Starring Mr. T, Martika, New Edition, and some kids
“Don’t quit! Don’t look at him! I’m talking to you!” – Mr. T
“Be Somebody… Or Be Somebody’s Fool”Â is my third favorite Mr. T creation. It sits toward the back of my video collection, somewhere between my prized copy of the first Wrestlemania (where T and Hulk Hogan fought “Rowdy”Â Roddy Piper and “Mr. Wonderful”Â Paul Orndorff) and the rare, mint condition copy of “D.C. Cab”Â that I don’t yet own. This is supposed to be Mr. T’s motivational, inspirational video for kids, along the lines of, “If I worked my way out of poverty and got on the A-Team, you dumb fat white kids can ‘make it’ too.”Â Normally I try not to pick on well-intentioned stuff like this, but it’s so godawful I can’t help myself.
“Hey you, you with the teeth! Come over here!”Â – Mr. T
T sets the tone within verse one of the theme song – while the band (ok, some guy with a Casio) and backup singers give up a cheery, upbeat groove about self-esteem and personal growth, T’s shouting instructions to the kids. “Be somebody!”Â sing the singers. “You heard me!”Â shouts T. This has led to something in the field of motivational psychology known as Mr. T’s Rule. Essentially it states that a good speaker will instill self-confidence in the audience, so long as his/her cult of personality is maintained. In other words, you can do anything you want, but what Mr. T says is LAW, sucka. Mr. T’s Rule fell out of favor when thousands were killed trying to simultaneously stop the insanity and take Susan Powter seriously.
The video’s organized into sections based on important values kids should learn about. Take “shyness,”Â in which a girl learns to overcome her inner introvert by screaming at a TV director. Or “peer pressure,” in which pre-teens smoke and drink beer while New Edition sings. (Sadly, this cameo appearance in a Mr. T kids video explains Bobby Brown’s entire adult life.) Mr. T also teaches kids about anger by throwing potato salad all over.
About twenty minutes in, though, the video starts to get sick of its own structure, and so the second half is a jarring mix of random events. Kids breakdance. Some woman sings on a beach. There’s a frightening fashion show, where we see the finest headbands, suspenders and leg warmers 1982 has to offer, all set to horrid exercise music and T’s totally phoned-in advice about how we should “table the label… wear your own brand.”Â The guy running the graphics has no idea what’s going on, either, so when T says it’s time for “rappin,”Â we get the graphic “I am somebody.”Â Ok, then.
“Hey, everybody’s gotta wear clothes. And if you don’t, you’ll get arrested.”Â – Mr. T
Plus, Mr. T’s advice gets weirder and weirder as the video drags on. He gets sidetracked during his stern warning about the perils of street violence and tries to explain the plot of Romeo and Juliet, only he can’t remember how it goes! The point, T explains, is that you should go to the library more often. T meets up with some kids breakdancing on the street. Unfortunately, he fails to take the morally appropriate action of pummeling them, and instead tries a few moves.* Finally, he goads some lazy kids at a bus stop into a daylong workout at the beach, using popcorn bags and boom boxes instead of weights; I kept wondering if their parents were waiting frantically at the bus stop, wondering what had happened to their offspring.
The weird advice and meandering stories seem downright sage compared to the singing, though. T croons a song about his mama accompanied by three middle-aged housewives, and he growls at the camera like he’d gladly stab his mama to get out of the video:
M is for the moan and the miserable groan,
From the pain that she felt when I was born.
O is for the oven with its burning heat,
Where she stood making sure I had something to eat.
T’s cheerful rap songs about peace, brotherhood and prosperity aren’t much better, though they’re way cooler than New Edition’s yawner about peer pressure and a then (as now) unknown Martika singing about racial harmony. Eventually the kids must be returned to their parents, and Mr. T’s reign of character-building terror comes to an end.
“So next time you find yourself in an absoludicrous situation, don’t hide your head in the sand… recoup instead.”Â – Mr. T
Sadly, I didn’t learn how to be somebody from watching this video. But I did learn that 54 minutes of Mr. T clowning around with a bunch of kids can be (and were) the longest 54 minutes of my life. I give “Be Somebody… Or Be Somebody’s Fool” a rating of “Absoludicrous.”
* Wikipedia tells me “breakdance battles were used to act out conflicts and that some gang members went from fighting to dancing, but it did not, by far, put an end to gang violence.” So breakdancing did not put an end to gang violence? F___, the “Beat It”Â video lied to me!