Snake Kai is back. Season 4 kicks off on Friday, and my family will see what is perhaps the most surprising hit of the decade – and personally our favorite.
O spinoff of Karate Kid had everything to go wrong. After several sequels and reboots, the franchise seemed sold out. Furthermore, it was released as part of YouTube’s ill-fated plan to compete with Amazon and Netflix in producing original content.
However, Cobra Kai proved to be a success. After being acquired by Netflix in June 2020, the show dominated Nielsen’s streaming charts [empresa que faz medição de audiência], quickly amassing over 2 billion minutes of streaming. The acquisition, as Forbes put it, turned Cobra Kai from an obscure hit to the #1 show in America. of it), in large part by going against the sacred cows of postmodernity and embracing some radical ideas: self-ownership, personal responsibility and individualism (in the best thick skin style of the years 80).
Cobra Kai does all of this with humor and a different twist. The themes of individualism and self-improvement are channeled not through a wise sensei like Miyagi, but through the “degenerate” Johnny Lawrence, the Karate Kid villain who notoriously got kicked in the face in the fifth act.
Lawrence (William Zabka) is not a likely protagonist. If there was a Mount Rushmore of pop villains of the years 30, Johnny Lawrence would be in it, trapped somewhere between Ed Rooney (Enjoying the Crazed Life), Judge Smails ( Scoundrel 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, propelling the 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 a doe -all out of luck and beer drinker who watches American Eagle alone in his dingy apartment. From his red Firebird, he sees billboards for the car dealerships of his former enemy, Larusso Motors, popping up everywhere. He is divorced, estranged from his son and arrested in the first episode. However, his life changes when a young man in his building named Miguel asks for help in dealing with some school bullies. Sound familiar?
Johnny agrees to train Miguel, but he’s no Mr. Miyagi. He is rude, a walking personification of “toxic masculinity” and intolerant. He calls Miguel “Menudo” (a Puerto Rican band that has been successful over the years 80), jokes about immigrants, generalizes, and occasionally uses a derogatory word that refers to a part of the female body. At one point, Miguel asks why he didn’t let women into the Cobra Kai.
“For the same reason there are women in the Army. It doesn’t make sense,” says Johnny. “Don’t give me that machismo bullshit. I’m just saying women weren’t made to fight. They have small, hollow bones.”
Johnny quickly relents on letting 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 balanced against the broader story arc: Johnny’s transformation from degenerate to true sensei.
Viewers see that Cobra Kai – the dojo who tormented Daniel Larusso in Karate Kid – isn’t all bad. Under Johnny’s tutelage, a crop of maladjusted students learn something important: they don’t need to be victims.
“I’ll teach you the style of karate I was taught. A method of fighting that your generation desperately needs,” says Johnny. “You will gain strength. You will learn discipline. And when the time is right, you’ll fight back.”
This message is somewhat controversial, but the writers effectively show that it’s not just physical strength that’s being 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 “lip”. He refers to other students as “crater face” and “piercing.”
If the story ended there, we would see Johnny as little more than a ruthless bully who hasn’t changed a thing since that Daniel Larusso kicked him in the face at the tournament 30 years ago. Instead, however, after briefly leaving Cobra Kai because of Johnny’s nasty jokes, Eli comes back changed (in ways that are both good and bad).
This is just one of Johnny’s many examples showing his students that they have the power to shape their own destinies if they can find their inner strength, courage and identity. Just as important, we see how this philosophy is transformative in Johnny’s own growth.
No doubt some will find Johnny’s attitudes terrifying; others will find them funny. What’s important is that Cobra Kai is essentially offering a philosophy of life taught by Jordan Peterson—use your power and influence as an individual to take control of your life.
Johnny is no longer unlucky , a man without a steady job who watches TV alone and is mistaken for a homeless person. After being fired, he straightens his life. He starts a dojo, takes Miguel as a student, drinks less, learns to teach his students valuable lessons and not put them down. He cleans his apartment.
This last item might seem pointless. It is not. It fits perfectly into the philosophy of self-ownership taught by Peterson as a path to personal growth.
“If you can’t even clean your own room, who the hell are you to give advice to the world?” Peterson says, “My thinking is that if you want to change the world, start with yourself and work externally, because you build your competence that way.”
In essence, Johnny decides it is It’s time to take responsibility for your life – the most important rule for Peterson – and this is just one example of Cobra Kai’s broader exploration of individualism and self-empowerment, themes that are explored in the first three seasons.
Self-reliance was once an American creed. Considered the key to a full life – the great essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson observed that “nothing can bring you peace except yourself” – the philosophy has gone out of style. But it’s a theme that permeates Cobra Kai.
Over the first three seasons of the show, we see Miguel and his friends overcome life’s challenges not by gossiping to teachers or running away from threats, but learning to face their fears and the externalities that face them. They make mistakes along the way. Friendships are broken up. People get hurt. But they grow stronger in body, soul and mind, and they learn that their newfound power must be balanced with other virtues, including mercy.
For generations who grew up in what Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff call the culture of “safetyism“, a kind of fetish for safety and victimization, Cobra Kai may be the keynote they need to show that true strength and growth is not achieved by “fixing” society or appealing to authority to resolve conflicts. This 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. Published with permission. Original in English.