A Note: While this piece is not intended to support the exposure of the secrets of legerdemain, it tries to analyse what good, if anything, can come out of such exposure. Somewhere down the line, this has turned into a personal rant… So bear with me, while I bare it all!
Continued from Exposure of magical secrets: Pros and Cons (Part 1)
Exposure of magical secrets may be briefly looked on in three ways:
A: ‘Educational’ Exposure – Exposure by Rationalists, and people fighting superstitions, and fraudulent mediums.
B: ‘Focussed’ Exposure – Exposure through magic books, kits, videos, et al.
C: ‘Mass’ Exposure – Exposure (blatant as they seem!) through mass media like TV, et al.
Magicians have always indulged in selective exposure of magical secrets. Whether it was Jean Robert Houdin, John Maskelene, or Harry Houdini, or numerous other magicians who have utilised the art of magic to expose the secrets “as used by” fraudulent psychics and mediums.
There are many a rationalists today, including magicians, who are exposing the well-kept secrets of magic to “prevent” its ‘unscrupulous’ usage by conmen.
There are many of us (magicians) who consider this exposure OKAY. But do not agree with the exposure of the same on prime-time TV. Is this an issue that can be CATEGORISED clearly, as such? Is a clear-cut demarcation possible?
The problem here is: Who is going to decide what is justifiable exposition, and what is not? This, as is clear, is relative, and can indeed be a very personal issue.
Next comes the “teaching/sharing” of magic secrets through books, kits, videos, et al.
Some of us (magicians) find this too agreeable. The reason stated: Furtherance of the art. The argument here is: After all, these kits and books and videos will be bought and used ONLY by those interested in the art of magic.
As my good friend, guide, and mentor, Sam Dalal says: This is akin to the various cookery books that are sold in book shops. The books will be opened and read ONLY by those interested in cookery. And the fact that a good recipe has been shared will NOT stop people from relishing the same.
I too learnt magic, and secrets thereto, from a Magic Kit, and then various books, and then many other means. I learnt what is known as the Professor’s Nightmare, a classic effect where three unequally-sized ropes magically become equal, from a “Learn Magic” kit, at the age of 10.
And it still remains one of my most entertaining magic effects after 17 years (11 years of professional performing) liked by ALL ages! The same is true of the English Rope Trick, learnt from the same magic kit, where a rope cut into half, is magically restored!
Sam is very clear with his viewpoint on this matter (which has evolved and changed over the decades); he feels any exposure of the secrets of the art of magic (while having an immediate adverse repercussion on the performers) helps further the art and its proponents in the long run.
Thus, in simple words, teaching magical effects to like-minded (read: those interested in learning to perform magic) is not, and does not, amount to “exposure” (or at least most of us do not look at it that way!).
However the mandate seems to be in favour that “teaching” (read: sharing/exposing) the same (magical secrets) over a mass media (read: TV) will, and does, amount to exposure.
Then again, is this entirely true?
Using Sam’s analogy (and trying to look at this issue without bringing in emotions), I can now present another perspective to this viewpoint (Please bear with me):
If NOT for the exposes (through books, acts, performances, et al.) by Houdin, Maskelene, Houdini, and more, magic would definitely have NOT attained the status it has.
Speaking purely from a personal experience, I know I have benefitted (?) during my hay days (when I was trying to learn more about this art of mystery, and vying to be a Mandrake) from the “exposures” that transpired around the world.
I have, for a matter of fact, sat glued in front of the television, waiting for the end of the TV serial, when the magician would “share” a secret with his audience. I have then put in loads of effort in trying to “reproduce” the props exactly as explained… practiced the same; and gone on to try MY HAND at enthralling people around me with what was to me (and them?) MAGIC!
I remember with gratitude a family friend, and I am thankful to him (Thanks Subannamaam!), who shared his collection of magic videos (which also included one episode of the masked magician!) with a starry-eyed 15-year-old, who had this inexplicable and innate urge to learn to perform magic.
Of course, the Paul Daniels and David Copperfields of the World (through the videos) contributed greatly to improving my performance, and helped convert the “tricks” I learnt into strong magical effects.
The fact of the matter is, when I was a non-magician (wanting to be a magician) I looked up to these exposes to further my knowledge of the art.
And today, being (what people call) an accomplished magical entertainer, I seem to have turned into a hypocrite, to proclaim: No Exposures!
How is it that I (along with most) forget that I am a magician today SIMPLY because of some ‘bad’ performers, whose shows inadvertently TAUGHT ME magic? How can I also forget the ‘unethical’ few, who intentionally gave away the secrets? Guess I should be thankful of these folks, like I AM of Lee Falk, who created Mandrake, and thus the urge in me, to become one!
Thanks Sam! For opening my eyes. And pointing out the hypocrite in me.
While I still do NOT think it is right to expose the secrets of magic (Aah! The hypocrisy of it all!), I now realise that it is indeed very difficult to draw the line… For the line is relative. Relative to one’s exposure to (read: knowledge of) magic per se.
I should also NOT forget the adage: “Necessity is the mother of all inventions”. For now many more fabulous, unbelievable, and truly magical effects SHALL BE INVENTED, as there is a need to invent them.
Lest I forget, the greatness of the Professor’s Nightmare and the English Rope Trick (some of the MOST exposed of magical secrets), like many of the other classics of magic, lies in their ability to withstand certain amounts of exposure, and still mystify and entertain in the hands of a good performer.
But the question remains: What about the numerous others not so talented in add-ons like story-telling, acting, et al? They will, and do have, problems arising out of this (and other) exposure.