Memorial Day Special: Best Pop Culture Sergeant [Think Tank]

Memorial Day Special: Best Pop Culture Sergeant [Think Tank]

Overthinking It honors America’s soldiers with this Memorial Day Think Tank.

“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
~Winter, 2004

“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).

Who's got two index fingers and two Egyptian Sun-King Burials' worth of gold around his neck?

Who's got two index fingers and two Egyptian Sun-King Burials' worth of gold around his neck?

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.

Check out THIS gun show.  Also, the other three characters are holding guns.

Check out THIS gun show. Also, the other three characters are holding guns.

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.

6 Comments on “Memorial Day Special: Best Pop Culture Sergeant [Think Tank]”

  1. Darin #

    I love Starship Troopers. It’s one of those movies that I could watch over and over if the missus wanted to go to sleep early. Sgt. Zim has the brainwashed rationale that works so well for his world (w/ great accompanying video).

    Sgt. Zim doesn’t have what Mr. T/ B.A. Baracus which is that personality as character.

    R. Lee Erney as “that drill instructor in Full Metal Jacket” has both. He spews hate to make Marines, it is his way, his rationale; and, he is personality as character on screen. His intensity trumps the faux world of wrestling and plays to type much better than Beetle Bailey’s Sarge plays against it.


  2. Gab #

    What about Klinger from _M*A*S*H_? He gets promoted to sergeant in… uh… I can’t remember what season specifically. But I know he ends up a sergeant eventually. Wiki tells me so, at least.

    And I couldn’t help but think of this, too:


  3. Rob #

    No love for Sergeant Pepper?


  4. lee OTI Staff #

    I just watched the knife-in-hand scene. It’s truly horrific. Without having seen Starship Troopers, I’m guessing this movie really plays up the sadistic nature of extreme militarism in a big way, and that it’s an exceedingly uncomfortable movie to watch.


  5. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    @Lee – Totally wrong! What makes Starship Troopers so clever is that it makes extreme militarism look AWESOME. The whole movie is basically a propaganda film for this fictional future army, and by the end, you can’t wait to run out and enlist. Don’t forget, Paul Verhoeven is Dutch, and grew up in Nazi-occupied territory. He’s admitted to using this movie to satirize films like Triumph of the Will. Starship Troopers SHOULD make you uncomfortable, but it’s also a lot of fun. Seriously, see it.


  6. Matthew Wrather #

    So, um, not exactly “totally wrong”, but rather “totally right, but missing the point”?


    I agree that Starship Troopers is awesome. Do you want to know more?


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