What’s the first thing you think of when you think of New York City’s famed Times Square? Is it the interminable sea of tourists? The cars honking and screeching, or the blinding fluorescent lights? How about topless women, nightmarish Elmos and goofy-looking Spider-men? Well, if you’ve been to the renowned intersection any time in the past few years, you’ll know that these characters have become fixtures in their own right everywhere past 42nd Street.
However, it has reached a point where their presence is no longer charming and entertaining — it’s a serious annoyance. Not only have they multiplied to the point where you can’t even move a foot without seeing them, but now more and more city officials and even tourists question whether or not Times Square is a “family friendly” environment anymore. And that’s a valid question. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has deemed the display intolerable, heeding concerns by promising to work “quite soon” with city agencies to find a legal solution, especially for the growing parades of nudity. Although it’s a stretch, Governor Andrew Cuomo has also compared the present day situation to the “bad old Times Square” — a Times Square that had an abundance of drug dealers, sex workers, X-rated theaters and petty thieves. In any case, what is clear about this recent spectacle is that disorder is rampant.
Thousands of people pass through Times Square every hour, most of them families sightseeing in the city, there to see the crossroads of the world in all its bizarre, chaotic beauty. Whether or not that entire “experience” is truly enjoyable is up for debate, but something that would definitely make it less enjoyable for visitors is a knockoff Cookie Monster or a half-naked woman constantly badgering you for pictures or hugs. Even less fun? Getting groped by that Cookie Monster. Witnessing a physical altercation between characters. Or better yet, being part of that altercation yourself.
I understand that most of the people working under all the furry costumes and colorful body paint are simply trying to make a living, but that’s not the biggest issue. Neither is the manner in which they choose to dress up, or the fact that they want to be paid for their time and services. The issue is how they conduct their business, crowding the streets demanding ludicrous “tips” for some simple snapshots and overall harassing hapless passersby. Some might argue that tourists should simply avoid Times Square, (which is, generally speaking, a very good idea) but what enthusiastic tourist would say yes to that? Most reasonable New Yorkers and other experienced locals do it all the time, but we shouldn’t have to ask tourists to avoid the hub entirely because of an unruly SpongeBob or naked cowboy.
I say New York should welcome a change in how the characters in Times Square conduct their business. If that change means that they’re eliminated altogether, then so be it. Times Square is hellish enough. Deranged and disruptive distant cousins of Mickey Mouse just make it even more unbearable. If they do leave, the city will not seriously miss them.