I know I shouldn’t chuckle as I read this article about the new organization of cartoon characters in Times Square. There is income at stake here, and maybe even a First Amendment issue lurking there. But this thing is chock full of unintentional comedy.
But first, some background. If you’ve been to New York City in the last year or so, you may have seen people wearing super hero and other cartoon costumes in Times Square.
Tourists with money burning a hole in their pocket pose for pictures with these action heroes and occasionally give them some money. And of course, that’s where the trouble begins. It’s not illegal to dress like a super hero and accept cash from tourists. But it is illegal to “aggressively” panhandle. Apparently somewhere between those two extremes, however, the lines get a little blurry.
Recently, two tourists offered Spiderman one dollar. He told them the tip was too small. A police officer intervened, telling the tourists they could tip what they wished. Spidey told the officer to mind his own business. The officer asked for the superhero’s identification (was he expecting a Peter Parker driver’s license?), but he had none on him. When the officer then moved to arrest the character, Spiderman threw a punch (surprised no web was involved here). The character was ultimately charged with assault and resisting arrest.
That led the cops to start handing out fliers in Times Square letting tourists know they do not have to tip in exchange for a photo. And that has caused an outcry among the characters, who feel they are being singled out. Of course, one could make the argument that the performers have kind of asked for it. Here’s an excerpt from the New York Times article that is funny and pathetic at the same time:
Other characters have had run-ins with the law in recent years: An Elmo was taken into police custody for shouting obscenities in 2012; another Spider-Man fought with a woman over a photo in 2013; a Cookie Monster was accused of shoving a toddler last year; and a Super Mario was said to have groped a pedestrian in 2012.
I get that Cookie Monster may have been a little grumpy. And Super Mario being a little forward doesn’t shock me. But ELMO shouting obscenities? That is more than I can take. Maybe he’s been spending too much time with Oscar the Grouch.
I hope this thing works out. I’m not sure I’m ready for Big Bird carrying a “No Justice No Peace” sign. But if you go to New York, you might want to consider the thousands of photo opportunities that don’t involve faux cartoon characters. Just sayin’.