A is for Adventure Time and Abe Lincoln: A PRIMER ON LEADERSHIP (Part 3)

Read PART 1 here and  PART 2 here.

Part 3: Abe Lincoln and Leading for the Long Run

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Once way of measuring a good leader vs. a great leader is that a good leader can make most small decisions correctly, but then not be prepared to properly weigh the full impacts of a big decision, which means that even though they make what seems to be the right decision (and might be the one most people want), it isn’t the right decision in the long-run. It takes a lot of thought, experience, and understanding to make a decision like that, or to use that decision to set a principle. As such, I provide an example here:

There is no grievance that is a fit object of redress by mob law. In any case that arises, as for instance, the promulgation of abolitionism, one of two positions is necessarily true; that is, the thing is right within itself, and therefore deserves the protection of all law and all good citizens; or, it is wrong, and therefore proper to be prohibited by legal enactments; and in neither case, is the interposition of mob law, either necessary, justifiable, or excusable.

Those of you who read the title or saw the picture probably guessed that’s Abe Lincoln. You did well. Have some money.

abraham lincoln american dollar banknote cash
Do NOT try to spend this.
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Pictured: A popular law

Now, what’s significant about this quote? Well, a few things. First, it was made in 1838. This wasn’t Lincoln running for president, this was him delivering a speech to the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois as a member of the Illinois House of Representatives. Second, it is, for 1838, HEAVILY anti-slavery. While it’s called “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions,” the title could just as easily have been “Why Slavery Sucks a Big Bag of Donkey Dongs.” It points out that having a law on the books that so much of the country believes was not only wrong but fundamentally immoral made people respect the law less (which any

AisFor3AbolitionistWarning
This was in a free state.

study of prohibition-era America would support, especially since CONGRESS was one of the biggest violators).

The speech also points out that having politicians and pastors making up lies to support a practice they couldn’t ethically defend lowered the bar for who was eligible for holding offices, both legal and communal. It also pointed out that, rather than trying to support their position through legislation or advocacy, both groups just formed mobs to attack the other. This served to allow for slavery advocates to both openly attack their opponents while also claiming to be the “real victims” who are just standing up against the violent mobs. If this sounds familiar, it’s what every group backing something they can’t defend will do.

AisFor3BabyBathwaterBut, as the quote above points out, Lincoln expresses an opinion that neither mob was correct. Sure, he stated slavery was evil and needed to be abolished for multiple reasons. However, he believed that it needed to be abolished through the established process, because to do otherwise would set a dangerous precedent that societal change could only be activated or resisted through mob violence. You can’t undermine the entire legal system just to oppose a law you disagree with, because then you’re destroying something bigger that FORMS THE BASIS OF OUR SOCIETY. You’re not just throwing out the baby with the bathwater, you’re throwing the house off of a cliff into a volcano.

AisFor3FreeStatesMapLater, after Lincoln was elected president, many of his detractors would point out that he promised in his first inaugural address not to interfere with slavery in any current state, and later in a letter to Horace Greeley stated that he considered his paramount goal to save the Union, not to end slavery. In fact, Lincoln was considered only a “moderate” on the issue of slavery for this reason. He only wanted to propose legislation which would prevent it from spreading to any newly-admitted states (the Dred Scott Decision might have hindered this, however, there were work-arounds available that a legal scholar like Lincoln recognized)… because that would eventually result in a supermajority of electors from non-slave states, and without an economic incentive, Lincoln (likely correctly, given how other countries ended it) believed that the country

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Eminent Domain has changed since then…

would be able to have an amendment passed which would end slavery (which would make most slave states wealthy, because that would be a taking, and would result in the government having to buy the slaves at fair market value under eminent domain). Thus, slavery would end more gradually, but under the authority of the existing system, rather than by violent upheaval. Of course, South Carolina had different ideas (which they’d already threatened on several occasions), and then so did 10 other states, and then there was a Civil War that killed 600,000 people and slavery ended through the 13th Amendment which, since the South had essentially no input on, didn’t require any form of payment to slave-holders.

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Learning helps perspective.

Why is paying slave-holders important if slavery is de facto immoral? Well, because, immoral or not (it is), it wasn’t ILLEGAL. No one who owned slaves had broken any laws, and they had an economic reliance on it. Instead of compensating slave owners like Britain did, the post-bellum South basically got punished for rebellion, had most of their wealth removed, lost their voting rights, and caused resentment that didn’t end for… I’ll let you know when it’s over. “But that’s just showing them how the slaves felt,” most people said. Yeah, and when the hell has that ever worked to teach someone a lesson? It just makes them angrier, not more empathetic. The “Reconstruction” Era in which African-Americans managed to finally start gaining public office and representation is usually considered to last 11-13 years. After 13 years of feeling only a fraction of the kind of suppression that black people had felt for centuries, the backlash by white people was so over the top it was barely even addressed properly for another 80 years. This is the kind of thing Lincoln was trying to avoid by looking at the bigger picture before establishing a principle. He wanted to avoid punishing the South because he recognized that it would just make racism and hatred more prevalent. He made this evident by saying in his second inaugural address:

With Malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds.

“But would freeing slaves through eminent domain have been better? It would just have made slave-owners rich” I hear you saying, and also read in W.E.B. Du Bois’s writings.  Yeah, it would. And that’s not fair. But it also would undoubtedly have made the slave states less resentful against black people, since they wouldn’t have been economically and politically devastated, and nothing has suppressed the progress of the Black American more than that resentment and the associated violence (e.g. The Greenwood Massacre, the Wilmington Race Riot, and, oh yeah, lynchings). As to whether or not you can pay someone to not be racist, I state the following: The creator of Sea Monkeys, Harold von Braunhut, was born and raised Jewish, became a member of the Aryan Nation, was outed by a news report as a Jewish man, but was allowed to remain in the Aryan Nation (stated goals include eliminating the Jews) in exchange for donations. Yes, you can pay people enough to get over racism.

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Yes, this contributed to white supremacy. A lot.

While the Republican government didn’t agree, Lincoln took the stance that forgiveness, compensation, education, and time would be better in the long run for relations between the races. But, one play with a bad ending later, the government instead decided to punish the South for rebellion, and all of history played out as it did. If only someone, maybe a tall guy in a hat, had repeatedly warned them that, in the long run, that was a bad idea.

Another example of long-term leadership: During the Civil War, Lincoln was granted war powers by Congress that were likely at least partially unconstitutional. Lincoln himself assumed they were unconstitutional, but attempted to limit them as much as possible. He still used them, but made no attempt to ever take any steps to try and have them fully validated, out of concern that it would grant too much power to future presidents. Given how executive authority has grown since then, it isn’t surprising that this was a concern even in 1860.

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There is a political cartoon for basically every president doing this, I just like this one most.

He also tried to keep others from using the opportunity to wield inappropriate power for political advantage. When General John C. Fremont, the previous Republican Candidate before Lincoln, declared martial law in Missouri in order to advance abolition within the state, Lincoln overruled him, fighting against his own party. However, while many criticized Lincoln for not doing enough to get rid of slavery, showing that he was willing to fight his own party’s reach for power was the right decision: Border state enlistments in the Union Army shot up immediately, ensuring that none of those states would switch to the Confederacy. This was in the Fall of 1861, when that possibility was definitely still in play.

Now, here lies the big issue behind all of this: A lot of people suffered from these decisions. There were the thousands of people imprisoned in the border states for trying to convince the states to join the Confederacy. There were all of the soldiers who were killed fighting to keep together the Union (which Lincoln considered to still include the rebel states, because that way he would not have to enact punitive measures after the war… a bullet kept us from seeing how that would have gone, and instead the South got completely devastated). And, the biggest sufferers, the slaves, who had now been getting the shaft for a few hundred years.

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Unless you believed the Papers in the South.

Many would point out that Lincoln’s plan to get rid of slavery by stopping its expansion probably would have taken longer than it took to actually pass the 13th Amendment. This is almost certainly true, although speculation is naturally… well, speculative. Remember, though they didn’t have as large of a profit off of slavery, 4 states in the Union were still Slave States. So, that means that 14 states were going to probably be voting against it (Maryland was starting to talk about abolition already, so that probably would have happened first). There were 34 states at the time, and West Virginia might not have broken off, so… You’d need 8 more states before you had the 2/3 it takes to ratify an amendment. So, yeah, a lot of time. In real life, we didn’t have 42 states until 1889. That’s another 25 years of slavery, even if it’s in decline (though, it might have happened faster without A CIVIL WAR). But, all of this means that it’s very likely that slaves would have kept suffering for a longer time. And, if you were a slave, this was NOT a good price to pay for “keeping belief in the system strong.” Hell, if you were a slave, you probably didn’t care that much about the system’s existence, since, you know, SLAVERY.

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Reality is brutal.

Here’s the thing that makes me consider Lincoln a great leader: He knew that these people were suffering unjustly. He didn’t blind himself to the reality of it, though I’m sure it’s impossible for anyone who didn’t suffer something like that to fully comprehend it. He took it into consideration, and he still believed that it was better to try and resolve it through the normal course of government, because he thought that was the only way to keep the country united. I don’t think I’m making too big of a leap if I say that there were probably a lot of slaves and abolitionists who would not have agreed with this decision. They probably would have stated that it was better to just end slavery at all costs, for it’s a fundamental evil. And, honestly, I cannot speak against that, because they had no reason to believe that this would be a worse option. And maybe there wasn’t. The problem with history is you only know what happened, not what might’ve.  But, regardless of how bad some of the options may seem, a leader has to make decisions anyway. And a great leader is going to understand the full impact of his decisions to the best of their ability. Lincoln, as much as almost anyone, seemed to be able to see the big picture, even if everyone else couldn’t. He always tried to keep the country going, because he believed that to be the best thing for the long run.

But, what’s the other option? Well, come back tomorrow.

Welcome to the Grouch on the Couch’s ABCs. This will be a monthly series until I can get a rhythm going… and figure out all of the letters. So far, I’ve only got about half.

For some other work by the Grouch on the Couch, check out my reviews. If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

A is for Adventure Time and Abe Lincoln: A PRIMER ON LEADERSHIP (Part 2)

Read PART 1 here.

Part 2: Alternate Tracks- On Leadership and Trolleys

Most of you are probably familiar with the Trolley Problem, and now there’s an episode of The Good Place about it, but, for those who aren’t, here’s the gist:

There is a runaway trolley barreling down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people tied up and unable to move. The trolley is headed straight for them. You are standing some distance off in the train yard, next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the trolley will switch to a different set of tracks. However, you notice that there is one person tied up on the side track. You have two options:

  • Do nothing, and the trolley kills the five people on the main track.
  • Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person.

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What do you do?

It’s a tough question, to be sure, and, originally, it was arguably harder. Here’s the older form of the problem that’s more directly tied to the point of this article:

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Phoenix Wright: Ace Ethicist

Suppose that a judge or magistrate is faced with rioters demanding that a culprit be found for a certain crime and threatening otherwise to take their own bloody revenge on a particular section of the community. The real culprit being unknown, the judge sees himself as able to prevent the bloodshed only by framing some innocent person and having him executed. Is it an ethical course of action? Should you do it anyway?

These are usually phrased as tests of ethics, but they also can, and should, be used as tests for leadership. The difference is what you’re looking for: A perfectly ethical person is not necessarily going to be a great leader, or vice-versa. You’re going to be focused not just on why they reached a conclusion but also how they reached it. Here’s how people will answer:

NON-LEADER

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A non-leader will try to avoid the decision. They’ll try to stay out of it, or they’ll pick the course that requires the least action, because it puts them under the least scrutiny. They don’t want the responsibility. This is usually associated with the answer of “I’ll do nothing, because then it’s not my sin.” People are dead, but you didn’t kill them, so it’s someone else’s fault because you chose not to choose. In Adventure Time, this is the average candy kingdom citizen.

BAD LEADER

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Note: A bad leader is not inherently a bad person, though it often works out that way. A bad leader will put the responsibility on everyone else, but still be the one making the decision and getting the glory when things go right. Why couldn’t the people on the tracks have freed themselves? Why is the mob not listening to reason? In Adventure Time, this is the King of Ooo. Literally. When the first tragedy strikes the Kingdom following his election, he immediately questions whether or not it was his fault (IT WAS), but responds with the eloquent: “Once again, my saintly nature has compelled me, unthinking, to assume the burdens of others. But a true justice demands a true accounting. And truly this is all Bubblegum’s fa-aa-aa-ault!”

GOOD LEADER

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Augustus got results

Note: A good leader is not inherently a good person, though it often works out that way, at least in retrospect. A good leader will have an answer by the time that the switch must be pulled, or the man must be executed. They may not pull the switch, but they will make a decision and take the responsibility onto themselves for the consequences of a person or people dying. They’ll accept the legal challenge for it. They’ll know that they are the one responsible for the death, no matter what. In Adventure Time, this is closer to Bubblegum. She usually makes the decisions, and she takes responsibility for the Candy Kingdom’s welfare and safety. At many times during the series she risks her own life and happiness just to make life better for her citizens, even though they often directly call her a jerk for the way she does it. She may do things that are questionable, but she doesn’t shirk her responsibility to do them.

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She’ll be on the front lines of almost any fight

GREAT LEADER

What makes a great leader is something that has been, and will continue to be, debated without end, but within this framework, I submit that the answer is: Someone who will know they’re not only responsible to the person or people killed, but to all the people who are impacted by it. You’ve just taken away a friend, a lover, a brother or sister, whatever. You had to make that decision, but you also have to accept that there is NOTHING you can say that will justify it to them. You may have saved 10,000 lives at the expense of 1, but you understand that, to the family of that 1, you made the wrong decision, and to the families of the 10,000, they’ll quickly forget it because life moves on. You get less credit than you deserve, and you take more blame than you deserve. That’s part of leadership. You have to understand that, and you have to make the decision anyway. This is a nightmare, and it’s why so few people have the fortitude to do it. Most just have to separate themselves and only accept the responsibility that comes from it immediately.

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One person is never just one person. Five people is never just five.

Part of the consequence of accepting these levels of blame, but the primary benefit of it, is a clarity as to the real impact of the decisions. It is the ability to see the wide effects in both the short-term and the long-term. A “good” leader who accepts the responsibility only for the direct results of their actions is likely only to consider the effects up to the legal and immediate. It’s human nature to not consider as much beyond personal interest. The problem with this is that, even if they make the decision, by not considering the full scope of the effects, or a smaller scope than a better leader would, then that inherently lowers the quality of the decision itself.

Quick reality check: Most of the time, the ultimate decision won’t be changed based on the scope. Small decisions do have relatively limited impact beyond what is immediately apparent, and, ultimately, some amount of decision-making economy compels a limit to how much time someone can consider the issue before making a decision. If a large group of people are making the same decision, then it can become significant, but, that’s a separate issue.

For leadership with larger-scale vision, come back tomorrow.

Welcome to the Grouch on the Couch’s ABCs. This will be a monthly series until I can get a rhythm going… and figure out all of the letters. F*ck you, you try finding 26 topics connected by letters.

For some other work by the Grouch on the Couch, check out my reviews. If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

A is for Adventure Time and Abe Lincoln: A PRIMER ON LEADERSHIP (Part 1)

Part 1: Election Day

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You know this scene. It’s the end of election season. The race is between: a woman with a shady history of international spying, who is surrounded by rumors of potentially huge violence that has mostly been covered up, and who has been part of the entrenched government for basically as long as anyone can remember; and an outsider “businessman” who lies frequently and blatantly, who has a history of immoral activity bordering on the cartoonishly evil, and whose followers range from those who hate the entrenched power to those with an essentially religious devotion to him. While the woman’s supporters can be extremely corrupt, bordering on devilish, the outsider is being helped by a foreign power, even though the businessman might not have directly solicited it. While everyone assumes that the election will go to the woman, even leading her and her supporters to not treat the race all that seriously, the outsider ends up winning!

Congratulations, it’s 2015, and you’ve just watched “Hot Diggity Doom” on Adventure Time! You’ve just witnessed the election for Princess of the Candy Kingdom of Ooo.

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Wait, you thought it was something else? Weird. Well, let’s have a look at the candidates, shall we?

AisFor1BubblegumPantsuitPrincess Bubblegum is the current head of the Candy Kingdom. She is part of the upper class and has been forever, she’s directly responsible for the current state of the Candy Kingdom (which isn’t bad, although the perception is that it is), and she is science-first to the extent that it often offends her “faith-based” magic-using subjects. She also has committed near-complete genocide (of sentient robots), has cameras placed to spy on all of her citizens as well as every foreign government she can (justifying it with “I’m PB, I spy on everybody”), sabotaged the weaponry of a foreign sovereign nation, and literally commands sandworms while referencing her kingdom as an “eternal empire.” If you don’t see the references in the last one, read Frank Herbert’s Dune series: It’s not flattering to her.

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Granted, Paul Atreides definitely went bigger.

AisFor1BubblegumElemental.pngBubblegum is the ultimate representation of entrenched government actors. She seems sweet, but secretly, she’s done things that are objectively horrifying. As the audience, we see why she does them, so we can understand why she’s done things like: Create a psychic monster that could easily have conquered the world, rob a series of artifact sites, force a citizen to sacrifice himself and then clone him to even it out, imprison a small child seemingly forever, abduct another small child, orders the arrest and imprisonment of a ton of completely innocent people, kill dozens of her own sentient creations, uses her own brother as a power source for the kingdom, and, oh yeah, threaten to start wars over personal insults on at least 2 occasions. Hell, when she gets turned into an elemental embodiment of the sanguine temperament (happiness, love, excitement) she ends up trying to enslave the rest of the world OUT OF LOVE. Again, since we see the motivations, most of these things, in context, seem reasonable. But, if you don’t, like most of the candy citizens, it seems like she’s just a scary monster of a woman who shouldn’t be trusted, even if she has kept the kingdom going. Despite this, she has enough faith in the system to believe that her people will do the right thing. After all, they’re “mercurial, but they’re not dillweeds.”

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Pictured: Not Dillweeds?

AisFor1KingofOoo.pngOn the other side is the King of Ooo, her businessman opponent, who is not, in fact, the king of anything. He just calls himself that as a form of self-aggrandizement, which plays well to his followers. Among his statements are “Now, I hear you asking, ‘King of Ooo, how can you be so wise?’ I’ll tell you how. Did you know that I am 8000 years old? Could be.” That’s probably the best statement to sum him up: He makes it sound like his followers are praising him (most of them just don’t like Bubblegum), then he makes up an absurd claim that has no support (he’s actually significantly younger than Princess Bubblegum), and, just to keep people from being able to call him on it, walks the claim back with “could be.” It’s a textbook  way to gain support from the weak (most of the candy kingdom), the desperate (James’s mom), the emotionally driven (Jake the Dog), or the angry (Starchy). Granted, the textbook being more Mein Kampf than How to Win Friends and Influence People. He also goes the absurdist route with “Now, Princess Bubblegum — she says she hasn’t gone rogue. She says she’s not a wild dog thirsty for blood. She says she’s not a literal baby masquerading as an adult woman. She says a lot of things. Princess Bubblegum, you don’t make sense!” This works because, truthfully, Bubblegum doesn’t actually try to talk to any of the regular citizens much. She talks down to them, which just upsets them. Granted, she is significantly smarter than all of them, but most of them are too dumb to know that, and the King of Ooo correctly casts her as being out of touch with the common concerns. Now, it also helps that the King of Ooo is being bankrolled heavily by a foreign power (who is secretly trying to overthrow the Kingdom), which was arranged by his shady campaign manager.

That’s what the people who supported Bubblegum forgot. Even if the King of Ooo doesn’t actually care about the people, and he is just a conman seeking power and fame despite his absolute lack of qualifications for them, he does at least address the things that the citizens care about that the entrenched power appears to be ignoring. For example, the fact the Bubblegum banished a citizen for mutating himself to save her (his mother misses him, something Bubblegum clearly never considered).

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The Sad Mrs. James

Sure, James, the now-mutant, was annoying and knew what he was signing up for when he agreed to work for the kingdom, but that doesn’t make it any easier on his loved ones. It’s a tough balance to strike, but anyone who wants to be a leader cannot completely disregard how their citizens will feel about their actions, even if they’re necessary to take anyway. Bubblegum shows little to no respect for the feelings of the candy people, saying only “Trehh! Boo,” and believing that being right is the only thing that matters, even if she’s perceived (justifiably) as being a criminal, out-of-touch, or uncaring. While the King of Ooo may be an open criminal (to the point that he threatened a child, admits he did it, claims that he is now sorry, and everyone should move on), extremely stupid, and a bit racist against non-candy people (though he himself is made of earwax), he at least pretends to listen to the concerns of the people that Bubblegum ignores. In that way, he’s gaming the system better than Bubblegum, because he knows it’s about the image, not the reality.

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The King of Ooo, reclining on a child he tried to orphan, in order to win points.

After she loses, Bubblegum snaps a bit. She comes down from her tower, finally, and calls all of the people dillweeds. She tells the King of Ooo that he is a dillweed, his shady secretary that he is a dillweed, and that the mysterious foreign backer that the secretary brought in to help is a dillweed. “[Y]ou’re going to dillweed this place into the ground!”

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She then turns on the citizens for voting him in, only to stop with a horrifying realization:

They actually ARE too stupid to know a good leader from a bad one.

Moreover, that she’s the reason they’re that stupid. She has been ruling the kingdom forever. She literally made these people and runs the education system that’s supposed to make them able to make good decisions. She is the entrenched power. She kept them stupid because it was easier to deal with and rule over the stupid (we later find out this is because the smart inevitably try to overthrow her for their own selfish reasons). This is the punishment that the entrenched power has earned itself by a failure to realize its own vulnerabilities and duties to the citizenry. Ultimately, they don’t see her ruling as objectively good, only a sum of morally-questionable actions, and they want change at any cost, not realizing how much that cost will be. She even has the sad realization that “it’ll probably take a really long time for the candy people to realize a bad ruler is worse than a good ruler.” Essentially, Bubblegum has done this to herself.

And that’s the issue with entrenched power: It benefits from a less-active, less-observant, and less-informed population… for a while. Usually, right up until the population starts to actually grow seriously dissatisfied with the entrenched power. Then, sh*t’s gonna go South for them, because you now have a less-informed population picking between “same-old thing” and “anything else,” and they might pick “anything else” regardless of its form. In fact, they might just search for the thing that least resembles “same-old thing,” forgetting that some of the qualities of the entrenched power are not negative. In fact, they might be necessary to be a good leader.

So, how do you pick a good leader? Come back tomorrow.

Welcome to the Grouch on the Couch’s ABCs. This will be a monthly series until I can get a rhythm going… and figure out all of the letters. F*ck you, you try finding 26 topics connected by letters.

For some other work by the Grouch on the Couch, check out my reviews. If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Trying Something New

As some of you know, I had a busy three weeks recently, so I’m a little low on buffer. As such, the only one who will be putting anything out this week (aside from Firefly Friday, I know better than to disappoint Browncoats) will be my counterpart, the Grouch on the Couch. It’s not exactly a review, so enjoy a little change of pace. Everything will go back to normal next week, though, so no panicking.  The first piece goes up today, and I think it runs through Saturday. Have fun!

 

Firefly Fridays – Episode 7: “Jaynestown”

So, this was the fourth episode aired, but it was also the first one after the show was pre-empted for baseball, something that definitely didn’t help with Fox’s reputation amongst the fanbase. But, whatever, on with the review!

SUMMARY:

FireflyEp7SimonKaylee
Have good sex… Seriously, you two.

In the beginning, Simon and Kaylee are talking about Simon’s language; specifically, that he doesn’t swear. Simon insists that he does, just only when appropriate. Inara passes by on her way out of the ship, to which Kaylee wishes her “good sex.” The pair are then interrupted by Jayne destroying the infirmary looking for tape so that he can conceal a gun on his person, only to be told by Mal that there will be no guns on the planet. Jayne mentions that he has enemies on the planet, which Simon sarcastically questions, but Mal insists on going in unarmed.

The ship lands in Canton, a town that harvests mud for manufacture of high-grade ceramics using indentured labor. In an attempt to spend more time with him, Kaylee suggests that Simon should come along. Mal agrees, saying that Simon could easily pass for a rich man looking to buy mud, which will divert attention. Book offers to watch after River while Simon’s off the ship.

The land-crew, consisting of Wash, Simon, Mal, Kaylee, and a disguised Jayne, wander into the Mudding Pits, only to find a statue of Jayne which people have clearly been treating as an altar, lighting votive candles and leaving gifts. Simon, proving his word, can only mutter “son of a bitch.”

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Jayne says he has no idea what the statue is about, as the last time he was in Canton he committed a robbery that “went South,” which he imagines the Magistrate is still pissed about. At that same moment, Inara is meeting with the Magistrate (Gregory Itzin), who wants her to solve a problem for him.

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If the problem doesn’t go away after 4 hours… Keep Inara around.

Back on Serenity, River is “fixing” Book’s Bible. She’s attempting to solve the scientific impossibilities of the Garden of Eden by incorporating “non-progressional evolution” and Noah’s Ark with quantum-state phenomena. Book states that “you don’t fix faith, it fixes you.”

ILoveLucyTaste
Same great taste!

In a Canton Bar, the group is trying “Mudder’s Milk,” the single greatest alcoholic beverage ever created: It’s proteins, carbs, and vitamins, described as “your grandma’s best turkey dinner,” plus 15% alcohol. Why do I love this so much? IT’S BASICALLY VITAMEATAVEGAMIN!!!! Only with less alcohol. Simon points out that Mudder’s Milk is basically the same as the beer they gave slaves in Ancient Egypt to keep them from malnutrition, because why be subtle?

Mal finds out that the man they were supposed to meet was killed a few days prior, so they need another way to get the merchandise across town without being detected by the Magistrate. They’re then interrupted by a man playing a god-honest folk-song about Jayne called “The Hero of Canton.” The song explains the hero-worship, explaining that when he was here previously, Jayne robbed a large amount of money from the Magistrate, then dumped the money over all of the poor mudders of Canton. Jayne explains to the crew that when he stole the money, his ship got hit by a missile, and so he had to dump all of the money in order to escape. It was completely unintentional.

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This must be what going mad feels like.

Back on Serenity, in one of the best short gag scenes in the series, River is trying to apologize to Book, saying that she “tore these [pages] out of your symbol and they turned into paper.” Book, who’s using the sink, turns around with his hair unbound from his usual ponytail, and reveals himself. I’m gonna put a picture in here, because I think the only verbal description is that he looks like a cross between that photo of Einstein sticking his tongue out, a man getting electrocuted, and John Legend in the year 2065. River, naturally, runs away screaming. Zoe comes to see what happened and is similarly taken aback by his hair.

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As the crew leaves the bar they are confronted with a crowd who now recognizes Jayne as their hero. Jayne is quickly mobbed, while Mal tries to figure out how to use this to their advantage.

Inara is on her shuttle when the Magistrate brings in his “problem,” his son, who is 26 and a virgin. Inara, annoyed by the Magistrate’s attitude, convinces him to leave the pair alone.

At the bar, Simon and Kaylee are getting drunk and somewhat flirty. Mal tries to get them to leave, but Kaylee insists things are “going well,” which Mal correctly interprets and leaves them to their drinks.

FireflyEp7SimonKayleeDrunk
Hamsters come up as a topic. Because they’s nice.

On Serenity, River is hiding under the stairs, saying “They say the snow on the roof was too heavy. They say the ceiling will cave in. His brains are in terrible danger.” I consider these lines nothing short of brilliant. Book asks her to come out, to which she explains: “I can’t. Too much hair.” Book tries to explain that it’s part of his vows, but Zoe just tells River that he’s putting the hair away. Wash and Mal return, explaining the Jayne situation to an incredulous Zoe. Mal plans on having Jayne be at a celebration in his honor in the town, which should distract everyone enough to transport the cargo.

That night, Inara and the Magistrate’s son, Fess (Zachary Kranzler), talk, with Inara insisting that he be more confident in himself. At the same time, the Magistrate releases the partner Jayne abandoned four years ago, sending him to attack Jayne.

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Ya blew it

The next morning, Jayne’s still basking in his own glory, and Simon and Kaylee wake up together, resulting in Simon saying something exceptionally stupid and offending her. She insists he stay in the bar, because “that’s the sort of thing that would be appropriate.” The “ya blew it” look Mal gives him after is perfect. Inara wakes up with Fess, who explains that he’s going to be helping his father get revenge on a hero who thwarted him. Inara starts to defend Mal, only to find out that it’s actually Jayne, something that leaves her flabbergasted. God, I love an opportunity to use that word. Fess reveals that the Magistrate has grounded Serenity.

Jayne’s old partner, Stitch (Kevin Gage), attacks Simon and cuts his arm when he tries to avoid telling him where Jayne is. The crew transfers the cargo successfully. Jayne gives a short, somewhat decent, speech to the mudders before being confronted by Stitch who tells everyone the truth about what Jayne did. Stitch tries to kill Jayne, but one of the mudders who has been idolizing Jayne most jumps in front of him and is killed. Jayne proceeds to beat Stitch to death with the base of his own statue. Jayne tells the crowd that there are no heroes. There are just “people like [him].” With that, he destroys his statue.

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With the help of Fess, the crew takes off. Book goes to talk to River who is highlighting a Bible. She tells him to “Just keep walking, Preacher man.” Simon and Kaylee flirt again, with Kaylee pointing out that his manners don’t mean anything in their position, but Simon insists that’s how he’s respectful. She then makes a joke about them sleeping together to mock him.

The episode ends with Mal and Jayne sitting together, and Jayne remarking that it’s stupid for the man who died for him to have done so, and that they’re probably putting the statue back up. Mal agrees, but tells Jayne:

“It’s my estimation that…every man ever got a statue made of him, was one kind of sumbitch or another. Ain’t about you, Jayne. About what they need.”

Jayne closes the episode saying, “Don’t make no sense.”

END SUMMARY

FireflyEp7RailroadStrike
Railroad strikes were fun

Alright, so, this episode again highlights a big theme of Firefly: The inequity of the system of government. In Canton, the Magistrate holds all of the workers in indentured servitude. It’s even a selling point for the mud. The Foreman flat-out says: “We have over 2000 workers, mostly indentured. We pay them next to nothing, that way we can pass the savings directly to you, the customer.” Basically, they’re advertising “hey, we force people to live in terrible conditions to enhance profits.” Now, many people might point out that this is similar to the business model of [insert almost any major corporation], but the difference in Canton is that the Magistrate is the one in charge of this and also the one who has legal right to enforce debts. It’s basically like if Wal-mart had a private army keeping their workers in the store… or if this were the railroad and mining conglomerates of the 1800s and early 1900s.

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This automated planter exists

However, while watching this episode, one other aspect of the society in Firefly becomes apparent: There’s almost no automation within the series. While we know that computers are capable of auto-piloting spaceships, we don’t see some of the basic automated processes we see emerge in the present, like crop-sprayers or self-driving harvesters. The focus of this episode is on “mudders,” literally people who farm mud, something that lends itself readily to being done by machines. And yet, somehow, slave-ish labor is apparently the way they choose to do things. There are only 3 ways this makes sense:

Option 1 is if indentured servitude is cheaper than automation. Given that the workers A) constantly are trying to undermine the Magistrate and B) appear to only work during the day, this seems unlikely. It’s not like it’d take a complicated mechanism to harvest mud and, as evidenced by the very existence of the Serenity’s engine, near-limitless power is not particularly expensive in the future. I can’t imagine it costs less to feed, clothe, govern, etc. the mudders than to upkeep some machines. Since the Magistrate is rich and able to both import and manufacture goods (as shown by his home), there’s also no scarcity of materials issue.

FireflyEp7Lenore
Yeah, she’s a sexbot

Option 2 is if the Union of Allied Planets has banned robotics. This actually seems probable, since the only robot I remember from the series is Mr. Universe’s (presumably illegal) robot bride. The only problem is that banning AI or humanoid robotics wouldn’t likely prevent the kind of mechanisms required for harvesting mud. It’s not like you need to be able to process emotions or quantum physics to figure out “check how muddy this mud is. If it’s muddy enough, collect it. If not, muddy it more.” It’s at this point I should reveal that I’m not 100% sure what the mudders actually do, since they don’t actually make the ceramics, but I can assume it involves purifying the material and making it the appropriate chemical composition to be made into ceramic plating. Pretty much no matter what, it seems like a relatively simple set of algorithms could handle it, compared to the ones required for INTERPLANETARY TRAVEL. To those of you who would point out that interplanetary travel is not as complicated when you don’t have to account for fuel… yeah, okay, but it’s still a lot of math to figure out the closest routes based on orbitals and such, or routes that don’t intersect with certain territories, so shut up you pedants.

Option 3, and probably the actual reason, is that many of the members of the Alliance, like the Magistrate, thrive on preserving their status. For the Magistrate to be wealthy and authoritative on his moon, he has to make sure that no one else on the moon ever has any wealth or authority. Power only exists in relative terms, after all. Even though pseudo-slavery might not be the most economically viable model for the Magistrate to be rich and powerful on an Alliance-wide scale, it makes sure that he’s the most powerful man on his little moon. I’m sure there’s an analogy one could make to certain historical models of government or society where people were kept in an intentionally deprived state for the claimed purpose of easier economic exploitation but might instead have been based more heavily around preserving a power structure by suppression of a large group, but my slavish attempts to name one have been feudal.

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And, really, this is somehow one of the most ridiculous and yet one of the most understandable aspects of the Firefly future: People have shitty lives entirely because the Alliance wants them to have shitty lives. This is the future. Energy is now post-scarcity (though not to the Star Trek level). Interplanetary shipping is part of life. Asteroid mining is stated to exist repeatedly. There are dozens of planets worth of resources and finding more is no longer a ridiculous concept. Everyone should basically have all of their base needs met at all times, just because it would be easy to provide them. The starting point in a future society with this level of resources should be above safety on the hierarchy of needs, and yet it’s often below physiological, with people dying from lack of medicine or adequate shelter, and a huge percentage of the population not being “burdened with an overabundance of schooling,” despite the fact that they have an interplanetary internet. Even without knowing that the government experimented on River in a completely unethical and immoral way, the state of the future speaks volumes as to their cruelty.

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River and religion is just a very funny aside for me. It’s a perfect point-counterpoint when she’s trying to make the Bible into a scientifically viable, logical system, something that Book, accurately, states is not the point of faith. Faith is supposed to make you better through your interactions with something bigger than yourself.

Overall, I love this episode. It’s not in the top-tier for me, but it’s a damn good hour of television. The idea that Jayne, literally the LEAST moral member of the crew, becomes a folk hero through complete happenstance is hilarious, but the message at the end is really what makes the episode for me:

The truth of a person isn’t what people need. They need the idea.

Jayne himself even says that there aren’t really heroes in the world, that there are only people like him, who do good through failing at their own selfishness. But, in the end, the mudders need someone to believe in. They need something to unite them, so they can keep going. They even point out that the only things they’ve ever been able to beat the Magistrate on was to keep the money they believed that Jayne gave them and to keep up the statue of Jayne. Those were the two things that convinced them to have a riot serious enough to defeat the administration. And maybe one day they’ll believe in the story of Jayne enough to unite and change their circumstances again for the better. You’d think they’d realize they could do that based on the fact that their riots actually forced the Magistrate to change his mind, but history says people in oppressed groups often take a while to hit their breaking point. However, faith in a focal figure also helps, since interaction with something bigger than yourself can make you better… oh, wait, I said that already. Weird.

Also, the “Ballad of Jayne Cobb” should have gotten certified gold.

Score: 4.0 Fireflies (or 1 Jug of Mudder’s Milk)

FireflyEp7Scale

See you next Friday, Browncoats.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

 

Reader Request: Riverboat (The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.)

This was an interesting request to get, since it both didn’t come through the request page and also is a bit of a random choice for an episode within a random choice of a series.

BriscoCountyEp6ArmyOfDarkness
I dunno what my favorite is…

Readers of this page will be aware that I consider Bruce Campbell to be an amazing actor, and this is… well, nowhere near the best show he’s done, but it’s still a really fun series. When I first watched this show when I was 6, it blew my mind. It had action, humor, cowboys, sci-fi, chins, gunfights, bowler hats, you name it. But, it also got cancelled after a season, didn’t really get re-run at all, and, honestly, I forgot about it until I was in college. I’m surprised it isn’t streaming on any service currently, since this is exactly the kind of series that you should binge-watch, but I guess Fox wants too much money for it.

BriscoCountyCastSo, here’s the premise of the series: It’s 1893 and a gang of outlaws led by John Bly (Billy Drago) are captured by legendary lawman Brisco County (R. Lee Ermey, RIP). However, on the way to their trial, the gang escapes, killing County. At the same time, nearby, a strange Orb is discovered, which appears to grant supernatural powers to people who touch it. The newly-freed Bly shows interest in the Orb. Wishing to prevent Bly from getting the Orb and running amok through the West, a group of Robber Barons, usually called the members of the Westerfield Club in San Francisco, hire County’s son, Brisco County, Jr. (Bruce Campbell), a Harvard-educated lawyer who is now a bounty hunter, to track down Bly and his gang. To track his progress, the Barons assign timid lawyer Socrates Poole (Christian Clemenson) to act as a go-between and assistant to County. Other recurring characters include: Lord Bowler (Julius Carry), a rival bounty-hunter who usually teams up with County at the end of the episode; Professor Albert Wickwire (John “I was the bad guy in all the Killer Tomatoes sequels” Astin), a scientist who usually creates steampunk inventions that drive the episodes; and Dixie Cousins (Kelly Rutherford), a singer and con artist who is Brisco’s main love interest.

Now that you know all that, forget most of it, because this episode’s mostly a standalone. If you’re wondering why I bothered to write that whole summary if most of it doesn’t apply, that’s because 2 more episodes of this show have since been requested, and I’m gonna copy-paste when I get to them.

BriscoCountyEp6RollSafe.jpg

SUMMARY

BriscoCountyEp6BrettBones.pngThis episode begins with Brisco receiving a telegram from Socrates asking for help. Brisco finds his assistant in jail in Gateway, Louisiana, having been gambling… poorly. In fact, it turns out that Poole had been entrusted with a large amount of money by the Robber Barons to buy a plantation and ended up losing it. However, Poole says that he’s been cheated and refused to pay, which resulted in him being thrown in the hoosegow. It turns out the gambler who beat him is Brett Bones (Xander Berkeley), a member of John Bly’s gang. Brisco forms a plan to get him out of jail and to get Bones at the same time.

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Clothes make the man

Brisco dons a typical Western gambler’s outfit and the name Roscoe Merriweather and introduces himself to Bones as a man looking for a poker game. At the time, a young man named Wylie Turner (Montae Russell) shows up with the law looking to have Bones arrested for murdering his brother. It turns out, however, that Bones has a pardon for all crimes signed by the Governor of Louisiana. Brisco agrees to meet with Bones on his riverboat later.

Brisco returns to town, only to find Wylie being attacked by several men. Brisco saves him and finds out that Wylie’s brother was killed by Bones because the Turner Brothers had invented a new fabric. They tried to sell it, but it’s Bones’s town and he wanted his cut. They refused, he committed murder with seeming impunity. The fact that the Turners were black and this is Louisiana in 1893 never comes up as why he might have done so. He sends Wylie to town while he goes to confront Bones.

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Bowler vs. Dynamite. Good names.

On the Riverboat, Brisco cheats at cards to beat Bones, earning Socrates’s freedom. He returns to his hotel room to find an unconscious Wylie and Bones’s henchman Mr. Hatchet (Don Stroud), who knocks Brisco and Poole out and takes back the money. Brisco decides they are going to have to bankrupt Bones if they stand a chance of getting rid of him, so he wires the Robber Barons for $50,000 and calls in Lord Bowler, offering to pay him to win a boxing match against one of Bones’s goons. Bones’s boxer, Dynamite Sullivan, is approached by Wylie in secret, offering him a role as a boxer “on the circuit” if he takes a dive against Bowler. Brisco places a large wager on Bowler against Bones. Sullivan proceeds to take a dive on the first punch, but Bones can’t cover his bet, which Brisco publicly calls out to Bones’s ire.

Dixie arrives in town to see Bones and almost blows Brisco’s cover. Brisco goes to the riverboat to collect the money but is captured and tied to a giant wheel of fortune for Mr. Hatchet to chuck his namesake at. Brisco manages to escape in the nick of time, then sends Socrates to Bones acting as a rat. Socrates proposes that Bones makes a large wager on a re-match between Bowler and Dynamite which would bankrupt Brisco’s character. Brisco and Dixie have a fight which Bones overhears.

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Nana nana nana nana nana nana nana nana BRISCO!

Bowler is excited for a rematch until he finds out that the first fight was fixed, but Brisco offers him enough money to stay in. Bones grills Dixie about Brisco’s true identity, which she ends up divulging. That night, Bones has secretly moved the fight onto the riverboat to keep Brisco from capturing him. Despite getting the living crap kicked out of him, Bowler actually manages to stay standing for the full 12 rounds of the fight and even knocks Dynamite out. While everyone is focused on the fight, Brisco and Dixie sneak away and take over the bridge of the ship. As Bowler stands victorious, Dixie pulls the boat over onto the side of the river… in Mississippi, which makes Bones’s pardon useless. As Bones is taken away, he finally loses his calm, collected façade and screams at Brisco. Brisco and Dixie part ways until next time, and Brisco and Poole ride away discussing the new fabric that Brisco bought from Wylie: Denim.

END SUMMARY

BriscoCountyEp6Sting.jpgThis is not my favorite episode of the show and it doesn’t quite have the steampunk and more overtly anachronistic elements of most of the episodes. However, what it does have is that it’s a tribute to The Sting, which is one of my favorite movies, and to Maverick, a great show starring James Garner whose best episode inspired The Sting. At one point, a riff from “The Entertainer,” the Scott Joplin theme song to the movie is heard. Brett Bones’s name is a reference to Bret Maverick, from the latter show, and Brisco’s outfit in the episode is a tribute to Brett’s usual attire.

Brisco’s plan is basically a nested series of gambits in order to eliminate Bones’s immunity, including everything that Bones believes he has learned which gives him an advantage. This is a traditional aspect of a high-level con, feeding information to the mark from a seemingly-adversarial source in order to force them to take actions they think are undermining the con, but are actually playing into it. Similarly, it’s a common strategy to humiliate the mark, especially if they’re a big shot, in order to make them more desperate to beat the con.

BriscoCountyEp6Oceans11
This episode still makes more sense than a major movie franchise

While there aren’t a huge number of anachronisms in the episode, the reveal at the end that denim is the brothers’ invention is, since denim had been invented more than 50 years before the episode in France (fun fact: Denim is short for de Nimes, a French city), and Levi Strauss had begun marketing denim jeans in 1873. Also, while Boxing with gloves existed in 1893, Bowler’s dancing style wouldn’t really come into being for 60 years. “The Entertainer,” too, is an anachronism, as it wasn’t written until 1902.

This episode also contains one of the more elegant and bloodless captures of the 10 members of the Bly gang. This matches up with the typically more peaceful tone of Maverick compared to the other westerns of the time, which helped at the time of the show’s original run, since parents’ groups were complaining about the show’s violence. Brisco even makes a point of not carrying his gun in this episode.

Overall, I do really like this episode, and I think it might have wider appeal than many other episodes of the show. Give it a watch sometime. Like, now.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

COBRA KAI: Strike First, Strike Hard, Be Awesome (SPOILER-FREE)

SpoilerFree

What if the key moment in your life has passed? What if there was one thing that defined everything that came after it and could never be overridden? This isn’t an idle question, it’s probably something that everyone addresses at some point in their lives. Well, Cobra Kai manages to address it on several levels, and I’ll be damned if that isn’t impressive for a show that’s a spin-off of one good movie with two terrible sequels, one decent sequel, a weird animated series, and a re-make that didn’t have karate in it. Especially since Pat Morita (Mr. Miyagi), sadly passed away in 2005.

SUMMARY

CobraKaiYoungDanielJohnny
1984

The show starts 34 years after the original Karate Kid. Johnny Lawrence (William “I have a well-deserved Academy Award nomination” Zabka), the “bad guy” from the movie is now a stereotypical unemployed drunk. He’s a little racist, a little sexist, is divorced with a kid he never sees, has almost no comprehension of any technology after 1995, and definitely does not care about being politically correct, or kind, with anything he says.

CobraKaiDanielJohnny
2018

On the other side of town is our “hero,” Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio), who has made it big. He’s married to a beautiful woman, Amanda (Courtney Henggeler), with whom he has a successful luxury car dealership and two children. His wife is notably not Ali (Elisabeth Shue), the girl he fought over with Lawrence, who dumped him before Karate Kid II to go travel through time and get nominated for an Oscar. Daniel advertises himself heavily as being a martial artist and offers a bonsai tree with every sale at his dealership. And, of course, he still talks like he’s Ralph Macchio.

Basically, through a series of unlikely events in the first episode, the two get thrown back into contact with each other, leading Lawrence to decide to restart the Cobra Kai dojo (which has been shut down since Karate Kid III, though Johnny left after the first movie). He takes in a kid from his building who is the chronic target of bullying, much like Daniel from the original film, and starts to mentor him in the ways of Cobra Kai. This, naturally, infuriates Daniel, who hates Cobra Kai for… well, you’d think it’d be for basically trying to brainwash and kill him in the third movie, but it seems like it’s mostly just for bullying him all the time 30 years ago. They keep escalating their rivalry throughout the season.

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END SUMMARY

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Barney knows heroes

Now, in the past 30 years, a lot has been said about The Karate Kid, and surprisingly a lot of it has been on Johnny’s side. There’s a theory that has been gaining traction about how Daniel is, in fact, the bad guy of the movie. How I Met Your Mother had a fairly long rant by Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris) about how Johnny Lawrence is the “real Karate Kid.” A lot of this is because Daniel is kind of dickish, and a little bit because one of the only rules stated at the karate tournament in the movie is “NO KICKS TO THE HEAD,” meaning Daniel’s famous “Crane Kick” was illegal. The show itself even points this out right away, though Daniel implies that the judges allowed it to balance out Johnny’s “elbow to the leg” right before it.

It also helps that Johnny comes off as being abused by his sensei, John Kreese (Martin “I’m Lorenzo Lamas’s Brother” Kove), especially since Kreese proceeds to try to beat the crap out of Johnny for losing, while Johnny hands Daniel the trophy. But the nature of the two boys isn’t the only thing.

Some culture commentators, including writer of “John Dies at the End” David Wong, have pointed out that the Karate Kid is a movie that fundamentally undermines any realities of hard work by showing Daniel going from bad at something to good at something with almost no work whatsoever, because we only see the training montages. While Wong includes a shot at the Rocky sequels in his article, I’d counter that Rocky was already a professional boxer when he did his montages, so at least we knew he already had all of the basics down, he’s just elevating his game. Also, Rocky loses, Daniel doesn’t, and one of them is f*cking Rocky!

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THESE ARE NOT COMPARABLE
CobraKaiBoat
Is the water made of steroids?

Daniel LaRusso, in under two months of training while still attending school, manages to win a karate tournament against Cobra Kai, people who have been doing karate for years. Johnny had been doing it for 6 years at that point, 1/3 of his life. Now, I love Mr. Miyagi as much as the next guy (God rest you, Pat Morita), but that’s logistically impossible even if Daniel is some kind of prodigy who was in good shape to begin with. Hell, the Karate Institute of America doesn’t allow someone to be eligible for a Black Belt (although apparently the All-Valley doesn’t require a Black Belt, Johnny is one) unless they’ve been enrolled for 36 continuous months, because of-f*cking-course they don’t. It’s not that “guy who practiced most always wins,” but it’s “no one attains mastery in any complex skill in a few weeks.”

People complain about Luke Skywalker being able to fight with Darth Vader after only training with Yoda for a few months in The Empire Strikes Back, but 1) Vader toys with him for most of the fight and 2) that involves the Force which is basically magic. Harry Potter goes to school for 6 years, he only beats Voldemort through tricking him into killing himself, and that series involves actual magic.

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More realistic than The Karate Kid.

So, yeah, over the years, people have formed surprisingly strong opinions about who the bad guy is in The Karate Kid, and what’s good and bad about the movie. What’s great about Cobra Kai is that this show clearly listened to all of that, and came to the conclusion: “Eh, they’re both just people hung up on the past.” And that’s absolutely the best thing they could do, because it let them make a show that is more nuanced than “Johnny bad, Daniel good” or vice-versa.

Johnny is the guy who is hung up on his past failures, believing that he was cheated out of his future and the love of his life, Ali (who, incidentally, is not his ex-wife), by a kid who showed up out of nowhere, stole his girl and rendered all of his efforts at karate meaningless. He left the dojo and his mentor, and since then, he has had no direction. He isn’t on the path he was carving for himself, and he doesn’t know who he is without it. As the show progresses, he starts to clean up his act because re-starting Cobra Kai gives him purpose.

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Clearly, he’s totally over the ’80s. 

Meanwhile, Daniel, while definitely objectively more successful, is also caught in the past. His self-image is almost entirely derived from the events of the first movie, which, again, were more than 30 years ago. The things he likes: Karate, sushi, luxury cars, and bonsai trees, are all just things that Mr. Miyagi liked. He thinks he knows himself, but, really, he’s just been trying to carve himself into the image that he believes Mr. Miyagi would have wanted. He still feels lost without Miyagi’s guidance, despite now being FOUR YEARS OLDER THAN PAT MORITA WAS IN THE ORIGINAL (feel old yet?).

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This totally screams “I’m a legitimate businessman in my 50s”

Miyagi was his surrogate father, but he also never really learned the truth about Miyagi’s lessons on balance and bonsais: You need to learn the lessons of your elders and appreciate their guidance, but you still need to be your own man. Oh, and he’s still a little hung up on Ali, despite not having seen her in 30 years and having been married for 20 (awkward). At the same time, Daniel’s family has its own issues, partially because his children don’t do Karate, which was his own father figure’s primary way to relate to him, and partially because he still feels he needs a mentor to answer his questions. However, as he finds his own students, he becomes more of a master himself.

The fact that both of them are still so mired in the past is also reflected in the fact that they are both unable to really be mature about anything related to each other. They’re two men, in their f*cking 50s, who are almost instantly driven to blows over petty bullshit that could easily be talked out or ignored. At several points, other, more actually mature, characters seem to find the entire situation ridiculous, and they’re entirely correct to do so. The fact that the kids in the show mirror what they’re doing makes it even more obvious that their behavior is childish.

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Reminder: THEY’RE BOTH FATHERS. Daniel’s even a pretty decent one.

This is carried over on the meta-level with the stars of the show: William Zabka and Ralph Macchio. Both of these men are remembered mostly for roles they played more than 20 years ago. Now, to be fair, Macchio’s natural youthful looks allowed him to play Vincent Gambini’s early-20s nephew when he was 31 in My Cousin Vinny, and Zabka co-wrote and produced an Oscar-nominated Short Film in the 2000s, but, let’s be honest, you mostly remember them from The Karate Kid. They’re two people whose identity is tied up with… well, the movie that they’re now making a show about. Their lives have basically constantly been tied back to that film and, while they’re both good sports about it, it’s likely not been helpful to their careers that audiences have a hard time not envisioning them as those characters.

How I Met Your Mother
Some other actors have managed to survive child roles, though.

There’s also a bit of an extended meta-commentary on the idea that society is too hung up on old stories and old ideas, even ones that weren’t really that amazing, to the point that it’s slowing down our growth, but, frankly, nothing about wanting to revive mediocrity is new, even within television and movies. They revived Leave It to Beaver in the 80s, guys. They made a sequel series to The Likely Lads. What the hell is The Likely Lads, you ask? Exactly. Does it set us back a little that we make it so much more marketable to play to youth-colored nostalgia than to show us something exciting? Yeah, it absolutely does, but it’s not inherently bad to be nostalgic, and not all revivals, re-boots, or re-imaginings are bad. It’s good to re-address old ideas and concepts, especially if you can put a new twist on them or change them to better reflect Hell, this show’s an example of that. It’s just about balance, which brings me to the show’s big, brilliant point and why everyone should watch it.

Unfortunately, I can’t talk about that point without spoilers, so go watch the damn thing, then click below. First Episode’s free here:

Continue reading COBRA KAI: Strike First, Strike Hard, Be Awesome (SPOILER-FREE)