It's the classic scenario. You are the new kid in the neighborhood and you've made friends quickly. The ‘move' isn't starting to seem so bad after all. There's even a cute ‘someone' who has taken an interest in you. You're all smiles and giggles at the new prospects and direction your life is going in.

Then the bubble bursts.

A stranger comes out of nowhere and confronts you with an aggression that catches you by surprise. That's if you're lucky. Sometimes you upset an entire group of people and then you've got major problems on your hands. A person who is confronted with this type of aggression often wonders what have they done to deserve such treatment.

This is the underlying theme in The Karate Kid starring Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan and Taraji P. Henson. As the new kid from the Detroit, transplanted to China, he is forced to find his way in an environment that is as foreign to him as he is to it. He is quickly befriended by a boy named Harry and catches the attention of a young girl Mei. However, the Alpha male of the playground, who also happens to attend the new school Jaden's character will attend, also likes that young girl. This is when hell breaks loose for Dre as he finds he must defend himself constantly against the Alpha male Cheng (played by Zhenwei Wang) and his cronies.

A child, who is new to a school and is attacked by another child when asked what role did they play in the incident, may respond by saying, "I didn't do anything at all, he just attacked me." But the truth is they often did do something, they just have no idea what.

In a previous post, I discussed psychologist Robert Sommers' theory of territoriality and dominance and the role it plays in interpersonal relationships. Sommers asserted that adults often avoid trouble in two ways. The first is by staying within boundaries that they are familiar with and that they can exist in peacefully. That way they can avoid territorial issues.

The second way adults avoid trouble is also based on the first. Since they are familiar with their territory, they are also familiar with the pecking order that exists and what position they occupy in the hierarchy. They don't have to go through dominance rituals because the issue of rank has already been settled. Everyone submits to their roles unless they don't mind the friction that accompanies violating the pecking order.

When people arrive in new environments they have to gain acceptance and then establish their role within the hierarchy with everyone they meet. Luckily for adults, in ‘civilized' settings they can negotiate peacefully. Children, however, operate under a different set of rules for establishing hierarchy and displaying dominance, regardless of the level of ‘civility' demonstrated by adults.

New kids are often unaware of the territorial boundaries that they have been forced to deal with and the ‘proper' ways of negotiating their 'place' in their new environment. In addition, both young bullies and their victims are not fully aware of the consequences of their violent actions. This can lead to the 'terrorization' of newcomers and explains most of the events occurring in "The Karate Kid. "

I believe the interest and enchantment with the The Karate Kid produced in 1984 and that surely will surround the remake in 2010 is not rooted in a bullied child learning a martial art to defend himself. Instead I feel it is based on how people meet challenges to their very existence and overcome them, ---- because we've all been there before in some way or another.


Bakari Akil II, Ph.D. is the author of Pop Psychology - The Psychology of Culture and Everyday Life! You can also check out his page on Twitter.

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