Another Perspective: Magic

by Emily LAWTON

I’m saddened to admit that golden age of magic is long past now. Is it because we, as audiences, have become too jaded, too cynical? Are we no longer able to suspend disbelief for parlor tricks? Or maybe we are so used to being fooled by special effects that we’ll “believe” magic when we see it, but are no longer impressed by the illusion.

In fact, I believe that the fall of magic is the fault of magicians themselves. Consider magic in the past: at one time, it was considered a reputable form of entertainment, and even persons of high society would enjoy a night of being entertained by a slight-of-hand artist. However, the magician himself was considered a rather questionable fellow; it would be improper to invite him to tea (though he might be hired to entertain at parties). He was a bachelor who associated with his shady counterparts in darkened red-velvet rooms. They ate bland dinners, sharing ways to store playing cards in their mouths and perhaps darker secrets as well. Then our magician would put on an overcoat, walk through the foggy evening, and finally retire to his dingy, one-room apartment. The man’s secretive gypsy mystique added to the appeal of the magician and the magic — even though the stereotype was likely completely inaccurate.

Similarly, for a young person who aspired to a career in magic, learning the tricks of the trade would require years of apprenticeship under a practicing magician. You shine his shoes, he shows you a card trick, et cetera. Thus the secrets of magic were passed from generation to generation, known only to the devoted practitioners and never, ever divulged to outsiders.

And then, someone wrote a magic book.

I have no idea who wrote it, or what it was, but it set a dangerous precedent. That magic book, and all the ones that came after it, tell how tricks are done. And they’re available to anyone with money or access to a library. And now, the internet provides those answers for free. Selling your profession’s secrets is bad profit, not to mention that this essentially robbed magic of its “magic.” But to make them available for free is even worse. Do you know the saying: “give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day; teach a man to fish, and he will eat for a lifetime”? Not such a good idea if you’re a fisherman. Current magic instruction, even more humiliatingly, is marketed primarily to children. Children, of course, do not have the patience or motor skills to perform slight-of-hand successfully. This makes things even worse for the world of magic — it’s child’s-play, no longer mysterious, and mostly boring.

So contemporary magicians find themselves in a double bind. They must invent new tricks or perform old ones with the knowledge that much of their audience will know the secrets behind them. Alternately, they can use a trick for a few years until it gets played out, then put it in their new magic book and turn a profit. It’s cyclical.

Magicians, we can’t help you. You’ve got to be responsible for re-creating the mystique of past performances. The world craves the kind of magic we can’t solve with our over-logical mind and vast information networks. We don’t want disclosure, and we don’t want a lesson. If you were to ask for my advice, here’s what I’d say: organize yourselves, and prepare to embark on a mission to transform society. Follow these steps:

  1. Obtain and destroy all existing magic books, excepting those in magicians’ personal collections.
  2. Train some among your numbers to be expert computer hackers, and remove all references to magic tricks that occur on the internet. Be vigilant!
  3. Don’t work children’s parties, or if you must work children’s parties, play to the adults in attendance. Working “blue” is allowed if the kids don’t know what you’re saying. Please, don’t degrade yourselves with clownery like balloon animals.
  4. Create a social club in (at least) all major cities where you can get together and trade ideas. Let this be your haven; do not bring family or friends. Create your community, strengthen one another, and remember: trade secrets are more to you than to any other profession.

If you use these recommendations, within one generation much of your previous glory will be regained. It will be difficult, but by no means impossible. There are young men and women out there waiting to be your apprentices. They are excellent at destroying books (but not at keeping secrets, so save that for when they’re a little older). And, come on, you’re magicians! Nothing is beyond your grasp.

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