Thursday, August 19, 2004

Is it busking?

The first time I encountered those people who, ahem, earn money through the practice of standing very still while standing on a box wearing a costume was in Barcelona. I remember being quite stunned to see this guy in a toga raising quite large sums of cash by the simple process of merely standing there. I wouldn´t say I was impressed as such, but I was intrigued by the inventiveness and creativity of his approach. Here was a way of busking that didn´t involve any talent whatsoever. (Hands up all of you who made a mental comment regarding the lack of talent of buskers who play instruments/juggle/dance etc.)

But that was ten years ago, and since that first sighting the practice of dressing up and not moving has spread around the world. While the late 80s and early 90s were characterised by bands of faux-Peruvians playing pan pipes in town squares the length and breadth of the world, the 21st century equivalent is the performance art statue. And once again Barcelona is leading the world. These days the entire length of the Rambla is taken up with elaborately dressed individuals standing shoulder to shoulder competing for smaller and smaller offerings as people become more and more cynical about the practice. A critical mass has been reached and surely the practice must implode or start receiving EU subsidies to survive.

These days, of course, wearing a bed sheet and a crown of olive leaves and standing on a milk crate just does not cut the mustard. With such ferocious competition, today´s hopeful has to look ever more inhuman. These days there are gargoyles rubbing shoulders with Lenins. Cartoon characters and angels. they are covered in some kind of all over body paint and are, it has to be said, pretty amazing creations. It looks horrifically unhealthy, and ridiculously hot. I am sure most of their money is made through sympathy. "Look at that poor bastard wearing a full on suit of armour and covered in gold body paint in this 35° heat. That´s got to be killing him. Maybe he can buy himself a cold drink at the end of the day". In this way, this modern day phenomenon has moved from busking to a kind of middle class begging. Make yourself as uncomfortable as possible in the hopes of attracting sympathy cash. How long before we get method actors on the streets of popular tourist destinations, slowly starving themselves for their art?

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