Does being forced to listen to performers in an enclosed space violate the very purpose of busking? Is it wrong to enjoy a performance you have no ability or desire to pay for, if you have no choice? Is it wrong to refuse to tip an artist who has forced you to participate, even if you enjoyed the experience?
Train performers. Most cities with an underground train network have them. people who dive into a train carriage and busk in the enclosed space. Unlike street performers, the audience cannot avoid participation in the exchange. For some, this doesn’t present a dilemma; those who probably wouldn’t normally tip a busking artist in any circumstance. For others, it does. Zen of Busking calls busking “polite anarchy”, which I find quite apt.
Street busking is generally (to me) something that can brighten up a day, remind you to slow down while you might be rushing through your day. Street performance in general is like giving passers by the choice to participate in an exchange. Further, artistry is a profession, which, whatever you think of capitalism, you pay for, if you can, if you receive something from the experience. So, for these people, what of the train dilemma? I recently found myself feeling anger, annoyance, and a little frightened at the presence of some performers in a train carriage, the reflection upon which inspired this post. I was certainly not hostile to the idea of music, in this case some two piece jazz, in my day; nor am I hostile to the idea of busking. I came to realise the fear came from the potential to feel guilty for listening to and enjoying the music, if I couldn’t offer a tip. The anger came from the fact that I felt guilt-tripped into trying to tip the gentlemen performing, when normally I would offer a smile, but keep walking past a performer I knew I couldn’t compensate for the pleasure injected into my walk. So, finally, I came to realise it was the setting which bothered me. The restriction of the freedom of the audience to participate in something which is normally completely voluntary, as is the nature of street busking.
The addition of the dilemma that train carriages in cities where this practice is common are particularly good places to earn tips adds the element of denying performers a lucrative stage space.
Although it seems problematic to me, my instinct is to say that busking while diving on and off train carriages violates the right of the listener to appreciate the performance in comfort, or to choose not to participate, and also destroys the “polite anarchy” of busking, converting it into a sincere effort to create a model for maximum profit, which to me seems again, against the a priori nature of busking.
And really, is it ethical to follow your moral instinct to pay for something you enjoy, if that instinct has been forced from you? An exchange like this makes society seem so contrived.