Friday, May 22, 2009

Pity marketing

Why do all street musicians play the same song with their harmonica? Why do all begging women have a baby in their arms who's too big and why do they all sit with their knees on the ground? If you walk to and from the station every day, you can't help noticing all the poor people asking for a little money. 

In the beginning I felt sorry for these people. But after a while I started to see patterns in the begging methods. The most clear pattern is that they all come from Eastern Europe. If it's a woman, she always has a baby who's too big to carry in her arms and she makes a desperate back and forward movement with her head (I once even  saw two of them in the same street). If it's a man, they either play the harmonica (always the same song) or they stand with a sign which says 'need work'. Even children are begging. Last year when I came back from a photo shooting, I saw three old women who asked money with cardboard signs at a crossroad. The crossroad was so far from the city that the only way to get there was by car...

To me it's obvious that there must be some organized crime behind the tidal wave of beggars that flow through the streets of Brussels. And they market their misfits like it's advertising. The goal is to get money, and the media are the beggars. Behind all of them there seems to be a concept, and when a certain concept works, they use it over and over again. I once saw a man with a cardboard sign that says 'need work' and his son standing behind him. The next day he was playing the harmonica (yes, that one song). The day after he was there with the need work-sign again. But now his son had a need work-sign as well. It looked like they're trying out which concept, or which combination of concepts, gives the most revenue. Like a pre-test of a commercial.

There are already a lot of rumors about human trafficking by Rumanian mobsters. However, an investigation on beggars in Brussels, says that there are no clues to prove that there's organized crime involved. The revenue would be too low to make human trafficking interesting (average 16,8 euro per day). I'm not an expert and I didn't do research, but from what I see around me it's pretty clear that there is a structure. And it's smart.

Oh, and another thing: the only group of people that's not begging on the street is young women...


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