James Dean and Ronald Reagan Clash in Newly Discovered Video

Recently a friend of John Meroney at The Atlantic discovered this 1954 episode of General Electric Theater featuring Ronald Reagan and James Dean.

Dean’s performance is superb, and the episode (edited to 6 minutes) is a parable of the cultural tensions of the time — with drugged up, beatnik delinquents invading the home of a decent couple to subject them at gunpoint to jazz and slang: “man,” “fake it, Dad,” “you dig me,” “that’s crazy,” “don’t goof on me now.” It’s a quite fitting scene, especially given that Reagan went on to be the icon of the conservative movement, while Dean became emblematic of the rebellious youth culture to which Reagan’s movement was a reaction. But while the overt moral lesson of this episode is anti-rebel, there’s no doubt that powerful depictions like these–in which Dean’s expressiveness is as charismatic as it is frightening–only contributed to making rebellion cool.

Wes Alwan lives in Boston, Massachusetts, where he works as a writer and researcher and attends the Institute for the Study of Psychoanalysis and Culture. He also participates in The Partially Examined Life, a podcast consisting of informal discussions about philosophical texts by three philosophy graduate school dropouts.

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