Here he comes. He's driving his tank over cars. He throws a candy bar and shouts some catchphrases. He says 'Jibber Jabber.' He says 'Crazy Fool.' He says 'Pain.'
He's Mr. T. And he's cashing in on his long-standing status as figure of fun for the internet generation.
A cut above your Chuck Norrises (Norri?), Gary Colemans and David Ickes, Mr. T has always been the premier choice when it comes to 'amusing' pop-culture references from another age. If you're the type to love Family Guy, then Mr. T is a goldmine of funny for you. They've got talking key-rings for you, bub.
So who can blame him for making a bit of coin in a foolish advert? Mr. T's legacy was always going to be one of absurdity and fun-poking.
Or was it?
Well, yes. It was. It was inevitable. Look at him.
But what if it wasn't so? Could Mr. T have succeeded at being anything other than a punchline? Is there more to be had from a short career you can respect, than nearly 30 years of being seen as a buffoon?
Because there was a time when Mr. T wasn't a buffoon. He was badass. You were afraid of him. You didn't like him, but you respected him.
That time was called Rocky III.
I'm introducing a new ongoing feature to the blog. A section that will come up again and again when I want to showcase a particular type of man, or a manly situation. One I celebrate for its manly qualities, be it fictional, borne from the mind of a man. Or of this realm, borne from the seed of a man. I'm celebrating instances of testosterone soaked awesomeness.
What are manly qualities, you ask?
3. Physical Strength.
4. Not taking any shit.
7. Not suffering fools.
8. Ability to be pushed too far and do something kickass about it.
9. Fighting Skills.
10. Getting hot chicks.
Now, I'm not saying each entry will see a man who ticks the entire 10. Daredevil does, but very few can match Daredevil. But all of them will be examples of a greatness that can't happen without the Y Chromosome.
There are going to be men I admire who aren't going to feature at all. Terry Gilliam is a hero of mine, but what I like about him doesn't come down to his manly qualities. He's tenacious, sure, resourceful even. But he's a visionary. It comes down to his mind. He's not shooting from the hip in his greatness, the same way Jack T. Colton is in Romancing the Stone. Colton is about the cajones. He bangs Kathleen Turner and kills a crocodile. (He does dance a lame little bossanova/samba thing at one stage. But it's a small blemish, given he carries a shotgun on his back in an alligator skin holster for nearly all of the movie. And Kathleen Turner is goddamn gorgeous by that point in the film. If samba is what it takes, then you'd fucking shake your hips too.)
Girls can achieve good, even great stuff with their imaginations and whatnot. But they can't share in the power a man has south of there. His guts. His unmentionables.
So, brothers, let me welcome you to....
Legends of the Balls.
Part I: Clubber Lang.
Imagine Mr. T from the beginning, before his appearance and manner had become a tired gimmick. You'd have paid attention anyway. He's physically impressive. He's got that screwed-up angry baby pitbull face, the meanest face you ever saw (until Ice Cube at the very least.) As a former bouncer and bodyguard I imagine he was nothing short of handy in a fight.
But you're mind is blown by the batshit accessories. His Zulu mohawk and beard. The feather earrings. Pounds and pounds of gold chains, confiscated from trouble-makers, as legend would have it, and a reminder to him of his slave ancestors.
Only you've not met him. You've never really seen him before. You're sitting down to watch Rocky III on it's opening weekend.
He speaks like a chainsaw carving through timber. He's pure hatred. Mickey doesn't want Rocky in the ring with this animal. He'll murder him.
I'm trying to think of another black actor from around this time who could have been this angry. Forget about being as big and as intimidating as Clubber Lang. Let's just start with being this pissed off. Carl Weathers couldn't be. He's got something charming and urbane about him, despite his size. The same kind of charm you'll find in Billy Dee Williams or Richard Rowntree. Isaac Hayes, Jim Kelly or Jim Brown would have convinced you they were unhappy about something and you had every right to be afraid of them, but there would have been a hint of intelligence behind their threats. There's none here. Yaphet Kotto might have been able to work up this kind of rage, but Mr. T is switched on right now, he could have wrecked Kotto in seconds.
Was it a fluke? How can it be that this one time, as Rocky's most fearsome opponent, Mr. T was dynamite and ever since he's been a joke?
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking two things.
Firstly you're thinking Ivan Drago was Rocky's most fearsome opponent.
Drago is a puppet. He's got no passion. He's a product, engineered by shadowy string-pullers. Clubber Lang isn't that sorta chump. He's out on his own. He's not pumped full of performance enhancers, he's a self-made weapon. Drago might kill a man inside the ring but he's safe from harm there too. Lang stands before about three hundred Rocky fans on the Philadelphia Steps, shouts at their hero and offers to pork Adrian. He could have had a riot on his hands, but he doesn't care. He could take them on. He would prevail.
You're also thinking Mr. T was cool in the A-Team.
B.A. Baracus is no less of a joke than Mr. T is in that Snickers advert. Only it's more patronising (he's a victim of what I like to call Panthero's Law. Black Guy? Guess he's going to be big and muscular and a mechanic. (Panthero, Panthero. You're trapped on a planet with only one other girl of your kind. Probably the hottest girl of your kind anyway. Who's your competition? A homosexual boy, a cowardly nanny cat-monkey-thing and a white guy with a whip. But you're just happy fixing your tank and playing with your nun-chucks, eh? A white guy with a whip? That doesn't make you a bit angry, huh?)) B.A. is a punchline at best, and a lazy device the rest of the time. He doesn't want to board that aircraft he says. So he's tricked. Joke's on you B.A. You can't stand the wild behaviour of Murdock, and it's you we pity, fool, for not seeing the funny side of anything.
Thing is, I struggle to imagine anywhere Mr. T could have gone after Clubber Lang that wasn't the comedy route. Imagine if he'd stayed this aggressive. What else could he have been cast as?
Well the obvious choice would be some kind of barbarian film, and he did in fact audition for a part in Beastmaster. I can see him as some gladiatorial villain, that Conan might have squared off against, Clubber Lang with the gloves off and furry shorts.
Perhaps a prison movie, some exploitation trash. We might have seen one more decent Mr. T performance in something like that. Exploitation would have been the route for the mean T. Perhaps a baddie in The Running Man, I can see that. But not much else would have held the fury. A Post-Apocalyptic Mad Max Rip Off, of which there were plenty in the 80s. Only a fucked up future could result in that kind of mutant aggression.
But we'd have only seen one, maybe two more impressive Angry T performances, before he went the way of Vernon Wells and Robert Davi: Straight-to-Video stooges. Michael Dudikoff might beat him up in some banana republic in a film that had "Ninja" and a number in the title.
But Mr. T. is still heralded to this day. For the cartoons where he encouraged kids to take vitamins, for the song he released telling you to respect your mother, for not wanting to take to the skies in any kind of winged vehicle, any number of cringe-worthy silly antics (go Youtube them, but I'm not endorsing them here.). The gimmicks, the novelties, the catchphrases - as corny as they are - secured his fame. Take the A-Team as a show. It's the most celebrated of that era of Larson or Spelling action TV. How comes? Magnum PI is arguably better for writing and characterisation but the A-Team is easy to recall because of the repetitions, the goofing, the corn. They did pretty much the same thing each week. Who is going to forget the essence of the A-Team when it happens each Saturday like a checklist? This is the law of Mr. T's fame.
So Mr. T doesn't get my accolade. B.A. Baracus isn't on this list. They both have plenty of love from pop-culture nerds and will endure for all the reasons that disqualify them now.
No. My props go out to Clubber Lang, and in regret that Mr. T didn't indulge us in some more nasty parts before settling down as a fondly remembered clown for the 'I Love XYZ' pundits.
You've not heard from me in a while. Apologies. For about three weeks now I've been shifting from uncomfortable fatigue to outright sickness more or less every day. This Clubber Lang blog has been written in dribs and drabs over the last fortnight. I've just not felt up to concentrating on it. It probably reads like shit. This week I've had toothache too which has messed up the one thing I really need more of. Sleep. I'm falling apart readers.
But the party happened. Thanks to everyone who came along to that, and forgiveness for those who flaked but gave reason. I did well on presents and at any given point in the night I had at least four Rum and Gingers behind the one in my hand. A conveyor belt of booze. The cliques seemed to mix a little - Uni, Bromley, and The Diamond Mines of Pankot Palace - and it looked like people had fun. David, are you having fun?
Good stuff. I had a blast. I laughed. I danced. I did the handshakes and hugs that I coveted when I saw them on Entourage. I think I used up all my mojo for the Summer in one night, as I've been a fucking miserable dog ever since.
And I now realise if I describe someone as 'Married' most people won't interpret it as "The newly-wed, who you might remember I was best man for" but rather "This guy is older than all of us, doesn't drink, has a mortgage and will leave early." This might start to annoy the Married Guy.
Other things took on bittersweet clarity once sobreity settled in. It's one thing to see which of your friends you don't compare to, but finding out you don't even compare to sweaty interlopers in the street is pretty depressing. See, I'm a fucking pussy. So these things get to me and I'll do dick about it. I know I'm a fucking pussy because it got texted to me that night in some club.
But I'll tell you who isn't a fucking pussy. Who doesn't let this kind of shit stand and asks...no begs...to kill sweaty interlopers on my behalf.
Legends of the Balls
Part II: Davey.
Davey's already legendary for not letting shit happen on his watch. He excelled last Saturday as the kind of guy you want on your side. The kind of guy that can take a lap-dance from another chap and not be fussed, because if he wanted to he could blind everyone who witnessed it and castrate said dancer in less time than it takes for me to say 'I'm sorry'.
I'm sorry Davey.
That thing under his arm is some dude's lung, I think it was just the guy collecting empty glasses. Davey pulled it out through the dude's eye. That's how badass he is. That's how he rolls every weekend. So when he offered to take out the perspiring stranger we'd ambled into I had to refuse him. I had a good idea how things would play out.
And so as the night drew to an end with the beginnings of a season long mope for me, off Davey went towards Greenwich, determined to get that Viking funeral he wanted so badly underway.
Godspeed you bearded conqueror.