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Cirque Du Halo 3

November 16, 2007


The video game, Halo 3, set an opening-day US sales record of $170 million, outdoing any video game or movie debut.

When a troop member in a flak jacket, goggles, and helmet who looked like Halo 3’s Master Chief approached me in the summer of 2006 with a bungee rope, I did nothing. As three friends seated next to me at Cirque Du Soleil’s Love show at the Las Vegas Mirage told me to hold on, I laughed and thought twice. Should I take the rope? If I grabbed it from his hands, would I be flung like the rest of the circus members to the top of the ceiling, watch my hands slip off the rope and fall to the ground below? It’s the dream I’ve often had, the one in which I fall inexorably to the hard earth below.

In a daydream last October, imaging Saltimbanco by Cirque Du Soleil at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, I envisioned something stranger.  An unicyclist was riding on a thin rope, holding a long horizontal bar for balance, far above my family and I seated in the front row. We stared, amazed at his skill as he turned the bar vertically to catch plates that came flying at him from all angles. He caught every plate while he propelled his one wheel faster and faster.

In my dream, the spinning plates came in multiple colors with the words fluorescent underneath: Halo 3 Xbox, Blackwater Iraq, O.J. Thomas, Blackberry iPhone, Mac Book Leopard, Subprime Housing, Dow Record, Iran War, Nuclear Pakistan, California Fires, and China Lead Paint. The plates spun faster until they become an indistinct blur. 

Everything’s a blur today in its scattered headlines. President Bush, not content with just the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, recently commented, “I’ve told people that if you’re interested in avoiding World War III, than it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing (Iran) from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.”  Newsweek, in its October 29th issue, claimed that “the most dangerous nation in the world isn’t Iraq” or Iran. “It’s Pakistan,” where “Islamic militants have spread beyond their tribal bases, and have the run of an unstable, nuclear-armed nation.” In the same issue, Fareed Zakaria (“Stalin, Mao and …Ahmadinejad?) wrote, “Here is the reality. Iran has an economy the size of Finland’s and an annual defense budget of around $4.8 billion. It has not invaded a country since the late 18th century. The United States has a GDP that is 68 times larger and defense expenditures that are 110 times greater. Israel and every Arab country (except Syria and Iraq) are quietly or actively allied against Iran. And yet we are to believe that Tehran is about to overturn the international system and replace it with an Islamo-fascist order? What planet are we on?”

Really now, how many Americans are worried about starting another war? The Iraq War has featured less bombs and bloodshed in the last few months and the stock market has been within its record highs. Yes, a barrel of gas is still worth over $90 a barrel and Merrill Lynch and Citigroup have both fired their CEOs and written down mortgage-based assets of over 20 billion dollars, far more than Iran’s defense budget. The stocks of Chinese companies have risen like internet companies of the late nineties even with all of the news of lead-tainted toys and hazardous food exported to the United States. The headlines have come so fast that we forget who Blackwater is: a private company that has made millions in Iraq while sacrificing a few innocent Iraqi women and children.

In Michigan, we’re wondering what kind of new taxes we’re actually going to pay. In another state, fires rages across Southern California, burning down houses, driving a million people from their homes. A lack of rain and water in most of the western and southern states is causing havoc in much of the country. A friend in Atlanta has said that the state has flown in Indian guides to perform rain dances as a last desperate option in a time of unprecedented drought. Maybe the Georgians should move to Michigan. Michigan’s new motto could be, “We welcome refugees of fire and drought to our state to replace all those who’ve left. We need someone to pay for the new taxes.”  

But why worry? We don’t have as tough a life as Clarence Thomas or O.J. Simpson but we can imagine we do. We can sit back and read the new books by Justice Thomas of the Supreme Court telling how he has been “railroaded” into one of nine guaranteed a place on the Supreme Court for life. We can watch O.J. Simpson on Court TV again and remember a more innocent time while we watched the daily O.J. trial, imagining how O.J. actually did it. Now, the Goldmans have been awarded rights to Simpson’s “imaginary scenario” and changed the name of his book to “I Did It; Confessions of the Killer.”

If we get too puzzled by the blur of news, we can turn instead to conscientious consumerism. We could buy a Blackberry phone or Apple’s iPhone or get the Leopard software on the Mac Book. The addictive nature of getting emails 24 hours a day, wherever you are, drives consumers to keep buying. I myself had been wrestling with the shopper’s dilemma: To Blackberry or Not to Blackberry? But after dropping my Motorola phone on the Quik Park parking lot after returning from Dallas and then recovering its crushed shell at a bowling alley at midnight, I went to Verizon the next day, hoping to be the next high-tech-cell-phone wizard, able to pick up and send emails at lightning speed. So I quickly decided on the Blackberry 8830 World Edition but after spending hours confused by the tiny buttons and the basic functions of the phone with no actual manual to navigate and little patience, I gave up. I brought the Blackberry back to the Verizon store and brought my wife’s old phone from the basement to be brought back to life as “Arnie’s Phone”. At least, that’s what it says on the “wallpaper.”

Our daughter, Marlee, is much more advanced in technology and was excited to finally receive her bat mitzvah gift from us, an Apple Mac Book with the new Leopard software. She’s already sophisticated enough to take hundreds of photos of herself and her friends and create a multi-media collage of images and songs. Me? I’m stuck in a blur of news images and concerns about the world’s gyrations from Iraq to Iran to Pakistan to Michigan all the way to California, flooded with worry and little water. Cool technology doesn’t make us feel much better.

I close my eyes and stop the noise around me, imagining I’m back at MSU’s Breslin Center in the front row, seated next to Judy, my two daughters and their girlfriends. We are transfixed by the colors and sounds of Saltimbanco and amazed at the athleticism and grace of the Cirque members. They play to us and laugh, they bicycle and balance each other; the clown brings laughter as he picks a heavy-set audience member to joust with him. The circus performers climb ropes up to the rafters above and swing from one side to the other. We look high above our heads, hoping that there are no accidents and no one comes falling from the thin bungee cords holding them above.

We can forget for a night that the new game Halo 3 that has eclipsed every game and movie ever made as the fastest selling media juggernaut ever is transfixing hundreds of thousands of consumers on their Microsoft Xboxes in their bedrooms and living rooms. Kids and adults are all pretending they’re the Master Chief (John-117,) Cortana, or Sgt Johnson while shooting “brutes, elites, and hunters,” on their X box screens, blasting their high-intensity weapons until they kill and kill again. This is superb training for real war in Iraq or Iran as they get to use lifelike weapons such as the M6G Pistol, the M7 SMG, M90 Shotgun, BR55 Battle Rifle, M41 Rocket Launcher, or the MA5C Assault Rifle, just to name a few.

Of course, none of this killing is real though we have to wonder how Halo 3 influences children threatening to kill. Early this October, a cache of weapons was found in a home of a 14-year-old boy in a Philadelphia suburb who had been talking about mounting an attack on a high school, the same day that another teenager shot and wounded four people at a Cleveland high school before killing himself. All in the same month as the unprecedented release of Halo 3.

Was The Lion King wrong? Do we live in a “circle of life” or a circus of craziness? Maybe the human animals and clowns are circling us while we wait in our bedrooms, hiding out with our pretend weapons and big screen TVs.

Why should I worry? Instead of getting bug-eyed from all the violent news, I can instead go back to last year near the end of the Cirque show, Love. When I was given the rope to hold, I thought quickly and didn’t follow my friends. I laughed and said, “Are you nuts? I’m not holding that rope, watching it suddenly rise to the ceiling without anyone holding. I remember the relief, the fear drizzling away from me, being able once again to listen to the sensational Beatles music from the built-in speakers in our seats.

I relaxed and looked out at the blinding flash of colors, the music draped around my skull, as the haunting tune of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” began. I had no trepidation, no worry at all.

I felt the pure in-the-moment sensation of pleasure and realized that this “day in a life” would never be forgotten and never lived again.

Let video game lovers play their violent imaginary games. I plan to play my own head games filled with circus performers and the Beatles back again, playing “I Am the Walrus,” just for me.

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