There you are…. Looking up at a cheering crowd, in the middle of the All-Valley Karate Tournament, standing across the mat from the same prick that, just a month or so earlier, forced a kiss on your super-hot girlfriend at a country club while you watched from the kitchen–resulting in the double humiliation of having a bunch of rich, white people laugh and point at you, as well as getting spaghetti sauce stains on your Members Only jacket and your one nice shirt. You spent this night kicking ass to an incredibly ass-kicking song called You’re The Best, but just a few minutes earlier, your best friend (who happens to be a Japanese handyman and Veteren of a foreign war) just rubbed his hands together really fast and then fixed your sprained knee. Now, here you are, one point away from winning the tournament and beating that jackass Johnny Lawrence, who has been warned for targeting your injured knee. Your knee is throbbing now–you can barely put any weight on it. You think back to the words Mr. Miyagi spoke about the crane kick…. “If do right, no can defense.” You raise your arms and your injured leg. Somewhere, on the sidelines, you can just feel Mr. Miyagi nodding in approval. The referee restarts the match, and inexplicably, Johnny tries to knock you down by hitting your foot with his face. Ali with an i runs to to you (wearing that cute little grey sweater with the preppy yellow Polo collar peeking out, just to remind you that she lives in The Hills), Johnny hands you the trophy and confesses that the better man won with the words “You‘re alright Larusso,” Mr. Miyagi smiles, and you feel no pain….
Hallelujah, I am a sucker for a good underdog story. Whether it’s Rocky or the Hickory Huskers overcoming insurmountable odds in a sporting event, or whether it’s a Lloyd Dobler or Ronald “Donald” Miller winning the love of the girl that they have no business getting, or even movies like Braveheart and Gladiator that are filled with war and blood and death. From 300 to Star Wars, from Cool Runnings to Rudy, from The Shawshank Redemption to The Lord of the Rings Trilogy…. There is something about the story of THE UNDERDOG that resonates in all of us. Some think this is an American thing–that our affinity for stories about people overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds comes from our national story–but I think it is so much deeper than that. I think it is that thing that the writer of the Biblical creation story described as being “created in God’s image.” It is what the Quakers describe as being “That of God in Everyone.” We love the underdog because we’re like God. And God LOVES the underdog.
Sure, sure. I know–God loves everybody. But if you’ve ever read the Bible (and paid attention), it’s clear that God has a special place in his heart for the underdog. He picks this obscure people-without-a-nation as his chosen people. Then he sets up a fight between a kid (David) and this giant warrior named Goliath (by the way, the Best Pre-Game Prayer Ever happens in Hoosiers when, before the Championship, the Pastor prays, “And David put his hand in the bag and took out a stone and slung it. And it struck the Philistine on the head and he fell to the ground. Amen.”). Then, of all things, he sends a carpenter in on a donkey, talking about “The last shall be first” and “The least of these.” Then, just when you think it’s over…. You’re The Best starts playing in the soundtrack and the stone is rolled away. Awesome.
I like to talk about arrows that point us toward the existence of God. These “arrows” are not any sort of cold, hard proof (no one really has that), but they are just things that point us in the direction of God. Or at least point us toward a sort of “God is out there somewhere.” There are quite a few of them for me: Music, Laughter, Love, The Universe…. there are a bunch. Our human, innate rooting for the underdog has always felt to me like an arrow that points toward the creator.
What possible evolutionary purpose could this love of the underdog story serve the human animal? In nature, the strong survive and it works out for everyone, because then they have little, strong babies. With us, we look at Rocky standing in front of Apollo Creed, and it’s clear that Apollo is smarter, better-trained, and in better shape. Apollo SHOULD win, but we root for the guy who doesn’t have much of a chance. Who would be interested in watching a story about a guy who won the fight he was supposed to win? Nobody, that’s who. Imagine The Karate Kid told from the point of view of Johnny Lawrence, the highly favored returning All-Valley Karate Champion whose girlfriend got stolen by some cocky, scrawny kid from New Jersey. The only reason anyone’s watching THAT movie is to catch a glimpse of Elizabeth Shue….
Okay, fine, I’ll watch it, but I’m at least waiting until it hits the dollar theaters.
So, the next time you tear up watching Rudy getting carried off the field at Norte Dame, think of God rooting for the kid with the sling. The next time you get the chills seeing a lowly moisture farmer save the universe while saving his father’s soul (that’s Luke and Vader, for those shameful few who don’t know the reference), think about why that story is so awesome. The next time you turn into a blubbering idiot watching Forrest Gump bring Jenny breakfast in bed as she is dying of AIDS, think of Jesus washing the disciples feet (Judas’ included) just before he was betrayed and killed. Or maybe even consider why it is that you feel like crying while watching THIS and think of the Quakers’ “That of God in everyone” as the tears roll down your face.
Or don’t. Whatever…. Either way it’s awesome.