A Justice League of Their Own: Times Square Elmos Launch New Association

In the face of bad press and possible regulations following reports of violence and otherwise un-Elmo-like behavior from the panhandling costumed performers in Times Square, the street artists have decided to organize.

If you’ve been to Times Square lately, you’ve probably seen them: people dressed as your favorite childhood icons, ready to take a picture with passersby in exchange for a tip. (They get upset if you don’t tip.)

But more than a few reputational hits have put a damper on the practice, as highlighted in this recent Associated Press report:

Among the incidents reported in the clip: an accusation of groping against a guy dressed as the video game character Super Mario; an allegation that a performer dressed as Cookie Monster pushed a 2-year-old child; and an anti-Semitic rant by a man dressed as Elmo outside a Toys R Us store. In all three cases, the performers were arrested.

The city has even put up signs informing tourists that they don’t have to ante up when a performer says, “Elmo want tip.”

As concerns about the costumed street performers has risen, the characters are beginning to draw some unwelcome attention: the creators of Sesame Street are looking into what they can do to protect their intellectual property; New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has suggested regulations; and the NYPD recently launched a crackdown that led to the arrests of two Iron Men, an Elmo, and a Spider-Man earlier this month. The city has even put up signs informing tourists that they don’t have to ante up when a performer says, “Elmo want tip.”

In this charged environment, the performers decided they needed an association of their own to protect their interests.

Behind the Masks

It’s unclear whether Mickey Mouse, Papa Smurf, and Optimus Prime will be able to overcome the tide of unfavorable attention, but the more than 100 performers that make up the Association of Artists United for a Smile, which announced its formation on Tuesday, hope to legitimize their line of work.

Working with the immigrant advocacy group La Fuente—many of the performers are from Latin America, according to Reuters—the new association also will aim to keep its members on the right side of the law.

“One of the things that we want to see is that the cops trust us a little bit more,” organizer Yamil Morales told the wire service through an interpreter. “We want to get the rules from them and get the idea of proper procedure.” He said the group would seek a meeting with police officials.

Morales, who dresses up as The Penguin, came up with the idea after talking with a couple of Batman performers—a collaboration you’d never see in the comic books.

But more than anything, the group’s members want to emphasize that the bad Elmos are the exception, not the rule.

“We realized we needed to unite when we started seeing the bad publicity,” Batman doppelgänger Jorge Luis told the New York Daily News. “People don’t see us with respect. … We support our families with the tips they give us.”

(photo by Alejandro Mallea/Flickr)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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