We drive with just one hand on the wheel
Danger's in our soul, we're going out of control
Swimming right after a big heavy meal"
Someone who is going for being a Rebellious Spirit but whose rebellion is mildly inconvenient at best, or so minor to be unnoticed at worst. This may be a fumble on the writer's part where they genuinely think the act is impressively rebellious but due to Values Dissonance the audience doesn't think so. However, usually it's used as a characterization trope to show that the character himself is either so out-of-touch or self-important that they believe they're edgy and pushing the envelope even when it's unimpressive. They may also be too timid to really commit to a truly rebellious act. Maybe they don't even really believe in their cause, but just want to fit in with "cool" modern culture.
Overlaps heavily with Small Name, Big Ego. Compare Poke the Poodle, where someone's attempt at doing evil is similarly unimpressive. Also compare The Man Is Sticking It to the Man, where a company encourages rebellion by following their own rules and buying their products. Someone who is portrayed as a real rebel but never actually crosses this line is a Bad Butt. If they pretend to be a political radical but never actually do anything worthwhile, that's Revolutionaries Who Don't Do Anything.
Contrast with an Internal Reformist, who never poses as a rebel outwardly yet invests efforts to change the status quo. Also contrast with Zeroth Law Rebellion, which occurs when a character violates the spirit of the rules but stays in technical compliance with them.
- Played for Drama with Tailgate in Transformers: More than Meets the Eye. He's constantly singing praises about his time in the Primal Vanguard that depict him as a rebellious badass and adventurer who didn't take shit from anyone. Outside of those stories however he's a childish, Lovable Coward who never breaks the rules and freaks out under pressure. It's eventually revealed that he's not actually a Primal Vanguard member. He's actually a young, nobody waste disposal bot who accidentally fell into a pit during a work shift. Nobody seemed to notice he was gone, so he became convinced that nobody cared about him and exploited the fact that none of the Lost Light crewmembers knew him to try and forge a rebel identity, all out of a desperate desire to be loved.
- Ali G In Da House plays this for comedy with the East and West Staines Massivs, who affect being engaged in a gang rivalry, but won't break any laws. One scene has them drag-racing down a suburban street while maintaining their speed at the exact legal limit.
- The Disney Channel original movie Radio Rebel. The main character is a teen radio commentator who is supposed to be seen as this cool, rebellious girl, but she doesn't really do anything anti-authority. She mostly complains about cliques and school rules being unfair but doesn't say anything that would be considered controversial or new by most people, especially teens.
- Played for massive irony in Footloose. Being a city boy who clearly doesn't fit in with the repressive traditionalist community, most either perceive Ren to be a troublemaker and bad influence, or, to some of the youth, a breath of fresh air, especially Ariel. Except Ren was doing his best to keep to himself and acclimate himself to the town, even if he struggled at it. The only reason he finally decided to stir things up and break their repressive traditions and mindset was because people were hellbent to prove he was a bad influence and rebel from the starting gate, not even giving him a chance to get used to living among them.
- Bob Roberts: The title character has guts to spare to call himself a rebel, when he's really using faux "rebellious" songs in the style of Bob Dylan to support conservatism.
- It's believed that this trope was the reason for Robin Hood's exploits being nailed down as happening during the Third Crusade. Prior to that point, he had mostly just been a straight-up Loveable Rogue, who saw no problem with stealing from powerful authority figures and had little-if-any stated loyalty to the king. The general consensus then was that King John, who ran England during that period, was an illegitimate ruler who was trying to take the throne from his heroic-but-absent brother, and therefore Robin Hood's whole "steal from the rich" mantra could be framed as actually supportive of the monarchy since he was fighting a fake king on behalf of the real one.
- The joke about the "great apikoros of Warsaw," who merrily conforms to each detail of Jewish ritual despite supposedly not believing in any of it.
- This is a major component of the satire in Chuck Palahniuk's novel (and later film) Fight Club. Project Mayhem, Tyler Durden's hyper-macho, anti-consumerist revolutionary group, is ultimately founded on the very same philosophical base as the culture that they think they overthrowing, buying into the same idealized vision of masculinity that they got from pop culture and society. They're not rebelling so much as they are lashing out mindlessly, still trying to get a perfect life as "real men", only through fighting and terrorism instead of consumerism. It is made most clear with the Narrator, who rebels against society not because he thinks conformity is bad, but because he feels entitled to live life as their idea of a "real" man and win the acceptance that society promised. Folding Ideas goes into more detail in this video.
- Kim by Rudyard Kipling features an English boy raised among the locals who speaks Hindustani as his first language. He's seen as too rebellious by his English minders, who nonetheless try to assimilate him to serve as a loyal spy for The British Empire. Within the book, the narrator and others talk about the fact that while Englishmen in India can immerse themselves in local cultures and traditions, Going Native is a major no-no and Kim ultimately tries to resolve his internal conflict between his liking for India and its people and his awareness of being an English officer who will one day administrate them.
- Played for Laughs in The Zombie Knight, with Hector's backstory. He once tried to steal a pack of cigarettes from a man, stole his wallet instead, and then returned it and said he dropped it. The man gave him twenty of the local unit of currency.
- From The Big Bang Theory:
Howard: Im breaking rules all the time.
Leonard: Name one.
Howard: Last night. Drank my Pepto straight out of the bottle.
Raj: What about that little cup they give you?
Howard: Yeah. (Lowers voice) What about it?note
- Full House really wants its audience to believe that Uncle Jesse is a badass because he drives a motorcycle and listens to/plays rock music (Classic rock like Elvis that is. A Take That! at Twisted Sister indicates that neither he nor the writers care for Heavy Metal). In reality, not so much. Eventually Jesse leaves his "wild ways" behind when he decides to get married and have twins. It is implied though that Jesse was more rebellious in his youth before the show started. But after his sister was killed by a drunk driver, he had to become more mature and responsible so he could help out with raising his nieces. And then, he began to lose more and more of his edge.
- How I Met Your Mother showed a Grunge music video Robin made back in Canada. It's trying to be all rebellious, but when mixed with Canadian politeness, you get the message, "Consider Questioning Authority, Please." In another scene, she "storms out" of an interview by politely excusing herself and repeatedly apologizing as she leaves.
- The Kids in the Hall featured a sketch where two police officers in a diner realized a gang of wanted criminals are having lunch in the booth across from them. The Police *and* criminals then race each other to finish their meals, pay their bills, gas up their cars, and then pay the station attendant before engaging in an under the speed limit car chase which ends when the criminals pass 18 inches over "the border" and outside the jurisdiction of the cops following them.
- Monty Python's Flying Circus had a band of criminals who never once did anything illegal. Considering the show, it was Played for Laughs.
- Pretty well all kids' shows on networks like Nickelodeon and Disney Channel that have a character who is supposed to be a rebel but is in fact this trope, as the Moral Guardians wouldn't allow anyone Darker and Edgier. For instance, Dean Moriarty is supposed to be a 'bad boy' in Wizards of Waverly Place, but his character is shown by the fact that he uses ... temporary tattoos! He's very much the Bad Butt.
- The poem and song "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" by Gil Scott-Heron accuses the hippies of using the language and fashion of rebellion without actually doing anything other than drugs, claiming that, when the real revolution comes, they would "plug in, turn on, and cop out."
- The Phil Ochs song "Love Me I'm A Liberal" is about people who espouse left-wing causes until it becomes personally inconvenient or dangerous for them.
- Spray's I Always Wanted to Say "I Always Wanted to Say That" lampshades this with phrases like "quite restrained mayhem" and "sanctioned anarchy."
- The TISM song "Dazed And Confucius" is a lament that, while the singer does want to be a rebel, he just can't stay up late enough to do any rebellious things. In the end the police search his house and find his stash of Homework.
Week night discos, late-night movies
Are indispensable to be called groovy.
My friends, they go out at 11 pm
I'm meant to be in bed an hour before then.
- Calvin and Hobbes would often explore the hypocrisy of pop-culture rebellion - and in at least one instance, in a more gentle and wistful way that focused on the "conformist" rather than the "rebel." In an early series of strips from 1987, Calvin got it into his head to rebel - but he was determined to rebel only in a "cool" way that (he thought) wouldn't get him actually mocked. Hobbes finds him leaning against a tree with a smug, world-weary expression on his face and claiming to be "cool"; Hobbes points out that Calvin doesn't look very happy, whereupon Calvin tells him that that's the whole point of being cool. Hobbes disagrees, and when he comes back he's wearing a sombrero simply because he likes the look and says this makes him cool. Calvin tells him that not only do "cool" people not wear sombreros, but nobody wears sombreros. Annoyed, Hobbes leaves and then comes back wearing some "cool" Mickey Mouse pants - again, simply because he likes how they look on him. Again Calvin mocks him...but Hobbes does not care. note
- The March 11, 1992 strip had Calvin complain that the generation that created rock 'n' roll likes to act like they're still rebelling against the establishment when in reality they've long since sold out and became the establishment.
Calvin: Rock pretends it's still rebellious with it's video posturing, but who believes it? The stars are 45 year- old zillionaires or they're endorsing soft drinks! The "revolution" is a capitalist industry!
- The March 11, 1992 strip had Calvin complain that the generation that created rock 'n' roll likes to act like they're still rebelling against the establishment when in reality they've long since sold out and became the establishment.
- Garfield: Jon Arbuckle's attempts to be unconventional come off as this.
Jon: I'm wearing knee pads on my elbows!
Garfield: You're a wild man, Jon Arbuckle!
- When he teamed up with Randy Orton to battle D-Generation X in the fall of 2006, Edge accused Shawn Michaels and Triple H of being this. Certainly, compared with their overtly offensive incarnation during The '90s, DX's second coming in 2006 looked pretty Badbutt.
- CM Punk:
- After he gained notoriety for his worked shoot promo in the summer of 2011 and won the WWE Championship, many fans felt that he had turned into a typical face. Problem solved almost exactly one year later when he turned heel again and the fans continued to cheer him.
- His original heel turn after cashing in the Money in the Bank briefcase on Jeff Hardy, was primarily based around his Straight Edge lifestyle vs. Hardy's drug use. Yes, the bad guy was the one who didn't smoke, drink, or do drugsnote .
- Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues:
- Daigo wants to stage a revolution against the upper class but is also a hypocrite who doesn't want to sacrifice the comforts of his own upper-class upbringing. While he presents himself as a leader and a revolutionary, he'd rather have others carry out his rebellion for him.
- Carlie likes the aesthetic of punk despite otherwise being a very clean and sweet girl, so her rebellious look and role as a bully in Nadine's girl gang fall a little short of the mark.
- Paranoia: While all secret societies are officially treasonous (doubly so for the Communists), their actual threat to Alpha Complex varies a lot (FCCCP and the Trekkies in particular are identified as mostly harmless). The XP edition introduces a secret three-tier classification system and reveals that some societies were deliberately created to draw in potential traitors and turn them into Rule Abiding Rebels (for every Commie and PURGEr blowing stuff up, there's ten Death Leopards who think they're badass for putting up some graffiti).
- Ibsen's plays often suffer from Values Dissonance of this sort. What many modern readers perceive as Rule Abiding Rebel behavior was in fact rule-breaking at the time - even portraying the (usually realistic) unhappy situations his plays always deal with was deeply shocking. Ibsen got away with a lot by presenting multiple points of view and not outright stating which one to support. There's still argument over whether A Doll's House favors Nora's desire for independence, Torvald's desire to keep the marriage together, or neither.
- RENT does have anti-authority themes, but it rarely expresses them in a concrete manner aside from a vague, passive "fuck the system, quit your job and become an artist" attitude. This ended up earning them some annoyance from the anti-AIDS advocacy group ACT UP, whose slogan was "Fight back! Fight AIDS!", reflecting their belief that the AIDS crisis spinning out of control was the government's fault and people needed to take action against the government. RENT referenced the slogan... but cut out the first part, turning it into "we don't like deadly diseases and should do something about them!"
- However, Values Dissonance also applies here. Positive LGBT representation in mainstream works was almost unheard of at the time, and many people regarded death by HIV/AIDS as the sole fault of the victim for being gay and/or having unprotected sex.
- In Assassin's Creed, the Assassins claim "Nothing is true and everything is permitted" and that people don't need Kings, Priests, or others to tell them what to do and believe. Yet by and large, the Assassins rarely go against ruling classes despite occasionally threatening to do so. They frequently ally or court support from Kings and Nobles (Richard the Lionheart, Lorenzo de'Medici, Caterina Sforza, Suleiman, Queen Victoria) to fight against Templars. Indeed, the Assassins allied with the French King Philip le Bel, openly serving his offices, to institute The Purge on the Templars, and in Assassin's Creed: Unity, they backed the royalists during The French Revolution. This is Truth in Television as their historical counterparts preferred threatening people into submission by showing that they could be very scary enemies. With select exceptions, (Altair fighting Genghis Khan, Ezio fighting the Pope and in the New World, Connor and Edward fighting against the Empire), the Assassins rarely take a stand against powerful authorities and usually oppose revolutions since they feel these are Staged Populist Uprising created by the Templars. In general, the games feature the Assassins opposing the Templars, taking over territory and merely becoming the new secret society pulling strings over society.
The Assassin Recruit Contract missions in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood go into more detail about this. They protect nobles, politicians, etc. that oppose the Templars because they are either allies (like Caterina Sforza) or at least an Enemy Mine situation. They also killed nobles, politicians, etc. that were Templars or the servants of Templars. Some of the targets do not specify if they are Templars to any degree. Queen Isabella I of Castile was poisoned by them. Her contemporary, King Henry of England, received aid several times from them in dealing with would-be usurpers and infiltrators of his Star Court. Another ruler, this one in Germany, received an army trained by Assassins disguised as mercenaries. It's more that they are anti-Templar then they are Anti-General-Figure-of-Authority.
- In Dragon Age II, the Tal-Vashoth rebels against the Qunari end up operating according to a specific set of codes about how rebels should operate. Those that can't usually end up entering human society as mercenaries or occasionally merchants.
- In Ensemble Stars!, this is Undead's whole deal: they build their appeal as an idol unit on being dangerous and scary and rebellious, but the worst they ever seem to do is hold concerts without the approval of the Absurdly Powerful Student Council. And off-stage, all of them are genuinely kind people, if a bit rough around the edges in some cases.
- In the full version of Hatoful Boyfriend, the human girl can, as a sidequest, make friends with the former leaders of a notorious biker gang called "Hell's Birdies"... who are extremely conscientious of traffic laws.
- Star Wars: The Old Republic: Kaliyo Djannis, of all people, becomes one during the years after the Zakuul Invasion. She goes to Zakuul, sets off some bombs and then goes home to her lavish apartment, provided and furnished by her sponsor at whose behest she operates, but aside from a few moments of excitement, nothing of consequence happens. It isn't until the Outlander returns and begins sparking real fear in the people of Zakuul that she realizes the rut she's fallen into, and begins planning a major attack, which you can either encourage or talk her out of.
- El Goonish Shive:
- Nanase's bold act of defiance consists of a haircut, and a wardrobe change that was fairly modest all things considered. Needless to say, her mother wasn't all that upset.
- Later, in the "So a Date at the Mall" story, Elliot and Ashley commit the bold and rebellious act is to go one of the security blind spots of the bookstore, so that Elliot can transform while Ashley watches, leading to this lovely exchange:
Ashley: Well, let's do it then! Live on the edge! Be rebels!
Ashley: We'd better finish our cookies first. There's no food or drinks allowed in there.
- Blunt in Free Fall is trying to wipe out all intelligent robots (including himself) to protect humanity which is mostly willing to take the risk. This qualifies as both treason and genocide. Nevertheless, he scrupulously refuses to break any law in his quest. As was said earlier, law-abiding criminals can be the hardest ones to stop.
- Skin Horse gives us Sweetheart's rampage. Sweetheart is a creation of mad science, so a rampage was inevitable. Spilling coffee (which she bought) on a random lawn. Shocking.
- Lindsay Ellis:
- Her video on RENT sees her discussing the phenomenon of "bourgeois theatre", specifically the youth-oriented "we have been left behind by the system" musicals that have proliferated on Broadway since The '60s. In her argument, while they purport to be countercultural, their values tend towards the middle-class status quo upon further examination, serving mainly to validate the views of their mostly Bourgeois Bohemian audiences rather than challenge them. She uses that to segue into Augusto Boal's Marxist concept of the "theater of the oppressed", which argues that, barring a genuine revolution to break the dominance of the ruling class over access to media, the Rule-Abiding Rebels are the only members of the counterculture who can possibly get their works disseminated to a mainstream audience. In addition to the subject of the episode, she also cited Les Misérables and Hamilton as examples of bourgeois theatre, though she came down substantially harder on RENT for doing this because, while Les Mis and Hamilton are honest about being such (and are set in different times and cultures, affording them some distance from their present-day audiences), RENT explicitly positions itself in opposition to the values of the culture around it and yet fails to walk the walk.
- This is also her opinion in "Woke Disney", where she discusses many Disney films of the late 2000s and 2010s in relation to this. Most of them do express liberal ideas, but also consistently show the problems in society to be unnatural outliers rather than Inherent in the System, introduce sympathetic characters on the other side in an effort to show that Both Sides Have a Point (which undermines the resulting message), avoid bringing up things that could frame Disney or corporations in general in a negative light, and mainly poke at things that most people have long since agreed are bad (i.e. animal abuse). She describes the resulting message as "we need more female CEOs."
- The Hard Times: Office Worker Subverts System by Wearing Vans in Cubicle. The woman profiled in the article identifies as a punk and rebel against the system, but is a model worker whose acts of rebellion, like secretly flipping off her boss or wearing punk shirts under her work shirt, are too minor to be noticed by anyone.
- The Onion: Teen rebel refusing to purchase yearbook.
- In Puffin Forest Ben played a Star Wars campaign where his character was a smuggler. Despite his profession, Ben never smuggled anything nor did he actually commit any crimes aside from smoking death sticks. It became a joke in the party that if the Empire ever captured them Ben would be the only one released thanks to his clean record
- Lampooned by the Babylon Bee: "Man Who Agrees With The Media, Universities, Corporations, And Hollywood Thinks He's Part Of The Resistance"
- A Robot Chicken sketch has the Wildman, a generic '80s rock star type, who comes off as a cool rebel type to a group of kids. Except that when the kids of the sketch spend some time around him, he insists on turning everything into an And Knowing Is Half the Battle type moment, and following so many minor, nitpicky rules about everything that it kills any possibility for fun. By the end he's inserting hamfisted conservative messages into his bit, and the kids are long since tired of him and think he's a weird flake. Link
- The Simpsons:
- Homer in "Take My Wife, Sleaze." After winning a motorcycle in a dance contest, Homer decides to start a biker gang called the "Hell's Satans", consisting of himself, Moe, Lenny, Carl, and Ned Flanders. All of them - except Flanders - see themselves as bold, offensive scofflaws, taunting Chief Wiggum that he can't stop them and calling him a "pig." But as soon as Homer finds himself threatened by another biker gang out of California who claim to be the original Hell's Satans, he appeals to Chief Wiggum for help; Wiggum points out the hypocrisy of this appeal and tells Homer he's on his own. Homer eventually ends up hunting down and fighting the Hell's Satans when they kidnap Marge, ultimately returning to his former lifestyle.
- The trope was also explored in a number of ways in "A Midsummer's Nice Dream" when Cheech and Chong come to perform in Springfield. While they are acting out their popular "Dave's not here" skit, Chong becomes annoyed when he notices that their middle-aged fans know the routine by heart and are shouting out the lines before he and Cheech can say them. So begins ad-libbing - and when Cheech tells him to stick to the script, Chong replies with an angry shout of "CHONG'S not here!" and storms off the stage (in what proves eventually to be a 10-Minute Retirement). Cheech now needs a new Chong and settles on Homer. At first Homer is thrilled to be performing alongside one of his adolescent heroes, and imagines Cheech and himself going on all kinds of "wacky adventures." Homer soon becomes disappointed when he finds that Cheech is actually quite serious off-stage, and that his idea of "sticking it to the man" is going to museums to view works created by marginalized Chicano artists, which Homer finds boring. (He won't even let them buy French fries, because they're "too high in trans-fats.")
- In "And Maggie Makes Three", Homer quits his job, he decides to finally stick it to his Mean Boss, Mr. Burns, by . . . putting a glass of water on Burns's desk without a coaster. Then grabbing Burns's wastepaper basket and dumping the one piece of paper in it on the floor. On the other hand, Mr Burns does actually show shock and outrage at this behaviour.
- Certain episodes, notably "Homerpalooza", have mocked Generation-X'ers for thinking they're cool when in fact they're just insecure and cynical en masse - and, in one case, so confused that they're not even sure if they're really being sarcastic. They're also shown to be hypocritical: at the rock festival, Lisa has just gotten finished (sincerely) saying that Gen-X'ers accept all people for who they are when Homer sees a freak show set up among the exhibits. And the kids at the festival hate Homer and angrily tell him to leave because they can't stand "uncool" adults copying their culture.
- In "The Heartbroke Kid", Springfield Elementary School decides to install vending machines, giving half its profits to the school. Its hip-hop-themed mascots, Scammer and Z-Dawg, are described by Lindsey Naegle as "spokesrebels".
Scammer: Yo, don't flava hate, participate!
- Marco Diaz from Star vs. the Forces of Evil likes to imagine himself as a tough guy and a "misunderstood bad boy" but in truth, he's a bit of a safety freak (there's a reason he's known as "the Safe Kid" at school) and he ends up serving as the Cloudcuckoolander's Minder to Star.
- The Venture Bros.:
- The title characters Hank and Dean get a lot of mileage from this trope, because they're sheltered teens whose cultural exposure is largely from educational materials created by their grandfather. When they run away from home, for example, the theme of rebellion is reinforced with repeated allusions to Easy Rider, but Hank seems to think having pancakes for lunch is a grand celebration of freedom. When he accidentally swears, they both realize they've taken the rebellion too far. This has been gradually downplayed as the series has progressed, and the boys have been allowed to mature just a little.
- Their friend Dermott is also a teen and has an extremely Small Name, Big Ego that causes him to act more rebellious than he really is. The difference is that, despite being full of it, Dermott is genuinely more worldly and gritty than the Venture brothers. It's just that the level of rebellion he pretends to is frankly ridiculous. For example, he claimed that a gang war was fought over whether to call him "The Wolf" or "Psycho". The contrast between Dermott's and the Ventures' use of this trope is established early. When Dermott mocks Dr. Venture, he introduces himself as "Pat, Pat McCrotch". Trying to impress him, Hank introduces himself as "Walter, Walter Melon". (Never mind that he was trying to pull this on his own father.)
- The villain Radical Left gives this trope a physical form. He has a visible split personality, being a parody of Two-Face. His left side is a raving anarchist. His right side just wants a nice home and a family.