“The times they are-a-changin'” –Bob Dylan
The Masked Magician is all over You-Tube with his exposures of magic methods. The show is produced by Val Valentino and Bruce Nash. So far, The Assistant’s Revenge, Palanquin, Giant Guillotine, The Twister and my friend, Charlie Justice’s “Prohibition”, Milk Can and many other classic effects have been exposed to the viewers. Just as last time, the same cynical, ridiculing announcer, Mitch Pileggi is doing the voice-over explanations and put-downs. These shows will be shown forever as reruns by content-starved lesser networks and now onto You-Tube where they will have Eternal Life in cyberspace. My basic instinct says that these exposures will not destroy the competent magician, who is an entertainer, but may well doom the average “Joe the Magician” who merely goes on stage to demonstrate his latest mysterious box and believes that he is entertaining an audience.
Maybe it is time that we all wake up and smell the coffee? Sudden enlightenment seems lately to be happening in every walk of life! Alan Greenspan, the former Libertarian-Ayn Rand worshipper, just revealed in a Senate hearing that he now realizes that he has been wrong for the last 40 years and that unregulated free-market Capitalism is in his words, “a flawed model”! If Greenspan can become a Socialist, then I guess the foundations of the earth are shaking. The magic business is also quaking, but for different reasons. I am paraphrasing and enhancing a few ideas from young magician and cyberspace age devotee, Joshua Wilde: We all are part of a generation that is now able to find any piece of information it wants in about 60 seconds. We watch movies before they are released, we download computer programs for free, and many of us haven’t bought a CD in years, yet our music collections rival what most radio stations’, used to have a few years ago. If we want to know a “secret,” it is about a six keystrokes away. Regarding magic, this is being viewed as a disturbing turn of events. There was a timewhen the methods were buried in…oh no…printed words! Thousands of words, arranged in thick, dusty books! Books made of real paper! But now, thosesecrets are floating in cyberspace, ripe for easy for effortless picking. Think about the You-Tube effect!
There will always be those who are magically curious, and there is one thing that can change that curiosity into a love of the magic art or distort it into a bitter attitude that rears its perverted head as a heckler many years later. That one thing is someone’s first experience, up close, with a live magician. I’m convinced thata positive, enthusiastic regard for a sincerely interested person’s curiosity can lead them to a road of self-discovery through our shadowy art, either as an avid fan, or future performer.
I’ve had kids coming up to me after a show and name a few possible methods, as if they were challenging me. My reaction? I open up my metaphorical arms! I ask them if they’ve ever had the fun of actually performing the trick. They always say no. I then take a moment to honestly explain that the real secret isn’t the gimmick, it’s the subtle psychology involved between the audience and magician. It is a living, breathing connection. I then fool their pants off with good ol’ sleight of hand, no gimmicks involved (usually the French Drop!). Their reaction? “How can I learn how to do that!” Every performer was at first an inexperienced secret-monger.
I am one of the few left who still loves books. I take part in the magical heresy of DVD’s, as well, and I am also guilty of seeking out a video performance of a trick online in the hopes of gaining an idea of the method. But what are we talking about here? What are we doing that makes some feel the need to label this new generation of the magically-curious as a depressing dark pall on the face of magic?
I see this opinion not only in magic, but everywhere. Many industry leaders and corporate chairmen are almost as poetic in their complete and utter disregard for the new climate of free information. I can’t justify the spreading of knowledge as a bad thing. I’m a magician, I treasure the methods…but I also feel an inherent desire…a NEED…to throw the floodgates open and destroy all boundaries to knowledge. I’m talking knowledge, here…not secrets.
If it can be written down, it can NOT be kept a secret.
If it can be downloaded, it is certainly NOT a secret.
If I can whisper it into your eager ears, it is NOT a secret.
If I can watch a laughable performance of it on You-Tube, it is NOT a secret.
Please understand, I’m not interested in handing out the secrets of magic, because I know that can’t be done. If your magic relies only on a gimmick, and then you are fair game to have the Masked Magician on your trail.
A couple of kids came up to me at a recent show and expressed knowledge of some tricks. I really don’t see technology creating more armchair magicians…they simply know more, which means the capacity to teach them the true secrets is even greater. The medium is there, so let’s start flooding the currents with what we wish everyone had…respect for magic, an understanding of its history, and honor for those who perform it well. Embrace the new web of knowledge as a means for leaving bread crumbs that lead to that which used to be found solely in books. Use the new tools to teach and guide the curious towards productive paths, because the tools aren’t going away.
There are bad carpenters, but it’s not because of Bob Villa. There are bad painters, but it’s not because of Bob Ross. And there are bad cold readers, but not because of Bob Nelson or Max Maven. As St. Augustine taught about Ontology, “Negativity”, like darkness, is not a thing unto itself, it is a lack of something. And what is lacking is the ability to bend when the winds of change turn into threatening gusts.
How can we bend? How do we weather this flood of knowledge in an Art that relies on secrets? By doing what we can do to spread our love for the Art, our love for those drawn to the Art, and our respect and help for those who are seeking blindly and making a mess of things.
Why are articles about the Art of Magic and the Theory of Awe mostly found in obscure trade journals? Those are the articles that need to be stolen! Even better…read en masse. Jim Steinmeyer is one person who is making an effort to publish best-selling books on the art and theories of magic. Others should follow his lead. We can only change the world by changing the people, and the only way to change a person is to lead by example. Live and share your passion; be a guiding light for the idly curious. Passion is contagious and can turn something idle into something living. Invite the curious to a magic club meeting.
How can we bend, so as not to break? By remembering that the real secret is unspoken, unwritten, and can only be lived in a moment of pure joy and awe. In that moment, no one cares about a gimmick, even if they know it exists. If someone trusts you to take them to that wonderful moment of magic, they will suspend their disbelief and allow you to lead. That is why, as magicians, we are still enchanted by a master of the Art. We know the gimmick exists, but we trust them to awe us with the true magic…the creation of that timeless moment brought about by passion and trust.
As Joshua Wilde said “We are magicians…we are lying, cheating and thumb-palming our way to enlightenment. What better way to travel that path than with dignity, class and grace? Bend, so as not to break, and enjoy the ride. If you think things are crazy now, just wait…I think I hear the floodgates breaking!” Magic, as an art, needs a new paradigm. It began as an entertainment art in the mid to late 1800s as religious superstitions faded with the rise of literacy. The late Industrial Revolution provided enough time and money to support magic as commercial entertainment. Magic entertained because most people knew that the magician was not using the supernatural but was merely psychologically fooling them using tricks. Through the decline of vaudeville, the end of the big touring shows, the Great Depression, the incursion of television and the Internet, magic survived in one way or another. I believe it will survive but, as in all the events above, each time it did change and became a little different.