“Bad Attitude” (B.A.) Baracus, The A-Team – Schechner:
We open with a poem – originally written for the Mr. T. Haiku shrine:
Here is how to tell
Whom I pity: if fool, yes,
If not fool, then no.
-Matthew Belinkie, David Shechner
“The A-Team” is fundamentally an extended metaphor for the generation gap: a group of highly skilled members from an elder time find themselves thrust into a world which relies upon, persecutes, and ultimately cannot understand them. This tale is essentially fleshed out as a morality play featuring characters which represent the Ancient Greek fundamental elements: Fire (Hannibal, frequently seen incinerating cigars, semi-frequently using flame-throwers to do so), Water (Face-man, whose physical form–perhaps even moral code–are fluid and ever-changing), Wind (Murdock, a pilot, frequently accused of being full of hot air), Some-helpless-chick-whose-elderly-father-probably-shouldn’t-have-gotten-into-business-with-the-mafia-in-the-first-place (played by some helpless chick whose elderly father probably shouldn’t have gotten into business with the mafia in the first place), and Earth.
Oh, Earth. It’s physically the strongest of them – actually being built from rocks (and therein, ores from which one can smelt precious metals).
It’s the source of all our nutrients – say, those found in a wholesome glass of milk. According to the Greeks, it is a low-leaning element, tending downward towards gravity, and away from the air – hence its natural fear of flying. I’ve always suspected that it deeply respects and loves its momma. Also, it’s brown – a fact that I will not discuss, as I pride myself on being racially color-blind.
However, an effective morality play dehumanizes its characters, reducing them into nearly abstract, instructive forms, and as such the creators of The A-Team have failed in their portrayal of Earth. In fact, though I immediately jumped at this character for my favorite all-time pop-culture sergeant, closer inspection really reveals quite the opposite.
A sergeant is a relatively anonymous character – less a figure of true authority (who’s full name-beyond rank-would probably be known, for instance), than a glorified floor foreman, a grunt’s Chief Grunt. A sergeant get out there and leads by example, in cases where success means being altruistic in the face of danger, and placing abstract notions of squad, country and honor before self.
And the thing is, B.A. is the precise opposite of this selfless, nameless ideal: for one, despite his attachment and support of his squad, he’s the unequivocal star of The A-Team. Ask yourself: during your childhood, how many times did you beg your parents for a Face-Man action figure? Moreover, and most importantly, he’s incomprehensibly far from the ideal of the nameless rank-holder, the “Sarge” archetype. Rather, the sheer power of his cult-generating personal magnitude goes so far as to breaks the fourth wall.
This man was never B.A. Baracus – he was always Mr. T.
That’s right, I’d argue that, since the suspension of disbelief required to think of this man as a character living in The A-Team universe is so insurmountably great, every time Mr. T.-er-B.A. walks into the scene, anything he says or does can be essentially considered nondiagetic. He has entered a rarified realm inhabited by the likes of William Shatner, Stephen Segal, Cher, and Michael Cerra: he fails to portray a character, because he himself has become so deeply intertwined within it.
After all, how many of you actually recalled B.A.’s military rank, without consultation of this list? No, no as much as it pains me (emotionally now, and almost certainly physically later) to say any disparaging words towards Mr. T. and his works, I cannot consider Sgt. Baracus to be a great military leader. At best, he’s the wise-talking shephard who leads a group of talented child gymnasts through an “unknown number of episodes.” At worst, he’s a gruesome adversary for Rocky Balboa.
Forgive me, T.