Great Moments in Pop Culture – Mr. T Thanks His Mother

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[Previous Great Moments: “I’m Not a Real Witch”Jimmy Stewart’s Yeti FingerJames Cameron Digs Up Christ]

The WWE Hall of Fame sits at the start of Wrestlemania weekend, as the one evening a year when the carny-ass business that proudly rolls around in shit for the other 364 mops up the sweat and gets classy. Essentially, this is wrestling’s Oscar night, playing up its decades of tradition, even with a red carpet pre-show on their streaming network. There’s something magical about the world of pretend fights glamming it up, with frequent cutaways from podium speeches to a watching audience of wrestlers, showcasing everything from the weepy applause of a literal giant to Michael P.S. Hayes dressed like blaxploitation Satan. Held together by the glue of nostalgia, the shows are a mix of cracking anecdotes, tearful sentiment, and painfully dreary speeches that push desperate audiences into fantasies about glugging down refreshments at Jonestown. Hillbilly Jim’s rambling soliloquy from the 2018 ceremony is likely still ongoing to this day.

2014 saw the induction of names such as Lita, Jake ‘the Snake’ Roberts, and Razor Ramon, whose speeches touched on classic road stories, backstage ribs, and inspiration-bait recovery from life-long substance abuse. That year’s class is best remembered for the return of the Ultimate Warrior, inducted and welcomed home by a company who previously released a DVD about how crazy and loathed he was. Warrior returned from exile as a racist shit-stirrer to cut an emotional, redemptive monologue, before dropping dead four days later. But the real biggest story of 2014 emanated from the Hall of Fame’s celebrity wing.

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The names in this section are, shall we say, of a type, with Pete Rose, Kid Rock, and Donald Trump mostly serving as the foil in WWE’s constant pandering for mainstream press attention. In 2014, they finally picked someone who, by any standards, deserved to be there, in Mr. T. As a monumentally huge star in the mid-80s, the celebrity rub of Mr. T broke WWE out of the grotty sidelines and onto MTV, in front of enough eyes to make the first Wrestlemania, where he teamed with Hulk Hogan, a wild success, which pushed the company to the next level, rather than down into bankruptcy. It’s arguable that without he and Cyndi Lauper, there’d be no WWE as we know it, and it would never have fully escaped from its roots as a niche pseudo-sport, like American Gladiators, Rollerball, or the Soggy Biscuit Game. Also, we’d never have gotten to see the wild chatshow appearance where Hogan choked the host unconscious, while Mr. T pacified the audience with “he’s alright, he’s just sleepin‘” as blood pooled on the studio floor. So, it’s on one night in 2014, that Mr. T, inducted by ‘Mean’ Gene Okerlund and introduced by his son, took to the stage.

Though he’s obviously older, undeniably, forever and always, this is the Mr. T we know and love. He’s still rocking the mohawk, though wears a bow tie in place of the famous gold chains; dropped in 2005, in solidarity with the losses suffered by victims of Hurricane Katrina. Mr. T rightfully receives a standing ovation from the live crowd, consisting of regular fans in the bleachers, and in the floor seats, wrestling personalities from every era, crammed into tailored suits and expensive dresses, pairing tuxedos with bandanas, sunglasses, and colourful masks. Faces from the current roster sit alongside those who beat each other bloody with chairs in the 90s, and those who survived the high bodycount of the 80s; now grey and bald, with time turning toned muscle to paunch, and scowling faces that once spat threats of violence into dimpled grandpas. The front row consists of ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin, Jim Ross, and Hulk Hogan, with his reality-show kids on one side, and young, blond girlfriend who looks just like his daughter on the other.

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A clearly moved Mr. T takes a big, calming breath, before giving us the first clue we’re about to witness history, cutting short his opening spiel about how honoured he is to be there, to announce “let me stop right here to pray.” It’s a shame the camera stays tight on T’s face as he leads the room through a prayer of thanks “to God almighty, for making all this possible for me,” robbing us the sight of rows of heads scarred with razor-slashes bowing in holy reverence. Then, it happens. “As you honor me… please allow me a few minutes to honor and pay tribute to my dear mother.”

A few minutes, he says. That’s barely enough time to run to the bathroom. You could put the kettle on for a cup of tea, but you couldn’t finish drinking it. This, it turns out, is an understatement. Stick a roast dinner in the oven and by the time he’s done, the smoke alarm will be beeping. Hell, even his promises to not go on for too long take up a full minute. “Please indulge me for a couple of minutes,” he says, “I thank you in advance for your patience and understanding,” adding “I promise, I won’t be too long, and I hope I don’t bore you.” At least the latter’s accurate, as what follows is never boring, however by the time he’s physically removed from the stage, our beards will be down past our knees, and he’ll have spoken the word “mother” 71 times.

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Mr. T’s love for his mother, and indeed, for all the world’s mothers, is well documented. At the height of his fame, 1984 motivational video, Be Somebody… or Be Somebody’s Fool! famously featured the single, Treat Your Mother Right. Though, as with the album, Mr. T’s Commandments (with songs such as Don’t Talk To Strangers and No Dope No Drugs), he doesn’t actually sing, but gruffly ‘talks’ the lyrics like a constipated Rex Harrison. Regardless, its message of loving mothers (and not in the MILF way you might see on Pornhub) is as relevant today as it was thirty years ago. I’ve no doubt Mama T is a wonderful woman, fully worthy of gushing tribute, and what better setting than a WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony?

T opens his prepared speech with hopes it will inspire, and that “maybe some wayward teenager might find his way back home.” His childhood is a sadly familiar story of hardship and poverty, surrounded by crime and drugs, and ghetto-born as the eighth of twelve children, who his mother raised alone; correction, “with the help of God.” On the mic, Mr. T is an extremely likeable presence who quotes the bible often, and is endearingly child-like, occasionally mispronouncing words and genuinely taken by every appreciative cheer. Beneath the bad attitude and mohawk, he tells us, he’s “an old-fashioned mama’s boy,” immediately throwing out a casual string of golden lines:

Every time I think about my mother, it sends a certain feeling up and down my body.”

I believe the genius of God’s soul expresses itself through the body of a mother, like no other.”

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Using his mother’s loss of her once-streamlined waist, inch by inch, as he grew in her womb, Mr. T introduces us to the concept of God giving Mama T a credit for each of her many sacrifices; a notion which carries us through the next few minutes. Like tipping a bellboy for lugging a particularly heavy suitcase up six flights of stairs, God keeps piling up Mrs. T’s credits; one for every varicose vein, for every morning of nausea, for every discomfort; “and every kick that I gave her.” It’s here, where the mood of the audience first begins to shift, initially offering supportive applause in all the right places, but now baffled; lost in an unending riff on the rigours of pregnancy. At six minutes in, Nick Hogan awkwardly straightens his tie, as Mr. T informs a packed house that “her heart had to pump for two; her urinary tract had to work for two.”

With thoughts about Mr. T’s mum pissing like a horse (“I’m weeing for two!”), and a mention of her digestive tract, around the eight minute mark, he namechecks his hit single. Treat Your Mother Right, he says, was penned as a love-letter to his mother, so she’d know that he loves her every day – “Not just on her birthday, not just on Mother’s Day, not just on Valentine’s day, or Christmas day, but I love my mother on President’s Day, I love my mother on election day, on Labor Day, Independence Day, Columbus Day, Earth Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day…

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By this point, the various days are punctuated by the boisterous “WHAT?!” of an audience primed by call-and-response in-ring wrestling promos, to a slight visible confusion from Mr. T as he continues. “…Groundhogs [sic] Day, April Fool’s Day, New Year’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and yes, even on Father’s Day, I love my mother.” In the time it takes to reel off an entire calendar of holidays, another full minute has passed. Now ten minutes in, in case anyone’s unclear, Mr. T confirms “I’m just tryin’ to tell you about my mother.” The fans, who showed up to hear tales of old wrestlers shitting in each other’s hats as a prank, respond with rowdy chants of “Thank you, Mother! Thank you, Mother!

Resilient, he returns to his upbringing, financially poor but spiritually rich, and again quotes from the bible. At Minute 12, those in attendance return to stunned silence, as Mr. T describes his mother’s discipline, when she’d fetch “that big thick strap and whip our behinds,” adding “thank you, mother!” The restless crowd respond with another chant of “thank you, mother!” which one feels, at this stage, is sarcastic. He relates a story of running home with a drawing of a house, promising his mother one day he’d grow up big and strong and buy her a real one, plus lots of pretty dresses. As was the Lord’s willing, he did.

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In minute 14, Mother T is praying at the bedside of her sickly child. “Her love was like a blanket on a cold Chicago’s night,” stronger than peer pressure from the streets, than any gang, he says, before reciting the words of Jesus. By minute 15, he’s quoting Genesis (the bible, not the band), positing “how can I tell my mother that I love her, then get arrested for breaking into somebody’s house?” He would rather die, he says; die and burn in hell, than bring dishonour to his mother. As the speech reaches its sixteenth minute, it takes a minor shift from his mother, and onto other family members, thanking his seven big brothers for setting good examples. They didn’t drink, smoke, or do drugs, instead, getting into sports and the armed forces; the cops; the fire service. Mr. T’s brothers never joined a gang (“What?!”), they never stole a car (“What?!”), they never robbed anybody (“What?!”). Mr. T’s brothers, “they never raped anybody.”

B.A. Baracus has seemingly made permanent residence of the stage, set to ramble forever about his enormous, go-getting family, now eighteen minutes in, and congratulating his own children; a son receiving a masters degree; a daughter who’s sitting her doctor’s exam. Is this how we live now? Trapped in front of the incessant rolling panegyric to the T dynasty, as words pour from an unmoving host like talking statues of plague-ridden peasants at living history museums? Will mother come to whup us with a strap if we dare rise from our seats? But then comes the startling sound of an explosion, and the music of the Undertaker’s onscreen brother, Kane. It paints the giant screens behind our speaker with rippling flames, casting a flickering orange sheen across the stage, and giving the impression he has indeed been taken to Hell, and us with him. Confused, Mr. T soldiers on over the music, “is it time?” he asks softly, before Kane emerges from the wings.

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A desperate tactic from producers in the booth watching the runtime be devoured by a T’dipus complex, this is an in-joke of sorts, as Kane’s gimmick, back in the day, was to interrupt other people’s matches; the pyro explosion of his theme signalling his stepping into the ring to destroy whichever poor sods were waiting. Though this is 2014, and he’s old and out of his mask, as another 6’11 guy filling out a suit; the sole clue to his demonic character a jaunty red bow tie. He’s come, not to chokeslam Mr. T through the stage, but to intimate through glowering his time is up, like a striped walking crook hooked around the neck, or a sound mixer who’s won an unimportant Oscar category trying to pay tribute to a dying spouse as she’s drowned out by the orchestra. “Sorry,” says Mr. T, straightening his stack of papers with a newsreader’s tap and folding them inside his bible, “they tell me my time is up.”

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We don’t even get a goodbye, and with a “sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry,” he backs away from the podium and offstage with a wave, making failed sons of the rest of us. Bless you, Mr. T, and the mother who raised you. I know my deal is usually “haha look at this dumb thing,” but I genuinely admire Mr. T’s steadfast decision to pay tribute to his mother, soldiering on until he was physically stopped, through a 22-minute speech at a wrestling show that made zero mention of his time in the business, and only speaking the word wrasslin’ once. Someday I hope to find a level of success where I can have such a platform to thank my own mother for all she’s done, perhaps writing a screenplay that goes onto win an Academy Award. Then, as I’m standing there in front of Will Smith, Anna Kendrick (my wife), and Dril, I can finally tell the world about how much I love my mother, and the thankless effort she put in all those decades ago, with her overworked urinary tract.

This piece first appeared on my Patreon, where subscribers could read it a month before it landed here. If you’d like to support me for as little as $1 a month, then click here to help provide the world with regular deep dives about weird-bad pop culture, and all kinds of other stuff.

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~ by Stuart on April 28, 2019.

One Response to “Great Moments in Pop Culture – Mr. T Thanks His Mother”

  1. […] [Previous Great Moments: “I’m Not a Real Witch” — Jimmy Stewart’s Yeti Finger — James Cameron Digs Up Christ — Mr. T Thanks His Mother] […]

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