This Gothamist article about the “characters” in Times Square from last week fired me up. As if Times Square isn’t clogged enough, I hate walking through there on my way to the gym (the subway I pick up is right there), watching strangers dressed as characters carrying babies and going up to groups of tourists to convince them to take a picture. Not only are their costumes terrible looking, but did you read the word I used? These are STRANGERS.
It’s interesting to me that in a world so jaded, in a city that people are scared to visit, that visitors are okay with someone in a crappy Cookie Monster outfit touching their kid, holding them for a long time, and then asking for money after it’s all over. It’s not like you and I know the people behind the characters at Disney Parks, but there is a certain level of trust there. We trust in the company that is hiring these performers to choose people who are not invasive and have only the best interest of the guest at heart. Guests of the parks pay the entry fee to meet these characters and to be wrapped up in a fantasy world. Mickeys, Minnies, Tigers, and Mary Poppins make the fantasy real.
We can argue that sometimes even these employees don’t have the guests’ interests at heart, and have, indeed, been fired or reported because of inappropriate behavior. These situations are unacceptable, and I wonder if they feel even more shocking because you are in a place that built a foundation on happiness and magic. It’s heartbreaking and inexcusable to believe that someone who is hired to “become” this familiar personality would abuse their position.
So maybe my point is this. If bad things can happen to you in the safety and fantasy of a Disney Park, why is it that individuals still hand over their money, open their purse, and turn over their kids to people who are not hired by the city to stand in the middle of Times Square? There isn’t some kind of special “character” union for these people. Some of them may have the best of intentions; this is a way for them to make money. But how do you know the person you are trusting with your time and your family is not a bad person?
I think the biggest difference between the Times Square crowd and those at Disney Parks is the manner in which you are approached. In a Disney Park, you have an option to stand in line to meet a personality but in Times Square, these people are not shy. They will photo bomb your pictures, bother you until you look at them, and, all together, feel like quite a nuisance.
It’s been a hobby of mine to rate the rattiest costumes and laugh a little when I see two identical Elmos standing near each other, but when I see parents smile and tell their kids to run up to them? I’m frightened. I’m not a paranoid person. I generally trust my surroundings, even at 3 a.m. on a subway platform, but I don’t have much patience for this inappropriate behavior. In the past few years, the amount of “characters” infiltrating Times Square seems to have doubled. Sometimes when I walk through during the week, I see more furry creatures than humans and not only does it create a traffic jam but it makes Times Square even more of an eyesore than it already is.
People want to go on vacation and not be bombarded by strangers asking for their money. It’s bad enough the same people ask me over and over if I like comedy. (Let’s not even get into the naked women who are now standing in the middle of the Square wearing paint.) But I don’t think these knock-off Mickeys, Despicable Me minions, and more are doing anything to make Times Square a sought after place to wander in.
I don’t want this post to sound like a PSA. But I can’t help but emphasize how important it is to be safe and use your head when you are traveling. I fear too many tourists are manipulated by these friendly faces and believe THIS Mickey will treat you just like a Mickey in a Disney Park. When there are no guidelines or licenses or rules, who really knows? Too much can be left to chance.