In case you can't watch it, this is a clip from the show How I Met Your Mother where Barney Stinson explains that he rooted for the blonde, evil kid in The Karate Kid instead of Ralph Macchio's character. I've decided that he is right. What convinced me? Sum 41 and their music video for the song In Too Deep.
The character he is discussing from The Karate Kid is Johnny Lawrence. Johnny has spent most of his life studying karate and has become quite good at it. It makes no sense that someone who just started training would be able to beat him. This is a major theme in sports movies. Whether it is the Hawks or the team from Iceland, many movies have this same narrative of a ragtag team besting experts for no real reason. We're supposed to cheer for these them because they're underdogs. But what about these other teams? They have spent years honing their craft and can thus dominate less experienced opponents. Does that make them evil? Certainly not. Frequently these movies will have the talented teams do something else evil to reinforce their evilness, but I think the main reason we are supposed to hate them is that they are good.
There are good ways to handle an underdog movie. Take Rocky. When he decides to take on Apollo Creed he knows he has to work hard because Creed is so much better than him. In the end he loses, because Creed is much better than he is. His victory is getting Creed to see him as a worthy adversary, not as a pushover. That's why his loss is still triumphant.
Another example of this done well is my favorite movie, Breaking Away. Just like The Mighty Ducks (I linked to it earlier as a bad example), Breaking Away is about classism. The heroes are poor and we sympathize with them. The bad guys are on the swim team and there is a scene where the main swimmer humiliates one of the poor kids in a swim race. Do the poor kids decide to beat those rich swimming assholes at their own game? No! The poor kids decide to compete with the rich kids at what the poor kids are good at, cycling. So when the poor kids win at the end it seems reasonable and the rich kids get to learn a valuable lesson about stopping being assholes.
Sum 41 deftly avoids these good examples of underdog sports encounters and finds themselves firmly in the bad-example-bin of history. Take a look.
In Too Deep by Sum 41:
At the opening of the video we get to meet the "good" guys and the "bad" guys. We start with Sum 41, who are supposedly the good guys that we are rooting for.
They aren't even wearing swimsuits. But this is (for some reason, probably the song title) a diving contest! Totally inappropriate clothing.
Here are the supposedly bad guys. Notice the "No Jocks" sign in the background in case you didn't know how you're supposed to feel about them.
Their bodies are sculpted and tanned. They wear the appropriate swimsuits for diving.
How are the two groups characterized? The "bad" guys are gay, I guess? We get a butt slap.
I don't think there is anything gay about touching a man's butt, regardless of your gender. Men's butts are awesome. Deal with it. I think Sum 41 is pretty insecure, though, so they shy away from butt touching.
We also get this sequence that is less ambiguous:
Point. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I love pointing! This characterization makes me love these "bad" guys. They like to touch men's butts and then point. That sounds like an ideal afternoon for me.
Sum 41 wants us to dislike them, though. Being gay is meant to be bad. Classy guys. How do they show their side? I think a closer look at the people with the "No Jocks" sign gives us a good idea.
Ugh. They look unbearable. It's like they looked at a series of pictures of Avril Lavigne to come up with their whole identities. A boy scout uniform? Bright pink hair? A tie on a woman? Okay, I like the last one but Annie Hall came out in the '70s. I'm not sure it is still cool. I guess these are the people we are supposed to sympathize with.
Anyways, in the video the two groups dive back and forth. It becomes clear that the "bad" guys are much better divers. Probably because they are wearing the appropriate clothing, are in good physical shape, and have a lot of practice diving. It becomes clear that the "good" guys have no chance of winning.
Suddenly, something terrible happens.
This diver, after years of practice, suddenly slips on his way to the end of the diving board. He falls into the water.
All that work destroyed by a little accident! My heart really goes out to him.
Then we see the final diver for the "good" guys.
He suddenly reveals that he is wearing an appropriate swimsuit. Maybe he has been practicing!
At this point we see a Ralph Macchio sign in the crowd indicating that Sum 41 know what they are doing here.
The guy proceeds to do a ridiculous jump back and forth between multiple diving boards which probably isn't even legal under the rules of diving.
That's the story. Doesn't it seem like we are rooting for the wrong guys? Shouldn't the people who practiced more win? Are we really supposed to think that gay people are that bad at everything?
This isn't the only thing the video does wrong. At the opening there are sensitive lyrics but the singer has an inappropriate look on his face.
It makes it seem like the singer doesn't even know what his song is about.
The video does a few things right, though. Sum 41 aren't even good enough to screw everything up. There's this score that a diver gets which promotes the band and reminds you of what you're watching.
There's the guitar player coming out of the pool like Poseidon for some inept two-handed tapping.
I like it! I wonder if his guitar got ruined.
Then there is this exchange where a woman blows a kiss to the guitar player.
That inexplicable frowny face pretty much makes up for everything.
Keep this in mind next time you watch an underdog sports movie: Who deserves to win? It certainly isn't Sum 41.