Monday, April 25, 2011

Cirque du Soleil, Video Games, and Imperfect Duties

Took the kids to see Cirque du Soleil this weekend. Truly amazing. Convinced that they should change the name to "Cirque du No Way." You spend two hours watching the most amazing feats you can imagine by incredibly fit performers from Asia and Central and Eastern Europe, only to have the lights come up and see yourself very conscious of the fact that you are surrounded by obese Americans. It really makes you realize what the public health people have been telling us for a couple of decades now.

We're not only overweight as a culture, but while we love to crow that the U.S.A. is #1 at everything, you realize that you've just been entranced by a whole bunch of stuff that Americans can't do. If there was a show where you watched people ate potato chips while watching tv, we'd be right there, but actual, instead of virtual, work...not so much. We play Wii these days, not catch. We play Guitar Hero, not guitar. We have been so lulled into the commercialization of play that we buy games to play on expensive consoles instead of actually playing them and as a result, we become our avatars and not our real bodies. We are less and less living inside of ourselves.

As a result, we are becoming less talented. We are not developing our potentials. Is this a moral problem? Kant argues that there are perfect duties, things that we are required to do at all times. Never steal, never kill. Imperfect duties, on the other hand, are the sorts of things that we admire, but don't need to be done all the time. Learn a foreign language, learn to play piano, help out at the soup kitchen or your child's school. The corporatization of leisure -- television, video games,... -- has made sure that the time we could be using for imperfect duties is instead filled with opportunities for advertising and activities that bring in revenue. This means more profits for corporations, but less talented Americans. Or is getting to the next level on a video game itself a talent? Is it just a different form of imperfect duty? Is there a problem with relaxing in front of the tube instead of reading a classic or taking up woodworking? Do we really have a duty to develop our talents or do we have the right to do with our free time as we see fit...even if it means not being fit?