Heroes´s and Monsters of Time Square
Since Times Square has been transformed into a pedestrian area in 2011, the number of costumed characters that pose with tourists for tips have increased dramatically. Most of the people behind the masks of American icons such as Spiderman, Mickey Mouse, and Lady Liberty are immigrants from South America. Many of them work up to 12 hours a day to support their families in the United States or in their home countries. After a recent violent confrontation between a man dressed as Spiderman and a police officer, followed by a string of other unpleasant incidents, the police started a clampdown in August 2014 by putting up signs that inform tourists that tipping costumed characters is optional. “Before our earnings varied from lows of $30 to highs of over $200, but now the signs have lowered our incomes significantly,” said Virgilia, a 19-year-old Elmo character and young mother. After losing her regular job because of the pregnancy, she started to perform on Times Square, along with her 20-year-old boyfriend, Joshua, who wears a Buzz Lightyear costume. “We are working hard trying to make people, especially their children, happy. I think we should not be judged based on the actions of a few,” Virgilia said. New York´s council members are now pushing for legislation requiring the performers to undergo a criminal background check and get an official license. The payback comes as many costumed characters band together—joining a group called New York Artists United for a Smile—to fight for their rights to perform in public.