Plumbers in Super Mario Masks Steal Water From Utility Companies

Dec 01, 2014 at 12:05 PM ET

In Italy, where hard economic times have made water shutoffs for the less fortunate more common (like some American cities we know), a new type of Robin Hood-style hero has emerged. Carrying the tools of their trade—and some rather ingenious disguises—anonymous, self-styled vigilante plumbers are turning the water back on in homes where the utility companies have stopped the flow. As the Corriere della Sera reports, these handymen turned social activists carry out their campaign disguised as the world’s most famous plumber, Super Mario.

In recent months, local utility companies have cracked down on late payments, creating a minor crisis for Italy’s underemployed. Some 25 percent of households in Rome are in arrears, according to the latest numbers. Fighting for what they see as “the right to water,” these Super Mario Bros investigate the more than 200 requests they get a day via social media, determine who is actually eligible and worthy, and task their mask-wearing members to undo what the utility companies have done. Of course, in addition to being unquestionably noble, it’s highly illegal—hence the masks.

It seems Italians may have to become familiar with the odd sight of anonymous Marios tooling away at pipes. Water rates are expected to rise 10 percent during the next two years, while the Organization for Economic Co‑operation and Development projects a steady unemployment rate of over 12 percent over the same period.