Cobra Kai and the Middle Age GenXer

Pamela Chan, Editorial/

(An attempt has been made to avoid providing any obvious spoilers.)

How many middle aged adults can say that a film reboot tells the autumn/spring story of their own life?

Even though I am a GenXer, I didn’t watch the Karate Kid movies in the cinema at the time that they were released, and only saw the first film a few years ago when my tweenage son decided to watch it on Netflix.  I didn’t see any of the classic GenX teen films of the era.  16 Candles?  No. Pretty in Pink? No. Breakfast Club? No. What else did I miss? I probably haven’t seen those films either.

The films that defined my teenage years were the French films La Boum and La Boum II, which I saw on TV in Tokyo a few years after they were released. But my story is not the typical story of the average Canadian Gen Xer.

Here we are 30+ years later and two lead Karate Kid actors, who have had 3 decades of life in between, have rebooted the Daniel and Johnny characters.  The stories weave together current times and key moments from the past that provide an important back story.  As the two lead actors  have explained in interviews, they were able to take a fresh look at the original story line and see if it needed to be unpacked from different angles.

By the early 2020s, even the youngest GenXers are well launched into their 40s.  Mid stream GenXers have entered their 50s and people like the two Cobra Kai stars are inching towards 60.  If you were born between the mid ’60s and the late ’70s, this is a time in your life when you might have hit your career stride, just as the character Danny has done with his car dealarship. Maybe you’re a manager, Vice President or CEO.  Or you’re someone who is a leader in your profession.  Or just maybe (and this is not uncommon) you “failed to launch”, as the expression goes, and you were never able to get your foot in the door of the careers in which you were interested.  Perhaps your career took a dramatic dive somewhere around age 40 when, statistically, age related job cuts start to affect women.  Maybe you weren’t able to work your way back into a senior level position.  Men start to feel the squeeze closer to 50, when the average 50 year old man takes two years to replace a job that he has lost.

Middle age is not always smooth sailing.

In the case of the character Johnny, his journey from high school to 50 something has been a string of failures and underwhelming experiences in his adult life. A lot of GenXers can partially or fully relate to the path of life that he’s been on.

As the series progresses, viewers see how there is potential for new starts, fresh failures and on it goes.

In the past decade or so, 80s trends have been revived or reviled in various ways in pop culture.  Flourescent and wild colours; frizzy, big hair and garish makeup; leg warmers; and, goodness knows what other abominations are presented as “this is what the 80s was about”.  “So cringe”, as a Gen Z would say.  In Cobra Kai, the flashbacks to the 80s pull clips from the original movies and show people in more normal looking clothes, while sporting normal looking hair and makeup.  When Johnny listens to music from the 80s, it might not be your favourite genre from that period, but it’s clear that the music is spirited and can really be a pick me up.  It’s well designed for cruising in your car while cranking up the volume and singing along.

Even Prince William, who is a younger Millennial, can get into the idea of revved up 80s music.

“There’s nothing better than, on a Monday morning, when you’re a bit bleary-eyed after the weekend and trying to get yourself back into the grind of the week, listening to AC/DC, ‘Thunderstruck,’” he said. “I have to say the first time I put it on, and I’ve heard it a million times now, I was kind of like, ‘Well, this is quite heavy for a Monday morning.’ But now, when I listen to it, it’s the best tonic for a Monday morning. It absolutely wakes you up, puts your week in the best mood possible, and you feel like you can take on anything and anyone. “I’d imagine you’re going to walk quite fast listening to it, maybe with a skip in your step, with the head-banging. It’s a difficult song not to dance to or to nod along to.”

Have you ever wondered what it would have been like if you could have seen the more technologically advanced future if you were or had been a teenager in the 80s? Early on in the series, Cobra Kai presents a story line, by way of discussing technology usage (I’ll keep it vague), that juxtaposes past and current ideas about how you can communicate.  The story line is cleverly done and allows the viewer to look at current communication trends in a fresh way.  Maybe some of the technology is an improvement but maybe we could also pass on some of it, living in a more old fashioned way, and possibly be happier for it.

News ways are not always better.

Part of revisiting the past involves meeting up with old friends you might not have encountered for decades.  This can be an exciting, enjoyable or stressful experience, depending on how you view your past.  It’s interesting to see how the characters remember the past and how they build new relationships with people from the past.  Except for perhaps one character, the characters have positive experiences. These storylines make you hopeful that in your own life revisiting the past could always be this life enhancing.

Sometimes if you take a risk, you can build a new relationship that is even better than what you had decades before.

The lessons of the Miyagi Do are a core part of the Karate Kid and Cobra Kai story lines.  But there’s more than just Mr. Miyagi’s perspectives that are in focus.  Mid adulthood is a good time to look at your values, how you have been living and what you want to do with your energy and efforts moving forward.

How can you be a mentor to younger people and help them in ways that would have been beneficial to you when you were younger?

The series also highlights the importance of Daniel’s relationship with the older Mr. Miyagi.  In your middle adult years, those older adults who were influential in your life may have passed away.  And of course the actors in the show are remembering fellow actors that are no longer with them now – people with whom they had a relationship when they were growing up.  All of these art immitating life moments add many poignant layers to the show.

There is a dominant theme in the show that you really can’t live in the past – especially if your present isn’t going too well. You’ve got to take the best from the past and use it as a foundation to build your present, while moving forward into the future.

GenerationX has never really been on society’s radar.  But here you have a series that is exploring issues GenXers could be facing now. It would be nice to see a more extended analysis of female characters from the original movies, rather than only cameo performances.  But there’s no space for long diversions in the storyline when it is also focusing on new and younger characters. Cobra Kai is a show that gives a spotlight to GenX – their present and past and what is important to them.  If you ever felt mocked for your taste or perspective, or if you’ve been feeling passed over, this series might put a spring in your step and make you nod your head with some pride and pick yourself up to carry on.

Or maybe Cobra Kai will just be a fun bit of nostalgia that you can watch together with younger viewers who are just in it for the karate and teenagers’ storyline.

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