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The Column

T Stands for Terrible
4/17/05

When I was five, I didn't know much. My shoes were still Velcro, I had no knowledge of fractions, and I couldn't ride a bike. (Though to be fair, I still haven't grasped that one). But I knew better than to take advice from Mr. T.

It has come to my attention that in 1984, Mr. T released a motivational video for kids called "Be Somebody or Be Somebody's Fool." Due to the irreparable damage it could have caused, I'm glad I didn't know about it when I was a kid. But I wish I'd learned about it sooner than this week because it's the single greatest thing I've ever seen.

Thanks to the miracle of the internet and the procrastinatory habits of people everywhere, the entire video is available online. Just search for the title and you too will see the single greatest thing I've ever seen.

The most popular part of the tape is a video about treating your mother right. The segment starts out innocently enough, with an argument between two kids typically too ugly to be cast in regular videos. It's the only time I've seen two people battling where most of the things they say about each other are pretty accurate.

Suddenly, one of the kids insults the other's mother - and that's when T steps in. He explains that you should respect your mother, no matter who she is and that insulting one mother is like insulting all mothers. Which is an odd logical jump, but I wasn't concentrating on the logic since I was still reeling from the sudden sight of Mr. T.

If that wasn't enough, Mr. T then produces a microphone. I don't know where he got it from - perhaps it was obscured by his 73 pounds of gold chains or lodged in his Mohawk. Wherever it came from, I'm sure the mic was upset when The T Man started singing toward it. I say "toward" because Mr. T's performance had all the energy of a narcoleptic sloth.

The camera then panned out to reveal the Mr. T backup dancers: three middle-aged women too ugly for the PTA. I suddenly realized where those kids must have come from. The most interesting part is that the women were all wearing different outfits. How low budget of a film are you making when your backup dancers are told "come as you are"? Though the budget must have covered makeup; one of the women wore enough rouge to choke a hooker.

And since you can only take so much of Mr. T's narcoleptic stylings in front of the jittery, uncoordinated movements of three Harper Valley rejects, the video also shows a montage of people interacting in positive and negative ways with their mothers. Oddly enough, there are segments where you can't tell if it's a good or bad example. Including one where a child hugs his mother, but gets ice cream all over her face. Which is only positive if she was trying to look like an extra in the latest John Holmes flick.

The song's message was clear - treat your mother right. I know this because that phrase was uttered several hundred times. I say "uttered" because, well, that narcoleptic sloth thing we discussed earlier. Treat your mother right? I agree, but only if she doesn't make you watch this video. Otherwise she should be contractually obligated to pay for your psychotherapy.

The video also includes Mr. T in various scenarios, alternating between problem solving and giving up completely, which is probably a lesson he learned from his producers. I was really hoping T would end by saying, "Come on kids, if I can make it, anyone can. Look at me - I have no discernable talent, and I'm famous!"

I don't know who produced the video because I was laughing too hard to read the credits. But I would have loved to have been at the board meeting when they were watching the finished product.

"We paid $17 in production costs for this?"

It is funny to think that Mr T. was 1984's Barney. That kids my age might have listened to the bedazzled behemoth, that he was such a star that parents looked to him as the only way to reach their children. Anyone who watches VH1 knows that 1984 was a ridiculous year. But this video was so strange, even George Orwell couldn't have seen it coming.

I'm guessing Mr. T made this video to try to have a positive impact on youth at the time; he didn't just want to be remembered for his breakfast cereal and ridiculous ensemble. So he hired a few people dressed even worse then him, and now his legacy lives on. In the hearts, minds, and therapy bills of people everywhere.

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