Cobra Kai Helped Me Understand American Politics
Cobra Kai shouldn’t be good. Netflix’s Karate Kid show, which just released its third season, picks up with our favorite karate characters 35 years later. If you can’t remember, there were no unanswered questions lingering from the first few movies. Netflix just decided we should all be impressed that Ralph Macchio still looks like a teenager well into his fifties. The show offers a hefty amount of nostalgia and so much more. After binging all three seasons I can tell you, this show rules!
I would go as far to say that Cobra Kai is the best allegory to the current political clusterfuck that I’ve seen. It directly targets the language and behaviors that cancel culture is at war with. It understands generational theory (though at a hilarious level) making sure the characters are absurdist levels of Gen X or Zoomers. Karate represents the economic and political policies of the political elite. Each parent/adult encapsulates a hardened political identity, and the children are being swept up left and right. That may sound extreme for a concept as eye-rolling as Cobra Kai, but bear with me.
Our main characters that develop over the three seasons include David LaRusso (Ralph Macchio), his wife Amanda (Courtney Henggeler), Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), and John Kreese (Martin Kove). All three characters from the original movies are played by the same actors, with Amanda representing the new blood of the karate filled Valley.
David and Amanda are successful business people, primarily representing today’s Democrats. Much like today’s Senior Democrats, David is a bit stuck in the past with the practices that made him successful. Karate for him, compromise and austerity for the Democrats. Amanda is much more of a young Democrat. Upset with staying in the past and disgusted by the other parties that continue to participate in the old party tricks and outdated economic models, I mean karate. He continues with the awkward cultural appropriation of Mr. Miyagi that is only more uncomfortable 35 years later.
Amanda wants to move on, improve the family business, and ensure her daughter has a stable life. She doesn’t have much patience for the horrors that karate (capitalism) has inflicted on the students and would much rather ignore old struggles between neo-liberals and Reagan devotees. David is more motivated to continue the old rivalries and rarely misses on opportunity to sink to his opponents lows. Is that an oversimplification of the modern Democratic party? Maybe, but it’s the right-wingers that are far more fun.
David’s primary rival in the 80’s was the popular and rich Johnny Lawrence, who now is struggling financially, socially, and mentally. Johnny is the 80s-douchebag-all-grown-up taken to absurdist hyperbole. We watch him struggle with technology, use language around children that’s sometimes shocking to hear on a tv show, and still clings to his teenage glory days. Johnny has held onto his band t-shirts and Sports Illustrated swimsuit editions. He leaves us with excellent quotes like, “Light beer is for pussies” or “That’s Dee Snider, the most badass rocker of all time.”
Johnny is consistently in his own way, but when not facing LaRusso he is trying his best to be a good role model for his students. Johnny is the moderate wing of the Republican party. He loves to talk tough and loves to beat the Democrats. But Johnny’s little success becomes threatened when a dark member of his past returns, Sensei Kreese (Fascism). The violence of the Cobra Kai dojo (or oppressive policies of Reaganism) and training method gets to be too tough for Johnny and he turns away. He’s looking for a new path just like the few Republicans outside of the Trump cult.
John Kreese is seemingly evil incarnate. Like the absolutely deluded right wing politics of today, Kreese believes any form of weakness is abject failure. Also like today’s fascists, when presented with any challenge Kreese is the first to turn to the authorities for help. Amanda slapping him across the face (as we all wish we could do to Trump) leads him to filing a restraining order and playing the victimized veteran to the city council. Season 3 ends with a promising path to victory. Work together and you may overcome the fascists. If only our moderate Republicans had Johnny Lawrence’s humility.
The one aspect of this show that is truly brilliant is the high school drama. Following a group of teenagers who are simply looking for a community. Each child is as redeemable as they are imperfect. Outside of the insane thought that more karate could dispel the gang violence that has sent multiple children to the hospital, the parents finally seem ready to help the children instead of pursuing decades long conflicts.
Cobra Kai is a soap opera about high school…for parents. It shouldn’t work, but it’s fantastic. The dialogue is cringey at times, but I choose to believe it’s inspired by the batshit crazy politicians we have to see on the news. I have no proof that these are intentional representations, but I can tell you that Cobra Kai rules. Or as Johnny would say, “Totally badass.”