John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
In Italy, a masked crusader takes to the streets to pick up garbage and scrub dirty windows.
In a world where grime rules supreme, and ordinary citizens remain powerless to pick up candy wrappers and cigarette butts, one masked crusader is fighting back. They call him "The Cleaner," and he's taking the battle against filth to the streets, fiercely squeegeeing dirty windows and scrubbing down public urinals with his trusty rag.
OK, so intense cleaning might not be the most attractive superpower out there, falling on the cool scale between matter eating and squirrel-summoning. But it's certainly a useful ability in the big city – haven't you ever seen an absolutely trashed-out sidewalk and wondered, Won't somebody do something about this awful mess?
Enter "The Cleaner," the fastidious alter ego of Italian urban hacker Fra Biancoshock (he of the high-five subway station and the bubble-wrapped bus stop). The dainty daredevil's origin story is every bit as captivating as Spider-Man's (lie): He was walking along when he saw a bunch of filth with people standing around it doing nothing. "I thought about it, and in 10 minutes I had cleaned everything up! Everything shining!" he says in the short film below. "People couldn't understand what was going down. A total adrenaline rush, you know! From that day I just couldn't stop."
"The Cleaner" seems to be mostly an experiment in surreal goofiness, with Biancoshock rushing onto a railroad to dust off a train's lights and leaping out of a car at the sight of a grimy truck. Buried in it might also be a commentary on littering in Italian cities (I'm thinking of you, Naples), with the star joking, "In Italy we're totally laid back. People don't have any balls to try new stuff. ... Why don't you take to the streets, man? Bring your rag and show me your skills!"
Come to think of it, this might be the world's second superhero janitor. If anybody from Marvel is reading, perhaps there's some sort of antiseptic alliance that can be mined from "The Cleaner" meeting the Toxic Avenger: