Slings and arrows of outrageous outfits Cupid: Mythology is unkind to those who would follow in chubby little cherub's flight path. Just ask the guy in the red.

February 14, 1997|By Lisa Pollak | Lisa Pollak,SUN STAFF

Valentine's Day has many drawbacks. It is too commercial. It makes single people feel bad. It promotes the wearing of red, unflattering to some complexions. And then there's Cupid.

Cupid -- mythological son of Venus, winged archer of love, chubby naked infant, take your parenthetical pick -- is no Santa Claus. Santa Claus is an easily recognizable fat man with a white beard and a red suit. As befits the Christmas season, he is generous and warmly dressed. People don't hesitate to climb onto his lap and share their intimate wishes.

Cupid is another story. A naked boy with wings? This is a difficult look to reproduce in costume form. Those inclined to do so are usually obliged to wear something resembling a diaper. This is not a romantic image, particularly not on a grown man, winged or otherwise. And that's the problem with Valentine's Day. No Santa. No Easter Bunny. No marketable, ubiquitous, mall-ready, cuddly costumed character. Except Cupid.

This did not stop the folks at Westview Mall in Catonsville. Determined to personify the Valentine's Day spirit, the mall hired an actor to roam the shopping area as Cupid last weekend. "He'll be wearing a full bodysuit, red glitter mask, high-tops and something that looks like a diaper," promised Kirstie Durr, a spokeswoman for the mall. "Very tasteful."

Taste, of course, is a relative concept. Sunday afternoon, actor Tom Seibert arrived at the mall in a leather jacket and blue jeans. He ducked into a dressing room and emerged a few minutes later, wearing a gold bodysuit, white sparkly wings and a diaper fastened with duct tape. Brandishing a red arrow with foam hearts for arrowheads, Cupid began to prance about the mall, handing out gift certificates and addressing customers in rhyme.

Reaction was instantaneous. Shoppers stared. Clerks rushed out their stores to gawk. At the Piercing Pagoda, people doubled over in laughter. A man in Foot Locker cocked a thumb and forefinger and took aim at the winged boy-god. And then came the comments:

"Weird."

"What is he?"

"He's not getting near my children like that."

"Get away, man. That's my daughter."

"No thanks -- we've already met you."

We've already met you? "The fact of the matter was that it wasn't true at all," said Cupid, who stoically maintained rhyme-speak all afternoon. "I'd never talked to that woman, at least not in this mall."

And on it went. Some people ran from Cupid. Others tried to shoo him away. (Was it the wings?) And then there were the critics, whose visions of a '90s love god didn't exactly match the greeting-card version.

"I want my Cupid to be sexy," cooed shopper Tia Horne, 19. "I want him to have the DKNY shirt, the sweatpants, the Timberland boots. A nice little tattoo with my name on his arm. That'd be so wonderful."

"I think he should have boxer shorts on," said Anette LaFlex, manager of Shaw's Jewelers. "And his wings should be a little larger."

"I don't think of Cupid as being a child in a diaper," said Roslyn Jacobson, assistant manager at Hit or Miss. "I think of him as being a man in red." Like Santa?

Not everyone was disparaging. Wide-eyed teen-aged girls, too absorbed with their own looks to notice Cupid's, readily shared details of their love lives with the ersatz cherub. And small children took quite a shine to the son of Venus. They beamed at him. They hugged him. Maybe they identified with him.

"It's mostly the men who are getting upset about Cupid," said Pam Span, a clipboard-wielding market researcher whose job standing in the mall meant she got to watch Cupid all afternoon. "They're like, 'Get away from me!' I mean, what's the problem?"

The problem, of course, is Cupid. Not Cupid the actor, who triumphed in a difficult role. It's Cupid the character -- an icon better suited to 16th-century paintings than 20th-century public life. The moral of this story? Resist the urge to put on a diaper and prance anywhere today.

Consider the example of Michael Franchetti, who appeared as Cupid at two area bars this month as part of a radio station promotion.

"I was looking at pictures in the card shops and, for the most part, Cupid is that little chubby baby with wings," he said. "I knew I couldn't match that look, exactly, because I'm an adult. First we were thinking diaper, but my promotions director was worried about the diaper falling off. We were in a bar, so I think that would have been a little inappropriate."

His solution? "Silk red boxers with white hearts. And a red T-shirt, so I wouldn't freeze to death. People seemed to like it."

Pub Date: 2/14/97

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