Monday, July 28, 2014

What 'Spiderman" In Times Square Could Learn From Austria's Mendicants

By now the youtube video is all over the place, showing a "Spiderman" character being throttled by New York's finest for unsavory behavior - which presumably the real character would never project. As the story goes, according to CBS Morning News, the character was given a buck tip by a woman but he felt that was way way too small after having to get dressed up in tights and all. So he demanded fives, tens or twenties only. When she didn't comply he got disgusting, insulting and rude - whereupon the police stepped in, demanded his ID - and then this guy (who fancied himself a real superhero) started throwing punches. See also:

Evidently, according to the report this morning this isn't unusual. The cartoon and comic book characters parading on Times Square - mainly for tips - do go ape shit if the tips aren't as large as they expect. In the last two years:

- A woody from 'Toy Story' and a Mario Brother were accused of groping women

- A Cookie Monster shoved a two year old boy

-And an 'Elmo' became notorious for his anti-Semitic rants.

New York Councilman Andy King also reported the experience of his grand daughter and family who were accosted by 'Strawberry shortcake" - who became dissatisfied with his tip started cursing at the family

New York is not alone, as costumed characters also roam the Vegas Strip and Hollywood Blvd. (where two Captains America got into a fist fight last year).

The question is why these costumed characters can't be more like the dignified ones we encountered in Innsbruck and Salzburg, Austria, like 'Charlie Chaplin":
Photo: This photo appears to have vanished from my FB page, so am re-posting: "Charlie Chaplin" in Innsbruck.
Who, on being provided with a tip (of any size) would do a little dance and give a bow. There was no berating or rude accosting if the tip was a half euro instead of a euro. Tourists could also have their photos take with him and there'd be no hard feelings - irrespective of the size of the tip. The guy exuded class, unlike "Spiderman" in NYC (maybe one reason Americans need fewer "super hero" costumes, and more cultural or historical ones - say like Abe Lincoln, Gen. Patton, et al)

Ditto with the Painted Lady of Innsbruck, where I'm shown below giving her a euro tip.
Me in front of the 'Painted Lady' of Innsbruck.
Did she bash me on the head with her umbrella because the tip was a single euro and not five? Of course not! Did she sic her doggy after me: "Get him Napoleon! Bite his ass for only giving me a euro tip!"

The Austrians, in whatever character guise, have way too much class for that! The reason is that they don't just get decked out and panhandle, they provide performances too.  Allowed to ply their trades in assorted locations in both Innsbruck and Salzburg, these creative performers - which is really what they were- never disappointed.  Each street character, whether the "Headless Puppet", Painted Lady and "Charlie Chaplin" in Innsbruck, or "Mozart", and assorted RC "Cardinals" in Salzburg, knew their stuff and how to beg with aplomb - while not seeming to beg.

This is an art form, make no mistake. Having seen how panhandlers operate (including those in comic book costumes) in cities from Vegas to New Orleans to San Francisco to Baltimore, they could take a lesson or two from the magnificent mendicants of Austria.  These latter street characters understand how gauche and unseemly it would be to simply beg, so they turn their need for money into practical street theatrics. They also probably grasp that donning a super hero outfit only tempts the wearer into out-sized, radical rude behavior - which is why you won't see a single "Spiderman" or "Wonder Woman" anywhere in Innsbruck, or Salzburg.

One pointed attribute stands out above all others: There are NO aggressive moves toward any passersby - even if you (and your spouse) are the only ones in the vicinity. Every single mendicant performer respects his or her "guests" (even if they tacitly ignore the costume or act) and also refrains from  meandering into other mendicants' staked out realms.  These are very important aspects!

I've always noticed in the U.S. cities mentioned,  irrespective of having a costume or not, most street characters  approach rapidly and aggressively  toward their targets and either scare them off, or turn them off. They also behave in an unseemly fashion if the tip isn't large enough, by their reckoning.  Thereby they forfeit a possible extra buck, and are 'bucked' in their pleas for more instead. They fail to grasp that if one goes into the begging field, at any level, some type of social interface is needed to ease the transaction.

A proper costume and a shtick (some performing act - singing, dancing etc.) can also help by deflecting the inevitable attention away from the implicit begging itself.  In this way, the Euro beggars appear to have achieved something their U.S. counterparts can only dream of, i.e. encouraging passersby who willingly put out cold hard cash for what they believe - and actually are - receiving!  But again, a major reason for this may be the choice of costume - which differs radically from the childish, clownish wear of American street beggars. (Likely reflecting the childish, clownish mass entertainment culture which keeps most people at an infantile consumer level.)

Take note, Times Square  costumed  characters - and maybe take a clue from your classy European counterparts- on how begging can be elevated to an art form - as opposed to a gauche, rude display of bad behavior. You might want to ditch those superhero costumes too!

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