hollow victories

While quarantined in the Midwest, I’ve been watching Cobra Kai on Netflix. As a writer, it’s tough for me to set down my analytic eye and simply watch something. This show is one of those rare exceptions. From start to finish, it’s just fun.

Cobra Kai – Season 2 – Episode 205

Without giving anything away, it’s made me think quite a bit about the nature of hollow victories, both in the context of storytelling and life.

Storytelling is contingent upon a character who wants something, coming into conflict with a force stopping them from attaining it. Many times, this desire can be surface level: the guy wants the girl, the spy wants to blow up the bad guy’s secret weapon, the detective wants to bring the killer to justice. Part of what brought television into its golden age was the inclusion of the unconscious desire. Surface level goals became a part of the urge to fulfill a deeper psychological need: to attain self-respect, to feel loved.

A hollow victory is the moment where these two things separate from one another. A character may achieve their conscious desire, but fail to achieve their unconscious desire. The guy gets the girl, but realizes he still doesn’t love himself. The spy stops the bad guy, but can’t to reconcile with his own misdeeds. The detective catches the killer, but fails to make peace with her husband’s murder.

While often not as dramatic, life if full of these moments—when reality deviates from expectation, when we don’t feel the way we think we should.

I’m trying not to anticipate these days. I’m focused on where I am and what I’m doing. Instead of telling myself how I want to feel in a moment of victory, I’m instead focused on being here and now, so when the moment of victory comes, I can savor it for what it is instead of what I think it should be.

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