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posted by janrinok on Sunday March 30 2014, @07:41AM   Printer-friendly
from the now-you-see-it dept.

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?

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  • (Score: 2) by kebes on Monday March 31 2014, @01:24PM

    by kebes (1505) on Monday March 31 2014, @01:24PM (#23547)
    I disagree. Of course I can only speak for myself, but I find magic much more interesting when I learn how it was done. I watch a trick, I'm suitably impressed. But I of course do not think that they actually did something supernatural. So I think about how it might have been done, and come up with some plausible theories. But it would be much more satisfying to then be told how the magician actually did it. If it confirmed my theory, then I would get the satisfaction of having got it right. If instead they did it in a totally different way, that would actually give me a new moment of wonderment, where I'd be impressed with how clever they were.

    The original question was asking the SN community for their opinion. I suspect many in this community would agree with me that learning the details of the trick make it more fun (many of the comments seem to be saying exactly that). Of course, we are geeks: we delight in figuring out how things work, in really understanding. It's quite possible that the public-at-large is, on average, more delighted by remaining ignorant. (Especially those who actually believe in the supernatural; in which case I would actually consider it an important piece of community-service to dispel them of their naive notions.)

    I disagree that things become less impressive when you know how they are done. There is nothing "magical" about an athlete performing, and yet it's very impressive (and actually, when you learn about all the prep they did to get to that point, it becomes more impressive). At a minimum, I think there is room in the world of stage magic for more 'revealing'. I know some performers, like Penn and Teller, have built acts on this basis, but in general magicians are still far too cagey and secretive. I think it would actually be very fun to have a show where a trick is performed, and then some people (audience members or other professional magicians) are asked to give theories about how it's done, and then they reveal how they actually did it. There's lots of room for innovative acts.

    The whole magician secrecy frankly strikes me as a little childish and patronizing. It also seems anachronistic: harkening to a time when magicians were really pretending that they were supernatural, where people oftentimes took the magic seriously, and where one couldn't just go on the Internet and read all about the basics of how magic tricks are done. I think the stage magic community would do well to re-examine whether their whole 'a magician never reveals his secrets' ethos is actually improving their acts, or if it's just standing in the way.
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  • (Score: 2) by umafuckitt on Monday March 31 2014, @01:47PM

    by umafuckitt (20) on Monday March 31 2014, @01:47PM (#23558)

    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.

    • (Score: 2) by kebes on Monday March 31 2014, @02:05PM

      by kebes (1505) on Monday March 31 2014, @02:05PM (#23569)
      You're right, it's a valid concern. Ultimately stage magic relies on a few simple concepts, which are combined and reimagined in creative ways to make new tricks.

      The reason I doubt it would really be a big problem is that people largely self-select in terms of their knowledge. In reality, lots of information about how magic is done is already "out there" (available for perusal on the Internet if you're so inclined), yet most people don't bother. If magicians were less secretive, it wouldn't change much: most people wouldn't bother to study how magic is done, and would be impressed every time they saw a trick. Others would learn the behind-the-scene details; but those are the people who are more likely to be equally impressed by the mechanics as by the showmanship of the trick. So, little would be lost of the secrecy were abandoned. I view it as a net win because people interested in the mechanics then have more resources to learn from.

      Admittedly it's harder to apply my logic to a show itself. If you have a mixed audience, and then do a trick, and then reveal how the trick is done... you will have some audience members enjoying the reveal of the mechanics, and others disappointed that the mystery is gone. I nevertheless maintain that there is room within the genre of stage magic for shows that advertise that they will reveal how the tricks are done (let potential customers decide if they want to attend the show). For this to happen, of course, the community as a whole would have to get over their default-secrecy mandate...