Contemporary culture, someone told me, will one day resemble Cuba before the revolution. It will be a place of extravagance and spectacle.
Cirque Du Soleil is a case in point. Its a kind of Barnum and Bailey on speed meets Siegfried and Roy on ecstasy. Hold the tigers, unleash the lizards (as above).
Cirque is just 20 years old, but it now has three continuous shows in Las Vegas. Last year, 7 million people saw a Cirque show.
How fast things move from the margin! Twenty years ago, Cirque was kook central. Ten years ago, it was a minority taste. Now its part of the charmed circle of bourgeois taste, and standard Vegas fare. If we are moving towards Cuba before the revolution, we are traveling at speed.
The anthropological conditions for this economic transformation are clear. We are a culture that is steadily re-embracing theatre, mystery, the sensory, the ineffable and the sublime. We are committed to Max Webers “re-enchantment of the world and in a consumer culture, re-enchantment can be had for $75 a ticket.
Cirque comes from Montreal. It is now probably Canadas most robust cultural export. But it is not in any sense Canadian. It is fully, manifestly Quebecois. In Canada, only the francophone community could have created such a thing.
Indeed, Canadian anglophones remain uncomfortable with the francophone gift for theatre. They see it as cheesy on the one hand, and frightening on the other. Thus did they refuse the extraordinary opportunity for cultural partnership their neighbors made available. No, Canadas English-speakers remain steadfastly committed to the grey and the ordinary. They are, in the famous phrase, “as Canadian as possible under the circumstances.
Not much here for export! And for its role as a plodding supplier of raw resources to the international economy, Canada has paid a price. Increasingly, it looks like Cuba after the revolution. (Those who doubt me should check out the health care system.) People who give up their resources, but hold on to their emotions, have no real place in the Cuba economy.
So what if the Cuba economy is a new source of the wealth of nations? This will be bad news for those countries who prize self control and polished constructions of the social self, and good news for those who are more inclined ‘to let it rip. You can be polished or you can be Polish, and the choice will cost you.
The Cuba economy is not a marketplace for the shy, the retiring, the emotionally convoluted or the creatively unforthcoming. You cant export what you do not have. (Im quite certain thats in Samuelson somewhere.)
This is particularly bad news for the likes of Disney, a company that has specialized in fun without danger and “spectacle lite. The rise of Cirque must have struck them like a Christensenian discontinuity. Suddenly, taste shifts and you lose Las Vegas and huge venues in New York, Paris and Tokyo. Worse, you look old, tired and trite. We may rest assured that a Disney person looked in on Cirque 10 years ago and thought, “No threat here. This is a minority taste. Welcome to the Cuba economy.
Empire was once a game of self restraint. Emotional control was the order of the day. The refusal of spontaneity was a competitive advantage. It was the way that the colonial administrator claimed the right to rule those endlessly emotional colonials.
But if there is a Cuba economy in the works, these bets are off. Competitive success will belong to cultures that put their hearts on their sleeves. The realm of the senses will be a new gateway to empire in the world.
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