What We Need are Mimes

1217260651I always enjoy the Globe’s Sunday Ideas section. It’s routinely well-written, surprising, smart and counterintuitive. (And it’s a tribute to Marty Baron that it still runs in the paper, despite having no ad support.) But one story in yesterday’s edition may have changed my perspective on life. Buried in a single paragraph well into staffer Drake Bennett‘s piece on cultures of corruption is this little gem:

But where honesty and corruption are concerned, people don’t just take their cues from leaders, they also seem perfectly willing to take them from clowns. For more than a decade, social scientists have been fascinated by a law enforcement measure from Bogota, Colombia. In 1994 the mathematician and philosophy professor Antanas Mockus was elected mayor of the violence-plagued city on a platform of radical reform. One of his first measures in office was to deploy costumed mimes at major intersections to battle the city’s legendarily chaotic traffic. Their mission was to mimic, mock, or otherwise harass motorists and pedestrians for breaking traffic rules.

They succeeded wildly: traffic compliance shot up, and traffic fatalities dropped just as sharply. The threat of gentle public embarrassment was more than enough to get most people to start obeying rules they had long flouted with abandon.

Mimes! And for a while there, we thought the only practical application served by mimes was to give Americans something to mock the French for, besides ineptitude in war.

Think of the possible uses of mimes in Boston. We could have them positioned at crosswalks to mock people into not blithely walking into traffic. In fact, on certain nights, there’s a Boston cop directing pedestrians by Yawkee Way who loudly mocks both drivers and jaywalkers. I watched him for 20 minutes one time, and, while he had limited success, I think he might have been onto something. Maybe the addition of some face paint and a striped shirt might do the job. (Or maybe it’ll just be very, very disturbing.)

We could also have mimes out looking for road rage. Someone freaks out on another driver, starts flaring his arms and screaming hysterically, and a mime could cycle up beside his car and start miming a temper tantrum, for the enjoyment of those nearby not killed by the barrage of bullets sure to follow. (Kevlar mime suits may be wise)

Mimes on benches could have stopped the Marzilli affair in Lowell. They could make hilarious “tsk-tsk” gestures next time Sal DiMasi’s out cruising for a mortgage. They could curl up at the feet of drowsy cops on meaningless road details and pretend to nap, while carload after carload of residents point and laugh. They could chase down turnstile hoppers on the T. They could give more coherent State of the City addresses. They could bite Keith Lockhart. The possibilities are endless.

Well, maybe not endless. I’d say, as the Globe suggests, the fire department could benefit from a similar influx of mimes, but frankly, there are enough clowns over there. Maybe the FBI agents can wear black and white striped ties or something when they start hauling those criminals away.