What Cobra Kai can teach a generation marinated in victimization

Cobra Kai is back. Season 4 begins Friday and my family will be watching what is perhaps the most surprising hit of the decade – and, personally, our favorite.

The Karate Kid spin-off had everything to go wrong. After several sequels and reboots, the franchise felt exhausted. Additionally, it was launched as part of YouTube’s ill-fated plan to compete with Amazon and Netflix in producing original content.

However, Cobra Kai turned out to be a success. After being acquired by Netflix in June 2020, the show topped the Nielsen streaming charts. [empresa que faz medição de audiência], quickly racking up over 2 billion streaming minutes. The acquisition, as Forbes said, turned Cobra Kai from an obscure hit to America’s # 1 show.

The program works for a variety of reasons and has reached out to young people (my kids can’t get enough), largely because it goes against the sacred cows of postmodernity and embraces radical ideas: self-ownership, personal responsibility, and individualism (in the best thick shell style of the 80s).

Cobra Kai does everything with humor and a different twist. The themes of individualism and self-improvement are channeled not by a wise sensei like Miyagi, but by “degenerate” Johnny Lawrence, the Karate Kid villain who was kicked in the face in the fifth. act.

Lawrence (William Zabka) is not a likely protagonist. If there had ever been a Mount Rushmore of 80s pop villains, Johnny Lawrence would be in it, stuck somewhere between Ed Rooney (Laughing Life Crazy), Judge Smails (Rubbish Club) and Biff Tannen (Back to the Future).

In the original Karate Kid, Johnny was the seemingly privileged bully who tormented Jersey’s new working-class kid, leading Daniel Larusso’s transformation from punching bag to karate student and All Valley champion. (Larusso takes the title from Johnny, who until then was the champion.)

In Cobra Kai, things have changed.

Johnny is an unlucky handyman and beer drinker who watches American Eagle alone in his dingy apartment. From his red Firebird, he sees billboards popping up everywhere for the car dealerships of his old nemesis, Larusso Motors. He is divorced, separated from his son and arrested from the first episode. However, her life changes when a young man from her apartment building named Miguel asks for help dealing with bullies at school. Seems familiar?

Johnny agrees to train Miguel, but he’s not Mr. Miyagi. He is gruff, a walking personification of “toxic masculinity” and intolerant. He calls Miguel “Menudo” (a successful Puerto Rican band in the 1980s), mocks immigrants, generalizes and sometimes uses a derogatory word that refers to a female body part. At one point, Miguel asks why he didn’t let the women into Cobra Kai.

“For the same reason that there are women in the army. It just doesn’t make sense, ”says Johnny. “Don’t tell me that machismo bullshit. I’m just saying that women are not made to fight. They have little hollow bones.

Johnny quickly gives in by letting the girls join Cobra Kai, however, this is only one step on his path to growth. And it’s this growth that makes the series so interesting. Johnny’s weaknesses would be terrifying to modern audiences if they weren’t weighed against the larger story arc: Johnny’s transformation from degenerate to true sensei.

Viewers see that Cobra Kai – the dojo that tormented Daniel Larusso in Karate Kid – isn’t that bad. Under Johnny’s tutelage, a host of misfit students learn something important: they don’t have to be victims.

“I will teach you the style of karate that I was taught. A method of combat that your generation desperately needs, ”says Johnny. “You will gain strength. You will learn the discipline. And when the time is right, you will retaliate.

This post is a bit controversial, but the authors actually show that it’s not just physical strength that is taught. Johnny teaches his students that they have power and agency. One student, Eli, is mercilessly mocked at school for having a cleft palate. Even Johnny mocks Eli, calling him “the lip”. He describes the other students as a “crater face” and a “piercing”.

If the story ended there, we would see Johnny as a ruthless bully who hasn’t changed at all since Daniel Larusso kicked him in the face in the tournament 30 years ago. Instead, however, after briefly leaving Cobra Kai because of Johnny’s mean jokes, Eli returns changed (in both good and bad ways).

This is just one of many examples of Johnny showing his students that they have the power to shape their own destiny if they can find their inner strength, courage and identity. Equally important, we see how this philosophy is transformative in Johnny’s own growth.

No doubt some will find Johnny’s actions appalling; others will find them funny. The important thing is that Cobra Kai basically offers a philosophy of life taught by Jordan Peterson: use your power and influence as an individual to take control of your life.

Johnny does not remain unhappy, a man without a stable job who watches television alone and is mistaken for homelessness. After being fired, he arranges his life. He starts a dojo, takes Miguel as a student, drinks less, learns to give his students valuable lessons and not to belittle them. He cleans his apartment.

This last element may seem unnecessary. It’s not. This fits perfectly with the philosophy of self-possession, taught by Peterson as a path to personal growth.

“If you can’t even clean your own room, who are you to give the world advice?” Peterson says, “I think if you want to change the world, start with yourself and work outside, because you develop your skills that way.

In essence, Johnny decides it’s time to take responsibility for his life – the most important rule for Peterson – and this is just one example of Cobra Kai’s broader exploration of individualism and of empowerment, themes that are explored in the first three seasons. .

Autonomy was once an American creed. Seen as the key to a fulfilling life – the great essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson observed that “nothing can bring you peace but yourself” – philosophy is out of fashion. But it’s a theme that permeates Cobra Kai.

In the series’ first three seasons, we see Miguel and his friends overcome life’s challenges not by chatting with teachers or running away from threats, but by learning to cope with their fears and the externalities that they are. faced. They make mistakes along the way. Friendships are broken. People get hurt. But they become stronger in body, soul, and spirit, and they learn that their newfound power must be balanced with other virtues, including mercy.

For the generations who have grown up in what Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff call a culture of “safetyism,” a type of fetish for safety and victimization, Cobra Kai may be the tonic they need to show that true strength and growth are unattainable. society or appeal to authority to resolve conflicts. It is done by changing yourself.

* Jonathan Miltimore is the editor-in-chief of FEE – Foundation for Economic Education (FEE.org)

© 2021 Foundation for Economic Education. Posted with permission. Original in English.

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