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Cirque du Soleil - Fall at last! Why we like to watch others fail

Finally fall! Why we like to watch others fail

You see the circus artist whirling through the air and a small, dark part of each suspects or even hopes that an accident will occur in the next moment. How do you explain this fascination with failure?

In front of the inner eye, the barely clad beauty flies across the ring and smashed against the gangs. It can't end any other way. Secured only by a loose neck band, it has been whirling across the stage for minutes. Your dance partner turns in circles at breakneck speed, hurls them around, makes them rotate faster and faster. He must also get dizzy, he must also run out of strength, the number must fail.

But the dark premonition that flashed through the heads of the premiere visitors in the Cirque du Soleil tent was not fulfilled. After minutes of fear, the beauty was back on the ground and smiled at the audience as if it had all been nothing. The risk of failure is hardly anywhere greater than with the artist numbers in the circus. And it is precisely this risk of failure that still lures us to the big top despite 3-D cinemas and virtual reality games.

The glittering costumes are clear, the lavish stage and the popcorn smell that evokes childhood memories are clear. But this ever-present possibility of the failure of others, which makes - let's be honest - the greatest attraction. How much we are fascinated by the failure of other people is shown by the number of clicks on the YouTube compilations of the “Fail Army”, which show us human failure in all its facets. That shows us the interest in the sporting all-time low of FC Aarau, which is suddenly gaining attention due to its constant failure. And that shows us the success of the countless talent shows, in which our need to participate in the failure of others is satisfied.

But then the shell falls

The psychologist Olaf Morgenroth recently said in Die Zeit: "In individualistic societies, failure poses a threat to self-worth. The more performance becomes a criterion for the social role, the more serious the failure." So the possibility of failure hovers like the sword of Damocles over everything we do. The failure of others is all the more reassuring because it shows us that the futile pursuit of success is ultimately nothing but human. So balm for self-worth.

The show continues in the Cirque du Soleil tent. Next number, next failure potential - and what one. Five female artists ride across the stage on unicycles and throw empty rice bowls at each other with their feet. What is needed is perfect balance. For minutes each bowl lands where it should, the tension rises - and then one of the bowls actually falls to the ground. At least a hint of failure, at last. Applause from the stands is almost relieved.

Success on all lines, writes the sociologist Antonia Langhof, is becoming an everyday expectation in modern performance society, failure is a frowned upon exception, despite opposing conditions. It is easy to forget that not only integration, political negotiations and football teams can fail, but also individual individuals. You can and you are allowed to. But in our performance-trimmed era, they are increasingly afraid of the consequences. Falling rice bowls in the circus arena are pleasant reminders that failure is permissible and that occasional failure is perfectly fine.

Meanwhile, clown Misha enters the stage at Cirque de Soleil. He rowed across the tent in his boat (the "Beagle 3"), lost his anchor, broke his paddle and instead of fish caught only mosquitos. The clown is the symbol of the failing person, the failure of his endeavors is programmatic. The audience watches and laughs. “Look, this clown, how stupid he is. Just see how it fails. " The failure of the clown becomes our happiness. Because in contrast to his clumsiness, even we fallible beings are still in a good light.

Misha's boat sloshes away and two figures float down from the circus sky: a muscular man with absurdly packed arms and his filigree companion. They do gymnastics high up under the big top, he approaches her, but she, she doesn't want to. His entangling capers are not enough for her, his muscular courtship dance leaves her cold. But he doesn't give up, swings her through the air, catches her again at the last moment. The acrobatic love affair finally ends in an intimate hug, and the muscular man's efforts are rewarded. And yet: failure was within reach. Not only because his companion only barely escaped her fall several times, but because there is probably no failure more often than that when it comes to love.

Tinder and Darwin

To avoid this failure, more and more contemporaries are swiping through dating apps from an anonymous distance. The rapprochement in real life, which is fraught with the risk of failure, becomes secondary. What we are looking for is the maximum possible protection: character matches and matching preferences, worldviews that are coordinated with one another and visions of the future that are as appropriate as possible. Failure, which actually belongs to the game of life and love, fascinates us; but only if we can safely observe it in others.

Failure was and is fundamental to our development. The evolutionist Charles Darwin already knew that. Without constant attempt and failure, without the never-ending sequence of trial and error, our species would never have developed in the first place. Failure and new attempts, that is the central mechanism in Darwin's theory of evolution, which he had put on paper after his five-year voyage on the research ship "HMS Beagle" (the namesake of the clown Misha's boat). And this Darwin, who is suddenly standing in an oversized test tube in the circus tent and juggling wildly with glowing balls. Is that what the circus makers want to tell us? Will an artistic memorial be created for the fundamental importance of failure? Does this circus Darwin want to encourage us to get away from the pretended success and find our way back to a healthy level of failure?

In any case, the circus Darwin has his balls under control. The rice bowl of the unicyclists remains the only thing that falls to the ground at the premiere. The longing for the failure of others; it was not satisfied at the Cirque du Soleil.