The Karate Kid, Sequels, and America

Karate Kid, the remake, is coming out today, and like a million other movies these days, it’s a remake. Since one of America’s principle export these days is its culture, the comparison between art, particularly movies and music, and America’s place in the world is irresistible to me.

In recent times, America has had some real chart toppers and blockbusters. For example, “WWI: new world saving old,” was pretty good. The sequel, “WWII: back to Europe,” was even better. After that, there was another string of successes for the US of A including “The Berlin Airlift” and an under-appreciated thriller, “The Cuban Missile Crisis.” Still though, after that the U.S. has had some trouble creating hits. The Vietnam war? Iraq 2? Not really in keeping with some of its earlier work.

And so now I’ll just go ahead and make explicit this somewhat tepid metaphor I’ve been playing with: is America past its prime? Is it just a dried up old film franchise trying to resuscitate its glory days? Is it any coincidence that the United States’ waning success and lack of progressive achievements corresponds with remakes of the A-team and Karate Kid? Is the U.S. just one big Beverly Hills Cop 4, Lethal Weapon 5, Terminator 5, or Rocky 8 (or whatever number that franchise is on)?

It seems that there is a real convergence between art and politics so that a nation’s best political times fall in line with its best art (but then again Hitchcock made great films before the Civil Rights Act, so there goes that simplistic comparison). But my main concern still stands. The problem with America is that it really did live up to the hype. It was founded for doing great things and it did some really great things, but are we stagnating and just running on the fumes of our past albums and films (figuratively and literally, since as I said, our pop culture industry recycles its tired old themes to keep our foreign exchange up).

But if this pessimistic comparison is natural, then perhaps there is a natural hope too, which I clarified for myself most explicitly by reading a book on film sequels (which I wrote about here). The sequel is an opportunity for a director to question a tradition and to make the film’s very history or existence a problem to be addressed in art. Because a sequel is not freestanding and must answer to themes that came before it, it must, to succeed as art, engage with its history and lineage. But if that’s true of film, then it can be true of America. America has a chance to create some sequels to its past achievements, and this is an opportunity and not just a burden. The opportunity is there to create real political art by reflecting on the past, both good and bad, and to create a new politics that responds to the conditions of our very preeminence in the world. Without this reflection, we will continue to create bad art and in turn, bad politics.


1 Response to “The Karate Kid, Sequels, and America”

  1. June 23, 2010 at 5:44 am

    There is big change in the world right now. Soon in the future The U.S will become the world. “give me your tired your hungry“. Right now art and culture is a little lost within the U.S. We are looking back and bringing up past achievements, but that is rapidly changing. U.S Culture is world culture. Real U.S Culture is Native American Culture. India will play a large part as the setting for our new world arts. Art comes from the power of the human heart and India is setting the stage currently as the leader of mastery of the heart.

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