the narrative points out, it indirectly causes the rise of the HYDRA-Death Eater alliance, and the actions of Victor von Doom, on the grounds that both are aware that the Avengers can and will go after them off the books, so feel the need to strike first/prepare for the possibility.
    • Doctor Strange, despite technically being an Authority in his own right, is brilliant, ruthless, and arrogant, accepting no authority but his own, often mocking authority. This is portrayed as occasionally having awesome results - throwing down the gauntlet to the White Council over a young Wanda, and then bullying the entire Council Elite of Skyfathers - it's also not a good thing, particularly where the White Council is concerned: the Council is the definition of The Fettered, keeping wandless practitioners in check, as well as other, darker forces. Strange, by contrast, is practically defined by being The Unfettered, doing more or less whatever he likes and breaking whatever rules he hasn't made. However, he did once accept authority, serving Arthur Pendragon and his Queen, Guinevere with devoted loyalty, and it's implied that at least part of his attitude is because he feels that no authority group/figure since has lived up to the standard they set.
  • Ageless: If Ryou does not like the decisions authority figures have made, he is not afraid to behave as though they don't exist and get his own hands dirty, helping Korra leave the South Pole in spite of the White Lotus and jokingly telling Lin that the laws of man do not apply to him.
  • Subverted in The Mountain and the Wolf: Absolutely no one sees the Wolf's constant (justified) posturing and abrasiveness as being cool or worthy of admiration (it doesn't help that the war he was hired for ended quite quickly, so the Westeros characters are stuck with an unbeatable warmonger unsubtly pushing for a violent conquest of the world when they just want to rebuild their city in peace), even without knowing the full truth about the Chaos gods he worships.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Turning Red, Mei's decision to try to go to the 4*Town concert against her mother's wishes is met by approval from her friends who also decide to go to the concert against their parents' wishes.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Bonnie and Clyde: The eponymous pair are shown to be cool rebels rather than the brutal murderers they were in real life. This actually sparked real life outrage from the families of their victims.
  • Ferris Bueller's Day Off: Ferris is shown to be a fantastically cool individual who exists solely to defy every rule in society while being a Karma Houdini.
  • Fight Club: Tyler Durden's loud and brash anti-establishment way of thinking taps very well into the frustration and resentment of the working class. While harmless at first (at least as harmless as therapeutic punching of other people go), as the movie goes on, Tyler is shown to be increasingly destructive, narcissistic, and mean-spirited. By the end of the movie, Tyler is, for all intents and purposes, the leader of a terrorist organization, blowing up buildings without any care for what harm they might do to bystanders.
  • Overdrawn at the Memory Bank: Fingal takes over the computer that controls the world's weather, causing hurricanes, typhoons, and blizzards, probably killing thousands of people. The Fat Man is trying to stop him from doing so. Fingal is the hero of the movie for "fighting against the system"; Fat Man Fat Bastard is the villain.
  • Rebel Without a Cause: Has it in the title.
  • Revolution (1968): That is precisely the reason people became hippies in the sixties.
  • Rogue One: Jyn Erso is a brilliant but troubled pilot who doesn't like authority in general.
  • School of Rock: Even though Dewey himself starts out as a washed-up loser, this is his argument for why the kids should join his rock band. Rock sticks it to The Man, and that's what makes it cool.
  • In Serenity Mal finally has enough of The Alliance following the crew's discovery of just what the hell happened on Miranda and decides to pay them back for everything, starting with his famous line "I aim to misbehave". His statement of rebellion is not exactly unreasonable as The Alliance is not a well-meaning government and did many truly despicable things.
  • In the Solo movie, this is essentially Han Solo's motivation in all things. He is chronically disrespectful of every sort of authority that attempts to impose itself on him. While understandable with crime lords and The Empire, he can't even hold it back with his mentor figure or allies. It, indeed, gets him into massive amounts of trouble.
  • The Last Jedi plays with this, particularly in Poe's side of the plot; since Poe grew up on stories of the greatness of the Rebellion, he's utterly thrilled at being a part of the Resistance under General Leia... which leads him to regularly defy orders in order to perform greater heroic deeds, which ultimately cost more than they gain. It culminates in the final act when Poe stages a mutiny against his superior office Holdo, whom he saw as an Obstructive Beauracrat, only for Leia to stun and arrest him for nearly ruining their plan.
  • The Wild One: Marlon Brando is probably the pioneer of this trope, turning into Mr. Fanservice, despite its very famous Lampshade Hanging of Brando's lack of motivation with the exchange:
    Mildred: What're you rebelling against, Johnny?
    Johnny: Whaddya got?

  • Riki in Ai no Kusabi is notorious in the slums for being a very headstrong and defiant Badass Biker rebel. So much so that he's admired by people who have not ever met him but heard of his exploits. He's aware of his status and proud of it until he is Made A Sex Slave.
  • Comes up briefly a time or two in the X-Wing Series. In Michael Stackpole's run Rogue Squadron - who got that name in the first place purely for the coolness factor - is Mildly Military and quite happy to ignore minor directives and rules... which is usually seen as quite positive, with most people accepting it because they get amazing results, and the one who thinks they're irresponsible generally getting ignored. Then the complainer, who is the commander of a bomber training squadron, saves their skins after ignoring a rule himself - and rather than shrugging it off, insists that he be reported, because rigid rulebound discipline is all that keeps his people alive in the long run. In the end Rogue Leader Wedge Antilles has to accept this as valid.
    • During Wraith Squadron, Wedge has to train and lead a squadron of misfits that make the Rogues look rulebound, and this includes a woman with a kneejerk hostility to authority, including to him. He reflects that in the old days of the Rebel Alliance she wouldn't be considered dangerous, but just another Rebel, and eventually earns respect from her and the rest of the squadron by, when she challenges him, winning by somewhat underhanded means - proving himself still too rebellious to win conventionally.
  • Discussed by several characters stuck in an elevator in David Foster Wallace's posthumous novel The Pale King. A few of them point out how, in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement, this trope has been made into a fashion trend in the US by the early 80's (when the story is set) for corporations and politicians to use to their advantage — the Apple 1984 ad is indirectly referenced, Ronald Reagan directly.
  • Crops up a lot in the Left Behind books, for some reason. Perhaps it's an attempt to counteract the fact that when the Antichrist showed up, Buck Williams and Rayford Steele immediately went out and got jobs with him (ostensibly to undermine him from within, but they never seem to actually do any of that, instead simply acting as passive Peripheral POVs), and that might look cowardly and submissive if they didn't remind you of their manliness by posturing and sneering at every minor functionary who crosses their paths.
  • The Twilight Saga: All the cool kids and vampires rebel against authority even when the authority figures are being reasonable:
    • Bella constantly disobeys and lies to her father, who happens to be the chief of police, despite the fact that he just wants her to be safe; while she loves him to bits she doesn't want to actually get married to Edward because she doesn't want to repeat her parents' mistake (while being perfectly fine with becoming an immortal vampire, faking her death, and never seeing her parents again); she fights to keep her baby even when everyone is saying it will kill her.
    • Edward is haughty and rude to the Volturi after they let him off for trying to expose his sparkly self to humans in an elaborate Suicide by Cop and are perfectly fine with Bella knowing about vampires as long as she's transformed quickly.
    • Garrett, a vampire who was transformed while fighting for the US during The American Revolution, makes a Rousing Speech against the Volturi despite the fact that he's aware his side could all be killed and their entire plan hinges on not fighting and since they don't fight it means the Volturi can find him later and end his rebellious streak for good.
  • In Vampire Academy, Rose Hathaway opposes authority figures on principle, butting heads with the headmistress of the Academy and a few teachers. She gets some admirers this way.
  • In The Dresden Files, a traumatic experience with an Evil Mentor leaves Harry Dresden heavily jaded about the Magical Society of the White Council, and he makes a point of mocking their authority as much as he can get away with in the early books. Zig-zagged when he attends a Council meeting in a bathrobe and unkempt beard, hopelessly mangles the Latin that they speak in formal occasions (in fairness, the bathrobe and Latin aren't really his fault - his cat had used his formal robe as a litterbox and he learned Latin by a correspondence course), and slowly comes to realize that they have even less respect for him than he has for them. Moreover, as time goes by, Character Development leads him to understand their rules, the reasons for them, and why the Council is important in the first place, leading to him building a better working relationship with them - which is not to say that he doesn't think that a lot of them are hidebound jerks, because he does, and reckons they need to be challenged. But as he explains to his apprentice later on, the picture is much more nuanced than either he thought or she thinks.
  • This is essentially the central premise of The Supervillainy Saga by C.T. Phipps. Gary Karkofsky is a wannabe supervillain with anarchist tendencies. He is anti-authority and the system as a lifestyle with the belief it makes him cool. The trope is played with as most superheroes are a Reasonable Authority Figure and supervillains find the idea of his Card-Carrying Villain status ridiculous.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Firefly has this going on with the crew of the Serenity. They rebel by avoiding their not exactly well-meaning government while earning a living in a number of morally ambiguous ways.
  • Hawkeye from M*A*S*H might fall under this, although he usually only rebels against authority when authority is being stupid. Which is, admittedly, every episode. This is the whole purpose of the show, to rebel against authority. Hawkeye even interrupts the peace talks because he feels they aren't doing enough.
    • Other episodes play with this trope. For instance, Frank Burns was left in temporary command and decided that the medical staff were verging on alcoholism, and declares the 4077th 'dry'. By the end of the episode, despite Hawkeye's furious protests and rants, it's become clear and is portrayed as such that Frank did have a point, he just took it a bit too far. More brutally, on a later occasion Hawkeye himself is left in temporary command of the 4077th, and rapidly gains a different perspective on the sort of shenanigans he himself often pulls, to the point that he actually muses over charging B.J. Hunnicutt with being AWOL because he wasn't there when Hawkeye needed him for a medical crisis (he was responding to a different problem on his own, without authorization). Margaret even calls Hawkeye out about this by saying, "It's not so easy to be the clown when you have to run the whole circus. If Frank Burns could see you now."
  • Played for laughs with Britta Perry on Community; she clearly believes cool people rebel, about herself especially, but her overall cluelessness about many of the things she protests about (or life in general) and the fact that deep down she's basically sweet no matter how much she wishes she wasn't means that she generally tends to come across as self-righteous, annoying and not nearly as cool as she believes.
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is Playing with a Trope.


  • American Idiot plays this straight at first, with the main character Jimmy (styling himself "Jesus of Suburbia") leaving his town to live a punk life in the city. Then the trope is deconstructed when he eventually despairs and returns home to life the conformist life he rebelled against.
  • Parodied by "Threw It On The Ground" by The Lonely Island in which a bespectacled hipster overreacts to imagined insults by angrily ranting about "the system." And, of course, throwing things on the ground.

    Tabletop Games 
  • One of the premises of Cyberpunk 2020, the characters are typically depicted as being future Robin Hoods who use their skills to challenge the megacorporations who rule over the world with an iron fist. Heck, there's even an attribute called "Cool"!
  • This is essentially the hat of the Brujah clan in Vampire: The Masquerade. They are literally cursed with anger and it tends to manifest in hatred of their particular brand of oppression. However, Brujah can be just as likely oppressors as the oppressed.
  • It also shows up in Mage: The Ascension where the primary enemies are the incarnation of authority and technology, the Technocracy. This is played with as the Technocracy has a substantial Villain Has a Point as well as Rooting for the Empire fandom.
  • While the Rebel Alliance is La Résistance, many of the licensed Star Wars games emphasize playing a Han Solo-esque Lovable Rogue rather than someone committed to overthrowing the Empire.

    Visual Novels 
  • In this case 'authority' is plans imposed on the characters by the undead lord of a dead kingdom, but it's hard to deny that in Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star rebellion is striking out to risk pain and disappointment for an uncertain future, and embodied by Yuuya, that is cool. Even some of the characters agree.
    "Are you going to follow his orders just because he's the king?"


    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Craig Hoffman in Family Guy:
    Meg: Hi, Craig. Umm, I was wondering if maybe you would want to, I don't know, go out sometime?
    Craig Hoffman: Huh, that's about as likely as me playing by someone else's rules besides my own. Which I would never do. I play by my own rules, nobody else's, not even my own.
    • Rush Limbaugh (in a guest appearance) pointed out that Brian does this because he liked being the underdog.
  • Zig-zagged with the "Cool Kids" (Jenny Pizza, Buck Dewey, and Sour Cream) in Steven Universe. While they do insist on wearing seat-belts when driving ("There's nothing 'lame' about seat belt safety"), they also blithely ignore a web of police tape Pearl set up to keep humans away from some alien moss growing in a marsh.