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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » The September 2014 entrée: Jason England » » Secrecy in Magic » » TOPIC IS LOCKED (2 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

shaunluttin
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Hi Jason,

How do you feel about secrecy in magic? Why is it important? While it has a long tradition, do we still need it?

  • Astonishment A spectator won't feel astonishment if s/he knows how its done. I don't buy it. I feel astonishment watching a really good athlete perform, a powerful movie, and nature. I know how they're done (within reason).
  • Fairness It isn't fair to the creator to reveal his/her method. I don't buy it. I do believe that it isn't fair to use without permission. Copyright sure, but secrecy?

Maybe people are interested in 'the method' only because it's 'the secret'. In analogy, female mammary glands are not more interesting than are female faces nor male biceps. Western culture, though, has covered up mammary glands, making us irrationally interested. At worst, we miss the person while fixating on her glands. If we uncloak 'the method' in magic, maybe people would stop asking how's it done, maybe they'll site back and see the show.

No one asks how's it done at the end of a movie or sporting event. They don't care - it isn't secret.

Quote:
It would be wonderful if magic could be appreciated in this way. --Dai Vernon quoted by Persi Diaconis in Magical Mathematics


What do you think? How do you feel about secrecy in magic?

Shaun

Reference

Diaconis, P., & Graham, R. (2012). Magical mathematics: The mathematical ideas that animate great magic tricks. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Here is a 29-minute live performance of mine: https://youtu.be/lq2Rj1uf05M

I used to be quite sensitive to criticism; I am much less so now; so, please do criticize my technique, presentation, and posts. It helps me to grow, and I promise to take responsibility and not to be defensive.

JasonEngland
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Shaun,

To me secrets are like the endings to movies, plays or books. Not knowing the ending is crucial to experiencing the narrative in a specific way. Most people would be upset if in 1999 someone ran into the theater and shouted out, "Bruce Willis's character is dead!" halfway through The Sixth Sense. You can still watch the movie knowing that fact and still enjoy it, but the experience has just been dramatically altered for anyone not already hip.

I think of magic secrets in a similar fashion. It isn't that I refuse to discuss secrets and methodology with someone, it's just that I make it very clear what kind of trade-off they are getting and I encourage them to make an informed choice, not a snap choice. I often tell them that while movies and books are sometimes formulaic, there are still hundreds of different directions a movie can take and knowing one doesn't necessarily prevent you from enjoying a different movie in the future. Magic isn't like that. Once you know the "secret" of a card control, or a double-lift, you haven't just lost the ability to enjoy that effect, but you've lost the ability to see hundreds of effects that use those moves. At least, you've lost the ability to see the effects as they were intended. You might still enjoy the artistic nature of the performance, or appreciate the skillful manner in which the effect is presented, but you have probably lost the ability to be gobsmacked by the ending.

Usually, by explaining that telling them how this or that trick is done will actually be more likely to diminish their enjoyment of magic in the long run as enhance it, they often decide that the trade-off isn't worth it.

But, if a person insists after carefully considering the situation for some time and persists, then I actually have no trouble telling someone how magic is performed. Most of these people (usually they've been engineers or scientists who enjoy knowing about the way things work more than they enjoy the feeling of astonishment), have been appreciative of the fact that I treated them like adults and didn't refuse to discuss the methods based on any silly "magician's code" garbage. Instead of being disappointed in the method the way the knee-jerk "how did you do that?!" spectators are, the ones that make a careful choice and still decide they want to know are often quite taken with the ingenuity of the methods and appreciate the performances even more.

At the end of the day I think we as magicians should always attempt to stave off the insincere "how did you do that?!" people. They aren't asking a real question - they're just expressing their astonishment in the form of a hopelessly cliched question. Telling these people anything would be a mistake. But I think it's just as big of a mistake to not take the people that ask that question sincerely seriously. After you've explained that what they're giving up (the ability to enjoy future effects that use this same method) for what they're gaining (this ring has a gap in it and these are permanently welded together) is a lopsided trade, if they still want to know - tell them.

Jason
Eternal damnation awaits anyone who questions God's unconditional love. --Bill Hicks
shaunluttin
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Hi Jason,

Thank-you for the considered response. It reads like an argument for discretion not secrecy. I admire your complexity of thinking. Well done. That's the best thing I've read on magic in a long time.

Shaun

Here is a 29-minute live performance of mine: https://youtu.be/lq2Rj1uf05M

I used to be quite sensitive to criticism; I am much less so now; so, please do criticize my technique, presentation, and posts. It helps me to grow, and I promise to take responsibility and not to be defensive.

JasonEngland
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V.I.P.
Las Vegas, NV
1695 Posts

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Shaun,

"Discretion v secrecy" is a good way of framing it.

Jason
Eternal damnation awaits anyone who questions God's unconditional love. --Bill Hicks
Ray Haining
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I can't remember which magician it was at the turn of the last century (Hoffmann?) who felt that lay audiences would eventually evolve to the point where they would no longer be fooled, but would appreciate magic even more because of their increased knowledge as to how magic works. It didn't work out that way, though. People were also optimistic that we would join together as one world and there would be an end to war.
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