||Posted by: Dick Christian (Sep 10, 2008 2:30pm)
Msrs. Kavanaugh, Trono & Toberman:
Please forgive my delay in responding to your comments. The last few days have been busy ones and I wanted to be as clear, complete and reasoned as possible in my response.
I am more than happy to address any and all of the issues you and/or any others have raised (or wish to), but first it might clear the air if I point out what I wrote, and more importantly, what I DIDN’T write in my post of 9/5.
For Mr. Kavanagh: At no time did I deny that Jack Tillar is the creator of the blister effect (the first reference to the effect that I know of is on pp. 379-380 in Tarbell Vol. 7, published in 1972 and clearly cites Tillar as the originator). Nor do I dispute the statement that he “gave his blessing” to Branded or that his book contains contributions by Weber, Banachek, Nu, Osterlind, Maven and other ‘top folks” have made contributions to Branded (although I’d be surprised if any of them feature it in their performances). I watched the demo video of Strebler’s performance and the excited reaction of the teenage spectators was exactly what one would expect if anyone who looked like Strebler showed them, or others like them, any trick they hadn’t seen before and couldn’t explain. Now please don’t start accusing me of denigrating Strebler, his performance or his audience. I am simply observing that while his look and performing persona is perfect for just such an audience -- teens to 20s hanging out on the street or in a mall (a very small “niche” market BTW) -- it would be completely out of place in almost any other situation or for any other audience. None of the markets in which I work (society parties, corporate and association events, civic organizations, etc.) would book someone with his look or style, just as MY style and persona would have absolutely no appeal for HIS audiences.
The only comment I might take issue with is that Strebler’s demo was shared to show how Branded could go “beyond just a trick.” I seemed obvious to me that his spectators, while certainly amazed and baffled, didn’t consider it anything BUT “a trick.” That is NOT to suggest that it is necessary for them to believe that what they saw was “real,” but only that it might be better if they were at least left to wonder. The ONLY impression they could have, given the context in which the effect was presented, is that they witnessed a clever trick. While that may be “mental magic” (and I’m not sure it even rises to that level) it certainly isn’t mentalism. If Strebler’s goal was to show a young and unsophisticated audience a clever trick, he clearly succeeded, but it seems to me that the original blister effect elicits a far higher level of wonder.
For Mr. Toberman: I have re-read my post of 9/5 and can find no statement in which I assert that my demonstrations of mentalism are real, either explicitly or by implication, or suggest that my audiences should perceive them as such. Neither, however, do I offer any disclaimers. I consider myself an entertainer, advertise and represent myself as such, and am satisfied that offering my services as an entertainer is all the disclaimer that is necessary. While I perform both as a magician and as a mentalist, I never combine the two in the same performance (I know some others who do and have no problem with their doing so, but I don’t. That is a matter of personal choice and reflects my preference for maintaining theatrical consistency in any single performance.) My performances as a mentalist, with rare exception, consist almost entirely of demonstrations of mindreading, i.e., no psychokinesis, no predictions, no Russian Roulette or “danger” effects (this too is in the interest of theatrical consistency). In none of my performances do I either make claims or offer disclaimers, nor do I explain what I do. I just do it and let the observers come to their own conclusions.
I don’t know what type of performance you do, but my sense of the audience’s perception to performances of magic vs. mentalism is rather different than yours. I find a very real difference between the two genres. No one, with the possible exception of very young children or those holding the most fundamental religious beliefs, is likely to think that anything they see in a magic show is real. As you have pointed out, they simply suspend their disbelief in return for being entertained. It has been my experience that the typical audience at a performance of mentalism sees things very differently. Probably 20-25% assume it’s simply trickery, 20-25% believe it’s real and the other 50-60% aren’t sure -- and THEY are the ones I’m playing to. My goal is to have them leave the show wondering. I don’t presume to tell the audience what to think, I just tell them what they’re thinking. As long as they are entertained, and hopefully left to wonder, the conclusions they may reach regarding the “reality” of what I do is none of my concern.
I think that is what Dunninger, who might be considered the father of modern stage mentalism (at least in the US), had in mind when he closed his performances with “For those who believe, no explanation is needed. For those who do not believe, no explanation is possible” -- a line still used by Kreskin. The comments that I and other performers often hear from audience members after a show offers no evidence that claims, disclaimers, or the lack thereof, have any significant impact on their beliefs. People tend to cling tenaciously to their preconceptions and it is difficult if not impossible to convince them to change their beliefs. It is however, possible to challenge those beliefs without either trying or expecting to change them. It is not surprising that the audience reaction to your performances of Branded is “great,” neither is there any reason to assume that you intended to “insult their intelligence” or have done so. While they may be surprised, it is doubtful that they are fooled. Rather than being left to wonder, it is more likely that they enjoyed being entertained by a “trick.”
For Mr. Trono: It is interesting to note and, I believe, lends credence to my argument, that you wrote that it is “a concern that initially both Jack Tillar and I had” and that struggling with it is one of the reasons why you delayed the release of Branded. I don’t doubt, nor have I questioned, the quality or effectiveness of the Branded gimmick. The Café Forum to which I responded (Tricks & Effects, reviews of magic tricks) was clearly intended to solicit comments on the effect. My post simply reflected my opinion. As I have noted in some of my posts on other topics, “opinions are like rectums, everybody has one and is entitled to his own.” Given the overwhelming number of favorable posts about Branded, my negative comments clearly represent a minority opinion. But that does not invalidate them. Nor do I expect that they will adversely affect your sales -- if anything, the fact that I seem to have stirred up a bit of controversy may prompt some who might not have planned to do so to purchase Branded just to see what the fuss is all about. Unless a topic being discussed involves a matter of verifiable historical fact, there is no basis for declaring someone’s assertions either “right” or “wrong.” While I had no doubt that many would be quick to disagree, which is certainly their right, I merely expressed my opinion. It was not my intention to insult anyone.
If I am guilty of anything it is of failing to qualify my disparaging comments to make it plain that they were directed at some, but by no means all, magicians. In retrospect it is easy to see how they came across as expressing an unwarranted generality and, for that, I offer my apology.
Yes, there are both competent and incompetent mentalists just as there are competent and incompetent magicians. There are also some very good magic tricks and a few very bad ones. The vast majority of them can be very good -- even great -- in the right hands, but can also be dreadful in the wrong hands. More often than not, what makes a trick great, merely good, or truly awful is its presentation. There are effects that are clearly meant to be “magic” and can never be anything else. There are others that can be called “mental magic,” (i.e., essentially a “magic trick” but one that lends itself to presentation with a “mental theme”) and others that clearly qualify as “mentalism” (for now I include predictions, psychokinesis, metal bending, etc., in addition to mindreading, in that category). There are also quite a few effects that IMO can be come across as either “mental magic” or “mentalism” depending on the manner and context in which they are presented.
It is my contention, whether speaking of magic, “mental magic,” or “mentalism” it is essential, both psychologically and theatrically, that the effect must “make sense,” i.e., have some underlying rational context, and that some relationship -- even if tenuous at best -- between cause and effect must be established. This is NOT to say that it is necessary for the audience to BELIEVE that what they have witnessed is real, but there needs to be some shred of credibility that makes it plausible that, perhaps, just perhaps, it COULD be real. In the basic blister effect, while one may not believe that burning the tip of a finger drawn on a piece of paper should cause a real blister to appear on the performer’s finger, at least some rationale for that premise is available. To those whose analytic processes lean toward the scientific, it may evoke a psychosomatic explanation. To those who view the world through the lens of religion, thoughts of the stigmata may come to mind. The superstitious may perceive it as voodoo or black magic. But it offers some rationale consistent with almost every belief system. I’m waiting for someone to offer any rationale -- other than “clever trick” -- for the idea that holding a finger to the forehead of someone who is thinking of a playing card could result in a blister in the shape of a pip appearing on the performer’s finger. It is just too big a stretch. It may be puzzling, it may be surprising, but it sure isn’t mentalism -- I’m not even convinced that it really qualifies as “magic” except in the very broadest sense that "magic" = "anything I don't understand."
When David Copperfield made a Lear Jet vanish -- something that most people would say was impossible -- he did it in such a way that it caused some people to think “well, maybe it IS possible after all.” A few months after that TV show a woman approached me after one of my performances and asked if I knew “how that fellow made the airplane disappear.” When I responded that I didn’t know for sure but that, as a magician, I had my theories, she responded with “you know, I understand that they still haven’t found that plane.” As impossible as the idea seemed, there was still a glimmer of thought that it MIGHT have been possible after all. When, in a subsequent TV special he appeared to fly across the Grand Canyon I don’t think anyone perceived it as magic, but just as nothing more than an obvious camera trick -- hardly anything that enhanced Copperfield’s stature as a magician.
IMO it is the difference between entertaining observers with tricks and leaving them wondering whether or not what they have witnessed is real that separates “magic” and “mental magic” from “mentalism.” Although the goal of the magician, the “mental magician” and the “mentalist” may be to entertain and neither expects to change their audience’s beliefs, it is only the mentalist who strives to challenge the audiences perceptions of reality. While the difference between “surprised” and “fooled,” “entertained” and ”left to wonder,” and “challenge” vs. “change” may be one of nuance it seems to me to be at the heart of the difference between the impact of Branded and that of Tillar’s unadulterated original blister effect.
That's just my opinion. Whether or not others agree or disagree is up to them.
Thank you wading through a long dissertation (assuming, of course, that you have done so).