Monday, October 14, 2013

The Karate Kid (Part 2 of 2)

[This is part 2. Read part 1!]

Discipline, fitness, confidence, blood-thirst.
Enroll at the Cobra Kai Dojo today!
So, Danny doesn’t go to his mother, or the police, about the violent gang of high school kids that want to wreck him severely. Neither does Mr. Miyagi. It doesn’t even occur to this grown man to contact the authorities in this matter. Rather, he helps Daniel strike deals with crazed Vietnam vets, one of the terms of which is that if Danny doesn’t come to the tournament, then both the old man and the school kid will be hunted down and have the crap kicked out of them.

But, as I said in part one, this is all actually part of what makes the movie a happy dream.

Simply put, because healthy young men want to solve their own problems; want to be strong enough to endure and accomplish things. Competence and strength are good things, and people desire them. Not even the advocates of the “no bullying” thing going around now think that weakness is good. Actually, the only idea they seem to have is to use someone else’s strength, rather than that of the kid being bullied, to solve their problem.

That strength and the ability to accomplish things are good (although they can be misused) is fairly obvious. To deny this principle would be to deny that it is good to be alive, to do, to be, or to have anything. If someone has arrived at that point, we have very little to talk about until they are (at least) willing to suspend judgment.

That healthy young people want to solve their own problems might be less obvious to experience, but we can still see it. In fact, the landscape of popular culture itself is strewn with pieces of evidence (The Karate Kid itself being an example). It may be that some (or many) children and adults have broken and given up hope that they can be the competent hero, but they still love competence and heroism. A kid who shrinks before bullies and thinks of himself as no good still wants to watch Superman defeat the unjust and John McClane beat up the bad dudes. And not because they want to be saved, but because they think it’s good to be able to do the saving. Little kids pretend to be the Power Rangers, not members of the general populace being defended by them. On Halloween and at Comic conventions people dress up like heroes, in video games they take on the roles of heroes.

The Karate Kid presents a world that is meant to be thought of as the real one. We might think it is unrealistic (in that campy sort of ‘80’s way) but that unrealistic quality is in the service of depicting a kid with the chance to be competent; not something passive to be manipulated, or a victim to be coddled.

It is probably true that we can’t all have friends who are old, wise men with a whole parking lot of vintage cars to give away (though I think we should work at it), and it is a practical certainty that a few months of learning is not enough to win first place at a Karate tournament. But The Karate Kid expresses a wholesome desire, and aspirations are always a little vague and abbreviated at the beginning.

Maybe its unselfconscious, 80’s exuberance should inspire us to encourage a lot less victim-hood and a lot more manliness, lest we fill the world with nothing but Kobra Kais and miserable, defeated Danny Larussos of one sort or another.

© 2013 John Hiner III


1 comment:

  1. It's interesting that you point out that people play power rangers as the heroes rather than random passerby's because that seems to be an integral part of acting freely for what's right.