Karate Kid and Pop Culture
The Karate kid (1984) is a classic coming of age movie that has seeped its way into pop culture. Like most pop culture it evokes relatability that makes it so endearing and ultimately popular amongst people. Daniel Russo is a teenage boy who moves from New Jersey to California after his mom, who is a single mother, loses her job. There are many people growing up with single mothers, many people who have moved and been a fish-out-of-water at their new city, and even more people who don’t have any father figure growing up.
When Daniel is bullied at high school, something a lot of us can relate to, he runs into the apartment complex repairman Mr. Miyagi. Miyagi is a Japanese World War 2 hero and becomes Daniel-san’s mentor and/or father figure. When Miyagi finds out about the bullying he steps in to help Daniel-san. That being said all of this plot has the makings of a pop culture movie. It has the relatability, the emotional pull, and the protagonist you want to win.
There are certain elements from this movie you hear over and over again. Such as wax on wax off that Miyagi used during the training of Daniel for his karate championship against his Bully Johnny. In fact, Ralph Macchio who played Daniel-san was recently interviewed by The Morning Callsaid this,”The Karate Kid” has become so ingrained in popular culture that he recently saw a reference to Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio as “the Ralph Macchio character” in the race.
There was even an episode on the TV show “How I Met Your Mother” in which character Barney Stinson theorized that Larusso won the movie’s tournament with an illegal kick.
People at Comicon’s also dress like the characters from the Karate Kid and even have their own little area for the Karate Kid. Macchio in that same interview had this to say about it, “Macchio also says it “has all the elements of a good movie, on top of that. … And then you have all the pop culture of it all. You know, the ‘wax on, wax off’ and the crane kick and the ‘Put him in a body bag’ or ‘Get a body bag’ — I don’t even remember the line. All I know is that people just yell it out.”
These lines have been carved into our brains ever since watching The Karate Kid and it’s no wonder why they appear in the most unlikely places. The Netflix original series Stranger Things “Chapter Six: The Monster” One of the characters Johnathon gets in a fight with Steve defending Nancy’s honor. Steve definitely gets the raw end of the deal and Johnathan just continues to whale on him with his fists. One of the other kids steps in and says “hey, he’s had enough, man! I said he’s had enough!”
Also the way it’s played out visually is identical to “The Karate Kid” movie when Daniel is beaten up by Johnny after the Halloween dance incident and Bobby yells the exact same thing, “hey, he’s had enough, man! I said he’s had enough!”
There have also been several references to The Karate Kid in Family Guy episodes. “Boops-Dee Bappa Dee — Season 12, Episode 5” Chris rushes home to watch the “The Karate Kid” and then it shoots to a clip of Mr. Miyagi about to help Daniel-san with some performance issues… Of course there’s also “Once Bitten — Season 13, Episode 15” Where we see the family from Family Guy watching T.V. with a more realistic portrayal of “The Karate Kid”. I could go on and on with Family Guy because there are 8 episodes that I know of with Karate kid references alone. If this wasn’t proof enough the Karate Kid is part of pop culture, there is also the character Mr. Miyagi himself.
He has become as well-known as Groot in guardians of the galaxy, but Mr. Miyagi is known for his fly catching, Old-Japanese man wisdom, and karate fighting ways. He is referenced in Family Guy as seen above and many other movies/series. What’s even better is even on an out of media scale Mr. Miyagi is referenced in day to day life. Let me show you what I mean, there are restaurants named after him. There are even memes circulated with other pop culture about Mr. Miyagi.
Mr. Miyagi is a character that will surpass the end of time with his infamous one liners and great advice, but the movie wouldn’t have been complete without music.
The music from the movie that has seeped into pop culture and changed us forever. Every time you hear the song, “You’re the best around” by Joe Esposito you immediately think about Daniel’s Rocky-styled Montage at the Karate Championship. The whole seen was actually a nod to Rocky as the director was also the director for the Rocky movies. The song was originally meant for Rocky 3 soundtrack, but was replaced with “Eye of the Tiger”. So essentially the Karate Kid soundtrack and movie are a nod to Rocky throughout. The song itself is associated with Karate kid and no one can imagine it even being in a Rocky film at this point. After the movie came out “You’re the Best Around” went to the top 100 music on the billboards.
“You’re the best around” has also been in many T.V. episodes as well as live action film, all with a reference pertaining to “The Karate Kid”. Here are a few instances: South Park Season 9, Episode 5 “The Losing Edge”, Futurama Season 3, Episode 22, “30% Iron Chef”, and It’s always Sunny in Philadelphia, Season2, Episode 5, “Hundred Dollar Baby”.
In the South Park episode, it was used as a sped up version of the song during a baseball tournament. Different towns were competing against each other and South Park kept winning because the other towns wanted to lose. Again a reference to “The Karate Kid” montage the end of the film. Then in Futurama’s episode with the song it was used for Bender’s iron chef training. Bender believes he can become the best Iron Chef because he is already 30% Iron. Again it’s a montage that signals back to “The Karate Kid”.
In Always Sunny in Philadelphia they used the song in a similar fashion, a training montage with bottle break, pill popping and much more. It has been used time and time again and has defined the way we view what we are watching and connect it back to the original movie.
Bananarama’s “Cruel Summer” was played when Daniel first moves to California. While Cruel Summer evokes the thoughts of having a miserable Summer without a significant other it also shows how Summers can be hard without friends. Daniel is struggling with this in the movie and although” Cruel Summer “was a popular song before “The Karate Kid” it jumped on the International music charts as soon as the movie came out. It also became the number 9 USA song on the charts after the movie came out, but wasn’t allowed on the soundtrack. And although it wasn’t allowed on the soundtrack it’s still thought to be very much a part of “The Karate Kid” movie.
The Karate Kid is a movie that pop culture not only embraces, but can be proud to claim. From start-to-finish it has so many amazing qualities from one-liners to life lessons. It’s so ingrained into us we don’t have to think about our reference to the movie, we just know what we are talking about.
One last example I would like to leave you with is a Josh Gad interview from Jan. 2014 on the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Half-way through the interview he references a picture of him and his brother that Fallon puts on Television. Josh Gad says that he is getting a lecture from his brother who looks like a Cobra Kai member. Cobra Kai was the karate school that Johnny, Russo’s Bully, goes to. It’s interesting how even today in the most unlikely places you can still see that this movie had such a big impact on culture as we know it.