I know this dude. He's big, black and used to frequent our local gay bars late at night. And, on rare occasions, I think he still does. Always shirtless and wrapped in huge chains, he reminds me a lot of a certain television icon: Mr. T.
When I heard an entire local art show opening Thursday, March 6, was going to be dedicated to Mr. T, I couldn't help but think back to that queer guy with all those chains.
Ever since I first saw "B.A. Baracus" on The A-Team, way back in the 1980s, I've thought Mr. T (born Laurence Tureaud) was queer, and not just because he dressed so strange. He'd probably pound my mound into the next decade if I told that to his face, but to this day I can't help but think underneath Mr. T's macho-thick veneer there's a drag queen just waiting to break "out."
Frankly, I don't believe this is the shared position of the artists who've created work for Moshi Moshi's "I Mr. T" show. Moshi Moshi is an art gallery dedicated to all things Japanese (which I guess now includes American TV icons). Their art opening coincides with the grand reopening of the store, which has moved from East to West Burnside Street. In fact, I think Mr. T's sexuality is the last thing on the mind of the show's instigator: 10-year-old artist and Mr. T enthusiast Levi Pitters.
I talked to Tripper Dungan, a 27-year-old artist and shadow-puppet maker, who is friends with Levi and his folks, Cathy and Greg Pitters. It was Dungan and the Pitters who encouraged Levi to put together this exhibit dedicated to his "hero"—a hero that graced our TV screens some 20 years before Levi was born.
"I wouldn't call him a freak, but I guess he is," says Dungan about the appeal of Mr. T to today's kids who watch him on YouTube and DVD. "But the real reason I think kids connect to him is that he makes decisions and sticks to them." Even more telling, especially when it comes to the whole gay factor, is what Dungan says is Mr. T's universality. "People connect to the fact that they know they are special on the inside, even if they don't look it on the outside. That's the appeal of Mr. T. He displays his insides on the outside to a degree. Yeah, he's flamboyant. But he's tough and positive at the same time."
Dungan will show his own work, a Mr. T lunchbox that requires 3-D glasses to be viewed, alongside Levi's own celebrity portraiture. They will be joined by Levi's schoolmates, as well as more well-known local artists like Bwana Spoons and Martin Ontiveros.
To consider Mr. T a gay icon is to ignore the notion that he's a role model to other disenfranchised folk: bad poets, jewelry lovers, people with really bad haircuts and weird beards. But, according to the man himself, those chains represented the chains of slavery, not the trappings of success. I think that's the same reason the guy in the gay bar wore them. That and they looked really good on the dance floor.
Moshi Moshi, 916 W Burnside St., 233-3993.
opens 6 to 9 pm, Thursday, March 6. Free.