The Brooklyn Paper’s Joseph Altobelli published an article today decrying the recent appearance of costumed characters forced out of Times Square on the Coney Island boardwalk. According to Altobelli and his sources, the characters, who sometimes illegally charge people to pose for photos with them, are aggressive and annoying and bad for business.
People dressed as children’s favorite characters — from SpongeBob to Iron Man to Olaf from “Frozen” — have begun to congregate along the waterfront to pose for pictures with kids — and then demand cash from the parents.
Locals are not at all happy to see the photo-op phenomenon metastasize from the crossroads of the world to Sodom on the Sea.
“I think they should stay away from here,” said Fernando Delvalle, a weekly visitor to the Boardwalk. “Leave that in Times Square.”
But notice that Altobelli refers to Coney Island as “Sodom on the Sea,” a nod to the boardwalk’s history of freakshows and “horse racing, boxing, gambling, drinking, and prostitution.” For much of its history, Coney Island has been a den of deviance, and Altobelli and other Coney Island visitors want the boardwalk to maintain its seedy edge. They don’t want it to go the way of sanitized, family-friendly Times Square.
“I think [Coney Island] should just keep it to the classic freak show,” said beachgoer Lauren Mark. “Those were the people you came here to see if you are coming to see characters.”
But people like Lauren Mark should welcome the Spongebobs and Elmos with open arms, because a lot of them are degenerates. Not all of them, of course, but enough of them. The costumed characters, with their hustle and cash-seeking hearts hidden beneath their fuzzy exteriors, are the most Old New York things to pop up in New New York. They saw a market opportunity to rip off tourists with kids who were venturing into Disneyfied Times Square and they took it. That’s so New York.
You want a freak show? Here’s Elmo ranting about “international Jew Michael Milken.” You want danger and squalor? A man who wears a Winnie the Pooh costume was arrested for stabbing an Elmo to death during a dispute over whose turn it was to buy beer.
The true sideshow freaks are long gone. Thor Equities is paying street artists to put up murals. Nathan’s has a raw bar. Drunks in smelly, knockoff costumes hassling tourists for money is the only unpolished, ungentrified, family-unfriendly thing still happening in Coney Island or Times Square. If you want Coney Island to stay grimy (which why would you, you cultural tourist? Raw bars are nice), you have to admit that these hustlers are a perfect fit.