The Burnaby Kid writes:
Figured I'd toss this out there, since SN was asking for interesting story submissions. I'm a professional magician working abroad, and I've been indulging in this incredibly geeky performing art for almost two decades. One problem that happens a lot when it comes to magic is that the nature of secrecy means that we don't get open dialogue with the muggles we perform for, and that leads to us getting into this weird sort of insular and incestuous discussion with other magicians, which ends up warping our minds to the extent that we start doing moronic things like... oh, I don't know... referring to our audience members as "muggles". We get into some pretty weird debates, and I've been trying my best to argue for raising the bar, such as by suggesting that we need to be more sensitive about what you guys like, such as by making sure that if we pull out a deck of cards, we've got something to perform that can compete with Card Through Window. And yet... Maybe I've got it wrong? What DO you guys like? If you like watching magicians perform, what do you like about it? If you don't, why not?
That wouldn't work. I spent some time as a kid learning card magic. Learning that has taught me a bit about figuring out other illusions. When I watch magic now I don't figure out everything by any means, but I can figure out a good number of the tricks I see. TBH, whilst it's fun to try to work it out, every time I do it it ruins the excitement of the show. When you realise that a lot of the "clever" stuff you see is really just misdirection and simple tricks, then the "magic" is gone. Don't get me wrong, these guys are good and what they do is hard, but you'd still be disappointed if you knew how the effects were achieved.
Actually, this stuff is rather interesting so I'll lay out why I think magic tricks work in general without going into specifics of a particular trick.
The magician has an effect they want to produce. e.g. You choose a card, you return it to the middle of the deck, the magician shuffles the deck, you name a number from 1 to 10, the magician counts that many cards down and your card is revealed at the spot you stated. The audience thinks they want to catch out the magician so they will ask themselves "how did he get my card into the position I stated?" They sit there and try to figure out how that was done. What clever trick did the magician use to get the card there? Is the deck "fake"? Once they're down that path, they're lost: they've been misdirected. The question they should actually be asking is "how did the magician make me think my card was where I said it would be?" In other words: how did the magician create the effect you saw? You have remember that what you thought you saw (the effect) isn't what really happened. So you have to forget about explaining what you thought you saw (because often what you thought you saw isn't possible) and start explaining how you may create something that looks like what you saw.
That's the trick to magic: people ultimately want to be fooled and play along with the magician without realising it. They ask the wrong questions, because those questions are more fun. If you choose not play along, and accept that you've been hoodwinked, then you can start to figure out what the performer is really doing. But once you go down that path you're no longer a spectator at a performance because you've exposed the performance as a facade for simple trickery.
Every time I've figured out how it's done or had it revealed to me afterward it has always increased my appreciation for the trick. I can watch it over and over again and have even more to appreciate. Like sunsets. People often say they don't want to know how the light is refracted by water droplets to form the many kinds of rainbow, but I always marvel at that as well as the sheer visual effect while I'm seeing one. Yay reality!
I see where you're coming from, but I think these are different things. Knowing how refraction works adds an extra dimension to the prettiness of the rainbow. I agree it only serves to enhance what you already see. Knowing how a magic trick works tells you that you didn't see what you thought you saw. In other words: the effect isn't real and something else happened. That changes the essence of what you saw. For some people this will impact negatively. For others, like you, it may revel in the mechanics of it. Either way, however, knowing the mechanics of a magic trick completely changes how you view it because the mystification (which is why the effect has impact) is now gone and is replaced with something else.
Knowing how a magic trick works tells you that you didn't see what you thought you saw. In other words: the effect isn't real and something else happened.
Knowing that it's a magic trick at all tells you the same thing. The enjoyment of a magic trick is not dependent on believing that it's real. We all know it's fake, by the simple fact that it's magic. That doesn't damage the wonder at all.
The thing is, I already know that the lady didn't actually get cut in half and then put back together. Most of us (apparently not the nut that sued David Copperfield) know the magician doesn't actually have divine powers.
I can then appreciate the skill of the trick, just how far the magician pushed his luck, the artfullness of the patter, etc.
The best time I have had watching a show was me and several professional magicians watching a video tape.
I see what you're saying, I agree that it's a presentation style choice. One reason, perhaps, why magicians want to maintain the secrecy is because it allows them to repackage old tricks and wow people all over again. If the mechanism of more tricks was more widely known then it would be harder to produce a good act. The reason it would be harder is because people would realise that a lot of the time they are seeing the same underlying tricks presented in new ways. The focus would then become more on the mechanism than the presentation.