The real bully in "The Karate Kid" isn't a Cobra Kai — it's that insecure sociopath Daniel LaRusso

He may look sweet and innocent in that image, but he's a stone-cold bully who picks every fight in the film

Scott Eric Kaufman
August 24, 2015 9:57PM (UTC)

In graduate literature seminars across the country, you'll find eager students doing their damnedest to produce superficially clever, "contrarian" readings of works of literature. Part of the reason is how little gold's left in classic works of literature after a century and change of interpretative strip-mining -- and part of it is simply because graduate literature seminars are populated by people heavily invested in being considered clever by their peers.

Reading "against the grain," as the practice is often called, is why Dickens novels in which the narrative vehemently militates against the legitimacy of child labor become cultural artifacts complicit in its perpetuation, or anti-fascist, feminist utopian novels are revealed to be fascist, anti-feminist dystopian fictions.


All of which is only to say that as someone with a Ph.D. in English Literature, I pretty much find these paint-by-number acts of analytic contrarianism just as formulaic as the interpretations they aim to displace. But occasionally I stumble across one so compelling that I'm brought right back to those heady days of reflexive contrarian thinking and all I can do is sit back and start the slow-clap.

Today is one of those days:

Scott Eric Kaufman

Scott Eric Kaufman is an assistant editor at Salon. He taught at a university, but then thought better of it. Follow him at @scottekaufman or email him at

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