My Generation Needs to Step Aside – Part 2: “Cobra Kai” and Broken Schlock Syndrome

Here we go again. Again.

The Karate Kid saga was not crying out for continuation. It had its sequels, and its reboots. And it receded into history, then into novelty, then into nostalgia, as is fine for such things. And there it should have stayed.

“34 years later” … and yet it’s really not.

The original Karate Kid, Danny Larusso (Ralph Macchio) and his rival, Johnny (William Zabka), reunite a generation later for a showdown, because… why?

Would Johnny really be sleeping on his floor, washed up and burned out, more than three decades on? It’s the image we had of his vanquished Sensei Kreese in Karate Kid part II, which made sense as it was set immediately after part I. The case of broken clock syndrome here seems to be not so much with Johnny, as with fans (and possibly the creators of this show?) who haven’t moved on from the original movie.

Beyond that: Cobra Kai seems to also be doing another thing that’s so popular these days (and which I even enjoy in certain instances): flipping the reading of the text at the time with the more updated, “woke” inversion. Here: it’s the idea that Danny Larusso was the villain, who repeatedly assaulted the Cobra Kai kids unprovoked – a reading first popularised by video essayist J. Matthew Turner:

Cobra Kai seems to have doubled down on this premise, presenting Danny as the smug douche (literally a car salesman), and Johnny as the victim-cum-underdog. This is the one potential positive thing about this otherwise entirely unnecessary idea.

Why are we getting this? Coz my generation is greenlighting these projects. Please stop.

Broken Schlock Sydndrome

This trope in belated sequels to ’80s properties – that life hasn’t moved on for the characters, that their concerns and momentum have been frozen in time – is an embarrassing reflection of those behind their creation. It belies the wish that 201x sequel could have been made way back then, but the real-life ageing of the surviving actors forces events to be set much later. It’s where that unwillingness to let go of the past bleeds into the plotting of the present. It’s the idea that, while we weren’t looking, they weren’t living.

… this trend of “original” properties that are all about a particular pop culture nostalgia…

There’s that moment in The Force Awakens, where Han fires Chewie’s blaster, apparently for the first time. Really, in 30-plus years, not once had such a thing happened?

Neill Blomkamp proposed a sequel to Aliens that ignored the franchise continuity from Alien 3 onwards, and picked up where James Cameron’s more beloved sequel left off. Sadly, the offerings we’ve instead had from Ridley Scott suffer from tail-eating-snake in their own logic-supernova ways.

After the leap forward into the Los Angeles of 2019 its 1982 predecessor imagined, Blade Runner 2049 offered little beyond that, conceptually or culturally. Even Deckard had been sitting still in the same abandoned Vegas hotel for the intervening 30 years – again, he literally has not moved.

… and these were projects I looked forward to as much as I dreaded them – because they push the buttons installed in people of my generation.

Worse still: this trend is giving rise to “original” properties that are all about a particular pop culture nostalgia: specifically, where kids in the future are hung up on the entertainment of ’80s. Why would they be? Are kids in 2018 obsessed with the entertainment of 1938? Ready Player One is… well. And this too. And beyond those, symptomatic of this.