Mr. T's Be Somebody ...Or Be Somebody's Fool (1984) (part 1 of 9)
Okay, so it’s not a B-movie, or really a movie at all, but without a doubt Mr. T’s Be Somebody… Or Be Somebody’s Fool is one of the most horrifying, painful, and shamefully misguided videos to have ever spent time in my VCR. And yet, at the same time, I can’t remember ever being this entertained. Clearly, 100% of the credit for this goes directly to the video’s emcee and main attraction, Mr. T.
When it comes to kitshcy 80’s icons, none is more kitschy than Mr. T (born: Laurence Tureaud). Anyone who grew up in the 80’s has got to have a ton of nostalgic affection for the guy. Seriously, I refuse to believe there’s a single person in my age bracket who doesn’t love Mr. T, and if there is, that person will surely burn in the fires of Hell for all of eternity. Okay, maybe not. But to dislike Mr. T is just plain wrong.
This is despite the fact that T has no talent to speak of. He can’t really act, he has no musical talent (which will be proven beyond all reasonable doubt later), and even though he may have been a bodybuilder, he certainly never had enough physical prowess to really be an action star.
No, people love Mr. T because he’s Mr. T. He’s famous solely for his personality, and that personality is completely and utterly insane. I mean, what else can you say about a guy who legally changed his name to “Mr. T” just so that people would have to address him as “Mr.”? However, unlike genuinely insane celebrities who kill their wives, or at least dangle their babies from hotel balconies, Mr. T is probably one of the most goodhearted, sincere individuals that ever existed in all of showbiz.
Unfortunately, Mr. T deserves a place on this site after some of the movies he’s appeared in. Who could forget his film debut in Penitentiary II? Or his breakout role as Clubber Lang in the idiotic Rocky III? And of course, I can’t go without mentioning his appearance in the awful Joel Schumacher comedy D.C. Cab, because a review without bashing Joel Schumacher is like a day without sunshine.
In 1984, during the peak of his success playing B.A. “Bad Attitude” Baracus on The A-Team, Mr. T starred in the motivational video Be Somebody… Or Be Somebody’s Fool. It’s unclear why this video was made in the first place, though one suspects court-ordered community service for DUI convictions played a major role. (Of course, not for Mr. T himself, mind you. As we’ll soon learn in graphic detail, Mr. T don’t drink, smoke, lie, or talk back to his momma.)
However, if you’re going to make a motivational video for kids, you be hard-pressed to come up with a better host than Mr. T. His entire worldview, nay, his entire existence is centered around being a good role model for kids. And you know that deep down in his heart, T really and truly believes every bit of inspirational advice he doles out, even if much of that advice is poorly worded and doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense.
Several “TV Funhouse” cartoons by SNL‘s Robert Smigel nailed this aspect of T’s personality dead-on. In a series of parodies of the short-lived Saturday morning cartoon Mister T, we find T completing every thought by randomly yelling out “Stay in school!” or “Don’t do drugs!” And by the end of these cartoons, he usually becomes so addled that he commands us to “believe in yourself, drink your school, stay in drugs, and don’t do milk!” The scary thing is, this isn’t even an exaggeration!
As we’ll soon see, the vast majority of T’s dialogue is just plain incoherent, mainly due to the liberties he takes with the English language. (And I just have to say, spell checking this review was harder than spell checking, say, an article in Variety.) Honestly, if you walk away from this video with any idea of what Mr. T was trying to get across to his audience, well, you’re a better person than I. Because, based solely on the contents of this video, there’s no way I’m ever going to figure out what it is I need to do to be somebody.
Like a twelve step program, the video itself is divided up into thirteen “lessons” that cover various aspects of “being somebody”. Each lesson consists of a skit wherein T interacts with a cast of young teenagers to demonstrate concepts like “Peer Pressure” and “Friendship”, and most of these skits end in performances of cheesy ballads that help pad out the running time.
Many of the young cast members were currently appearing (or would go on to appear) on Kids Incorporated, a syndicated tweenie-bopper sitcom where they would perform the Top 40 hits of the day in that ever popular “six kids singing in unison” style. This means that, in general, working with Mr. T wasn’t much of a step down for anyone involved. However, I’m sure this video is of particular embarassment to at least two of those kids, who would go on to acheive one-hit wonder stardom all on their own (more on them later).
Another person who probably leaves this video off his resumé is the director, Jeff Margolis. He would later go on to direct the American Music Awards, a few Miss America pageants, and even the Academy Awards from 1990 to 1996. To round out the embarassment, there’s a brief appearance in here by the New Edition that’s just dripping with irony.
Now, I was all set to record some MP3 audio files of the songs performed by T and the kids in this video, until I realized there are a huge number of websites that already feature sound clips from Be Somebody. For instance, this page at Inzenity has clips from nearly every lesson in the video. Since that site hosts more audio files (and larger audio files) than I have the space for here, you’re better off going there in order to get the truly surreal listening experience that is Mr. T rapping. Yes, Mr. T raps in this video. A lot.
Given the decade in which this video was made, it should come as no surprise that drum machines come out in full force the very moment the video starts. I swear, the tape hadn’t even slid all the way into my VCR before I was assaulted by synthesizers and instantly transported back in time to 1984.
We get a blue gradient background and the title of this video, and above the title, we see several sepia-toned images of Mr. T in his youth. Steadily, the images advance in age as we follow T through all stages of his development into a joke of a human being.
There’s a picture of him in wrestling garb, and as you can see from the title frame grabbed above, his jersey actually says “Dunbar” [!!]. For those of you who aren’t in the know, this is virtually identical to the jersey worn by John Stamos in Never Too Young to Die. I can’t really prove it, but something in me thinks this isn’t a coincidence.
Anyway, we move on to images of T in his football uniform, followed by a picture of T in a shirt that says “US Army”. During this, the credits warn us of that “special appearance” by the New Edition to come later. Please have your Bobby Brown “drug addict” jokes handy.
We learn that the New Edition’s appearance is “(courtesy MCA Records)”. This video also comes to us from MCA Home Video, so what we’re seeing is actually an early example of corporate synergy. Actually, the back of the video box not only tells us to be on the lookout for the “Original soundtrack available on MCA Records”, but it also tells us to “Read Mr. T’s Be Somebody… Or Be Somebody’s Fool from St. Martin’s Press [!!!]” I seriously doubt this video was successful enough to warrant a soundtrack or a book, and as far as I know, neither of these ever materialized. [Note from the future: Turns out I was wrong on both the soundtrack and the book, both of which were actually released. It’s hard to believe, but at one point in time Mr. T was his own media empire.]
Meanwhile, we see T still looking relatively human in a helmet and fatigues, during the years he served as a military policeman. Then we quickly move on to images of him from after aliens took over his brain, and he decided to acquire his now familiar Mohawk, beard, and gold chains ensemble.
We get a sepia-toned image of T pumping iron, which is quickly followed by a shot of T standing somewhere in downtown Los Angeles. Then comes inescapable horror as the image expands, goes to full color, and begins moving around. It’s T himself, live and in color, and astonishingly, he decides to rap for us. Now, everytime T raps in this video, it’s golden. But making it even funnier is that all of T’s raps were ghost-written by a then-unknown rapper named Ice-T [!!]. (Or, as the credits will later euphemistically put it, “Vocal Arrangements for Mr. T by Ice T”.) This particular rap is called “Be Somebody” and it starts out like this:
Now everybody’s got the time to pray
Jesus, we’re not even thirty seconds into the video, and already he’s not making any sense. We cut to some kids on a beach running across the surf to the chorus of the song. Several youthful singers eagerly croon, “Be somebody / You know you can!” Then we get random clips of kids running across the beach, kids playing baseball, and kids breakdancing. See, this is actually a montage of scenes from later in the video, or as I prefer to call it, a “stern warning”. Since all of these will be shown again later on, most of the clips don’t merit a specific mention at this point, but rest assured that there’s plenty of stupidity on display.
T growls at us in the chorus to “Be somebody!” as we cut to a girl playing softball. She swings, and it’s a strike [?]. That’s a great uplifting image to use in your credits, Mr. T. The music continues as we catch glimpses of pre-teens modelling and twirling around in front of cameras. The chorus continues, “Be somebody / It’s in your head!” and T growls, “You heard me!”
A female singer informs us, “Everyone loves a winner! Not a pretender!” I’m not sure this rhymes, but that’s just me. “You gotta be a leader,” she sings. “A high achiever!” Here we get a glimpse of the inevitable appearance of the New Edition in Adidas running suits dancing on a pier. No, hang on, it’s not time for those Bobby Brown jokes just yet.
The background singers return, telling us to “Cross the road, sing a song! It’s right there, so don’t stop… just reach out!” We take a break from the montage to cut back to Mr. T in downtown L.A. “Reach out!” he shouts. Then we get more kids breakdancing and more pre-teens doing their turns on the catwalk, while the background singers and Mr. T yell at us to “Reach out!” over and over again.
Then we find Mr. T leading some of his minions, I mean some kids, on a jog down a pier, and he’s wearing a camouflage Fidel Castro-style flat hat, along with a camouflage tank top. It’s quite the look, I must admit. Then we see the same group of kids on the beach, only they’re taking a break from aimlessly running through the surf to lip-synch to the chorus: “Be somebody!” Mr. T over in downtown L.A. interjects, “That’s right!” and the singers sing, “You know you can!”
Then we cut to Mr. T in a red Adidas sweat suit, cheering on a shirtless [?] boy as he comes down a slide. Something tells me this clip wasn’t actually meant to be seen by others.
“Be somebody,” the singers mindlessly repeat. Back to T in downtown L.A. as he hilariously snarls, “I ain’t playin’!” [!!] In the next verse, the lead singer informs us that “There are limitations / On this generation!” [?] What lesson am I supposed to be taking away from this, again?.
Then we get a quick clip from the Shaquille O’Neal movie Kazaam. No, wait, that’s actually Mr. T dressed like a genie [!] and getting all chummy-chummy with a little girl on the beach. The most ridiculous thing here is that, as far as I can tell, this clip comes from a scene that appears nowhere in the video [!!]. So, I guess humanity will only be able to sit and dream about what the lost “genie segment” would have been like.
“You’ve got to find your pathway,” the singer sings, “And not go halfway!” The chorus comes in again, and prompts downtown L.A. T to yell at us to “Reach out!” for at least the 300th time. This is followed by more shots of fourteen year old girls modeling.
The credit montage finishes up with a quick blitz where we revisit images of everything we just saw. Then we cut to downtown L.A. and see Mr. T and some kids charge out of an alley [?], and the whole crowd of them begin half-jogging, half-marching down the sidewalk. Don’t ask what they were doing in the alley, and hopefully they’ll never tell. Happily, Mr. T is full on in his action figure garb as he begins to rap again.
If anybody tries to call you square
As everyone knows, “staying in school” was a rather consistent tenet in the Mr. T dogma, so I’m not very surprised to hear it pop up here. Meanwhile, all the kids surrounding T are totally winking and smiling and giving each other these really cheesy Up With People-type looks. Behind T are the two oldest kids in the crowd, a light-skinned black girl and a fey-looking Latino boy with the obligatory shock of blonde hair. The two of them give each other these looks that let you know they totally saw each other’s thingies in the Be Somebody dressing room. Mr. T, oblivious to all this winking and nodding, continues on with his alleged rap.
Now everybody knows Mr. T don’t lie
The background singers return: “Be somebody / You know you can!” Then the kids all raise their hands and point in the air in true Broadway Musical Number mode. “Be somebody!” T yells. “Be somebody,” the singers say, “It’s in your head!” By the way, I should point out here that Mr. T really wants you to be somebody. I just wanted to throw that in so as to cut down on the confusion.
The picture then folds inward, revealing a lovely orange and heliotrope gradient screen. For some reason, everytime we seque between scenes, there’s a video effect where the picture flies off, and we see a gradient of two colors that should have never been mixed together, and then the new scene comes flying in. It’s difficult to describe, but you certainly saw similar effects on low budget PBS educational programming during the 80’s.
Anyway, the picture of Mr. T and the kids flies off into the distance, and gets replaced by T standing in front of a blue background on what looks like the set of Soul Train. He yells at the camera, “Hey, you! You with the teeth!” [!!] Well, congratulations, T. You just made little Timmy, the kid with the degenerative disease that caused him to lose all his teeth, want to throw himself off the nearest tall building.
Mr. T beckons us to come closer, and the camera zooms in on him. “That’s better. Now I can see you!” Can you really see me? What am I doing now, T? And do you like it?
T asks, “You know me? Of course you do! That’s because I’m famous!” Damn! Who ever knew Mr. T was this conceited? Even funnier is how every time T says “famous”, he pronounces it as “fye-mous”. He says that “even before I was fye-mous, I was still somebody! And I got respect!”
He elaborates on this difficult concept. “See, you don’t have to be fye-mous to get respect! You just have to be somebody!” And if it’s not acutely obvious by now, I should mention that whenever Mr. T talks, every sentence ends in an exclamation point.
Now comes the time for him to outline the Mr. T Doctrine that will provide the overarching framework for this video. Being somebody, you see, “means being confident in who you are! Be willing to take chances, and risk fallin’ on your face! Because that’s the only way you’re gonna learn! And that’s what I’m here for! To help you be somebody! Because if you’re not somebody, then you’re gonna be somebody’s fool!” Man, I haven’t heard an opening speech this great since the days of Criswell.
At the end of this speech, T gives this desperate nod and a smile, like he’s just praying that somebody, somewhere is being entertained by this.