Last week I was walking through the city of Barcelona. On one of the public busses, I (comemo3) saw the advertisement for one of the latest attractions having arrived in Barcelona – the Cirque du Soleil with their show “Corteo”. The images used for advertising the spectacle presented a face of a clown. I have to confess that this face really started to catch my attention. I started thinking about what this face tells me, about this clown, looking sadly down from the bus, about his meaning as a figure in the show, about the spectacle. When the bus had left I started thinking about the reasons why I was so impressed by this face or better this mask (or façade) on the ad photo. Thinking about it I quickly realised that all this face expressed was nothing more than a touch of a somehow sad emotion.
Searching for other Cirque du Soleil advertisements on city buses it became obvious for me that all images played with similar emotions and they did it in a similar way. The different characters from the advertised show had either sad or melancholic expressions and furthermore the emotional expressions where not clear, not overexpressed like we are used to it from some other circus shows but they were natural, soft, nearly invisible, touching much more from the inside than through the eye.
This little finding made me search for more information about the Cirque du Soleil and about its other spectacles. Looking through material on their webpage I found further evidence that in many advertisements for their shows, like Alegria, Saltimbanco, Mistère … , there is played with a soft expression of melancholy (or at least expressions without smiling and open happiness). This is also true for most of their videos (http://www.cirquedusoleil.com/es-es/home.aspx#/es-es/home/europe/spain.aspx). There are very little moments when a character smiles openly, and even if this happens, these smiles are that small and that fragile that they rather seem to enforce the impression of sadness and melancholy.
‘But however’, I thought, ‘it seems to work’. This small sad or melancholic emotional touch stimulates silently somehow our imaginary universes. We feel moved by the pictures (something that I experienced myself and that I could see in the face of other people looking at the same bus advertisements).
I found out from the Cirque du Soleil webpage that since 1984 the Cirque du Soleil has constantly searched for ways to stimulate, work upon (or manipulate) and create imaginary worlds of the audience, searching for ways to touch our senses and to invoke emotions that can then become part of the spectacle. The people from Cirque du Soleil are experts in moving us, our imaginary and emotional universes, like a shaman might have been for societies long time ago. We can see their competency well reflected in the millions of visitors (their webpage talks about 100 million people) they have had in their different spectacles all around the globe. (http://www.cirquedusoleil.com/es-es/home.aspx#/es-ES/home/about.aspx)
But our little analysis wants to go a step further: How is it possible that in contrast to most advertisement and to what marketing tells about selling a product, Cirque du Soleil without expressions of happiness, comfortable ambient and hedonistic moments motivates such a big number of people to spend a quite high amount of money for seeing a spectacle advertised by melancholic faces and an uninviting soft sadness? How is it possible that the visitors are attracted by the idea to enter and disappear in “a world that is theatrical and mysterious, that represents a place between heaven and earth, mixing entertainment, the comedy, and spontaneity” that is neither promising happiness nor satisfaction? How do their ads create the emotional energy to motivate us for participating in a collective ritual initiated by and performed with the Cirque du Soleil?
For answering these questions we have to understand first that there is a crucial difference between two different forms of advertisement, on the one hand there is an advertisement for specific consumption objects, for products if we want to say so, on the other hand there is advertisement for the participation in a public ritual. In the first case an ad usually provokes a positive imagination in relation to a product, it links the product to a positive emotion and embeds it in a positive, enjoyable environment that is then slowly parallelised with the emotional and imaginary world of the consumer. Everything is about creating a narcissistic and self-oriented imagination about the moment of consumption wherein and wherefrom the individual has at least the impression to come a step closer to happiness and satisfaction. The object fills something we are lacking.
In the second case it is nearly the other way round, advertisement’s aim is the erasure of individuality and the sensation of individual happiness in the moment of consumption. It is rather an ad for a place where we can desire to disappear – in society, in the collective ritual. The collective ritual comes to us as a world where we can connect to old emotional energies that do not completely belong to us, and thereof we are able to construct new emotional worlds. The ritual is like a spring of renewal. The circus of these ads tells us and reflects the myth of an origin, an origin wherein happiness, sadness, fear, passion are not yet differentiated but are born out of an emotional undifferentiatedness. That is the magic about it. The sad emotional undifferentiatedness on the picture, the myth of origin hidden behind the picture’s meaning and the advertisement of a collective ritual belong together. Overexpressed emotions would destroy this impression. For collective rituals emotions work much better when they are mild, nearly invisible like in the ads of the bus.
The characters in this circus present something like archetypes of emotions, not yet there but at the point of appearing, also not yet differentiated, caught in a undefined melancholy. The characters their performance gives birth to the emotions as something social, nothing the characters carry inside themselves but that they create in Wechselwirkung (interrelation) with each other and the audience whose sympathy they have to win by webbing these emotional bonds. The clown is the example per excellence -always between laughing and crying, moving us to laugh with him, about him, creating identificatory and distancing moments at the same time, webbing an emotional complicity between us and him.
Now we just have to answer a last question: Why is this undifferentiatedness represented by an expression of melancholy? Melancholy is a very important and very present emotion in modernity (let’s just remember l’Spleen of Baudelaire). One of the reasons might be on the basis of this emotion we have learned to relate with our origin, with our myths in modernity. Whilst in other times the relation to our mythological centre might have been webbed with emotions of shame, or guilt, in modernity our myth tells us that we have lost the contact with our myths, leaving us as a society with nothing more than an empty melancholy. Therefore, melancholy represents the most original emotion for us as social beings in modern society. Melancholy serves best for representing and identifying with the myth of our modern world. It is from the primary – emotion of melancholy that we learn again and feel with the others the modern myth of the birth of emotions and of society.
The Cirque du Soleil might be or at least presents itself as a place where this experience is possible. That is why melancholy is the best emotion for advertising their collective rituals. The people Cirque du Soleil know what they do. Melancholy is everywhere, in the costumes, in the faces of the characters and also in the music that carries us through the celebration of this ritual of initiation and durability. All this turns the spectacle of the Cirque du Soleil in a part of our late modern magic, showing us a finite universe full of meaning, touching us through emotions – like a dream, a movie, a fairy-tale or a bolero. Whether this magic is true or just a simulation of capitalism stays open…
Music often transports me like a sea!
Toward my pale star,
Under a ceiling of fog or a vast ether,
I get under sail;
My chest thrust out and my lungs filled
Like the canvas,
I scale the slopes of wave on wave
That the night obscures;
I feel vibrating within me all the passions
Of ships in distress;
The good wind and the tempest with its convulsions
Over the vast gulf
Cradle me. At other times, dead calm, great mirror
Of my despair!
— William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954)
Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)
La musique souvent me prend comme une mer!
Vers ma pâle étoile,
Sous un plafond de brume ou dans un vaste éther,
Je mets à la voile;
La poitrine en avant et les poumons gonflés
Comme de la toile
J’escalade le dos des flots amoncelés
Que la nuit me voile;
Je sens vibrer en moi toutes les passions
D’un vaisseau qui souffre;
Le bon vent, la tempête et ses convulsions
Sur l’immense gouffre
Me bercent. D’autres fois, calme plat, grand miroir
De mon désespoir!