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Thomas Wayne
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On 2001-12-25 00:08, semianimus wrote:

I think what Thomas is trying to say is that he sees the theater term of SOD as something which allows someone to enjoy a play and take it as a type of reality. Something people do somewhat on instinct so they can experience a show the right way. This as opposed to magic, where the magician must force a person into believing the magic (as it were[...]

Thank you, Sable. This is very close to what I am saying. Let me just add that I believe tension, conflict and suspense are all very necessary elements to creating strong magic; complete suspension of disbelief removes (or at least weakens) those elements - ergo the magic is also weakened.

Allow me to offer two prominent examples of suspension of disbelief that are distinct from either “Peter Pan” or the performance of magic; perhaps by jumping to a different context I can help define what I see as the nexus between suspension of disbelief and strong magic - which has been so elusive.

Example 1): Miss Cleo, Inc.

Anyone who has even glanced at a television set in the last few years is likely to be familiar with this steaming pile of deceit. The corporation that owns and runs this scam rakes in millions of dollars per month by duping people into calling to discuss their own personal lives with a supposed psychic, all for the purpose of seeking answers to life’s little problems – at $3.95 per minute!

Of course, the telemarketers on the other end of the line are well trained in cold-reading, fishing and tarot-related generalizations – not to mention the huge array of digital equipment and database information available to convince the sucker that they have true psychic powers.

The techniques employed are SO successful that the callers ultimately don’t even question the psychics’ abilities; they’ve called for answers and advice, not to question the validity of the claimed powers. This is a pure example of suspension of disbelief. These people who calling in have so completely accepted that “Miss Cleo” can see into the future that their only interest is in hearing “her” answers to their personal questions. They have long ago accepted that the psychic powers are legit, and they are no longer impressed by that part.

Example 2): John Edwards, Inc.

All of the above applies, with a similar result. The people in this charlatan’s audience are convinced that he can communicate with their dearly departed and they aren’t asking any questions about his supposed ability. The only questions they’re asking are where’d Grandma bury the gold, or where’d Uncle Bob hide his will. Like “Miss Cleo’s” devoted followers, these idiots blindly accept all his spurious claims as gospel.

You see, the audiences that these criminals have cultivated MUST agree to suspend their disbelief; to do otherwise would cause them to question the transparent fraudulence involved. Consequently, none of the audience members are even a little surprised when these “supernatural” powers are demonstrated. Oh, I’m sure they have a few doubts at first, but as soon as they willingly suspend their disbelief, the only concerns they have are if “Miss Cleo” can tell them who their baby’s daddy is, or if their dead Auntie is happy on the other side.

So how does all of this relate to our shared interest, the performance of magic as an art form? Well, in the interest of beating a dead horse, I’ll just reiterate that I believe if our audience fully suspends their disbelief, the impact of our magic is weakened. Allow me to illustrate from my own experience. Most of the magic I perform is close-up, much of which is interactive with my audience. If I’m doing a full set, I usually start out working to someone on my right and later in the set work to someone on my left. Once, not long ago, I was at the point where I was working to a woman on my left and it was her job to not believe that the face-down card sandwiched between two face up Queens (on the table in front of her) was the one she had selected and signed earlier. I suggested she turn it over and her response was: “No, that’s okay, I believe you.” I was forced to turn it over for her. I’ve never had that happen before; usually they are incredulous and can’t wait to flip that card over. It wasn’t an issue of boredom or disinterest on her part; she’d already seen some “miracles” and so genuinely believed it would be her signed card. She was convinced, and didn’t see a need for me to prove it. Now that is total suspension of disbelief, and the result was (in my opinion) deflating for the climax. It definitely took a little shine off THAT effect.

Another time I performed for a private party of fairly well-to-do people and on this occasion I chose to present about a forty-minute set of mentalism effects – some Max Maven stuff, some Alan Wakeling numerology readings, etc. After I’d finished the set and was packing up I was approached by a woman who - very sincerely - asked me how I had developed my extraordinary powers. She wanted to know if I had studied with an expert, or if there was a school devoted to this sort of training or if I had just been born with these powers. Frankly, I found her complete belief in the “supernatural” powers I had displayed a bit off-putting. But the most noticeable effect of her complete belief was the fact that she wasn’t stunned by any of the effects. Because her suspension of disbelief was so strong, the magic wasn’t.

I don’t know if any of this helps illustrate my position regarding the suspension of disbelief, but I’m tired of typing, so Merry Christmas to all… and maybe we’ll take this up again later.


Thomas Wayne
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Dennis Michael
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I find this topic fasinating.

"Suspension of disbelief"

This completely expains why some people like sci-fi movies and others do not. Jurassic Park movies made Dinosaurs come alive. Why...? because the audience put aside their disbelief for the thrill of the beast munching on someone. Great effect!

This is why some people like magic for it’s beauty and why others can’t by it.

Coming off as a "Miss Cleo" of Magic performing "real magic" is a turn-off to those who dislike this false impression.

On the other hand, using magic as a mystery with the element of entertainment, a touch of emotional belief, a moment away from reality, etc., ie. Cooperfield; this type of magic is well received.

Really fascinating!


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Peter Marucci
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Tom clarifies his point very well: If you appear to be able to do anything, then nothing you do will be surprising; the audience has totally suspended its belief in natural laws.

Therefore, your magic suffers because, to the audience, it is no longer magic but reality.

But we can’t go so far the other way as to make it just a puzzle, either.

Then it becomes glorified juggling. Or a dressed-up bar bet. Or something like that.

But not magic.

The performer MUST find the middle ground (which probably isn’t in the middle at all!) and work from there to persuade the audience that what is happening shouldn’t be happening -- but it is!

Then he or she will have reached the "true magic level", instead of just being a puzzlest or, at the other extreme, a morally bankrupt fraud.


Peter Marucci

Dennis Michael
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Sorry, Peter, puzzle was not the word I meant, and I edited it out. A wanting release from reality for the sake of self mental pleasure.
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OK, I think I understand all this now, the illustrations helped quite a bit. You seem to be referring to an extreme form of SOD that occurs when an audience is too sure of your skills and it's interesting that this should have occurred during a card trick. I say that because every time it's happened to me, it's always been during a card trick. Some person becomes convinced that I can do anything with a deck of cards and indeed the magic is completely lost. This is part of why I'm careful not to flourish too much if at all, when I'm doing cards. People become so easily convinced that I can make them choose any card I want or switch any card I want, that the magic is gone. This seems to be a danger we face a lot in card magic and it's part of why I usually only do one or two card tricks and move on to something else. Magicians have gained such a reputation with cards that I think some people do come into it with an automatic SOD and so of course we don't have to earn it. This all makes perfect sense to me now. Thanks.

Sable Smile Smile Smile Smile
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Stephen Long
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On 2001-12-25 09:06, Peter Marucci wrote:

If you appear to be able to do anything, then nothing you do will be surprising; the audience has totally suspended its belief in natural laws.

Therefore, your magic suffers because, to the audience, it is no longer magic but reality.

But we can't go so far the other way as to make it just a puzzle, either.

Then it becomes glorified juggling. Or a dressed-up bar bet.

The perfect summary.

I'm quite clear on everything everyone is trying to say here now.

But my question has become this:

What is the solution?

Is it possible for an effect to be TOO miraculous?

Because maybe if you surprise the audience enough, then nothing you do that follows will generate a reaction any more.

My initial thoughts are probably not.

But I should like to hear what everyone here thinks.

Peace, love, playing cards.


ps, Sable ("Magicians have gained such a reputation with cards...")

Let's not start that again...

Tom Cutts
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Smile Look what you’ve all been up to this holiday. Smile

I am still a little shakey on this foundation. We started with classical SOD, "I go to the theater and accept certain premises to enjoy the show but forget them at the close of the curtain."

It was said this is contradictory to magic. If you even momentarily believe magicians do these things, then they are not miracles.

We arrived at SOD being used in a context for psychic, steaming piles. Smile

I don’t believe those callers suspend a belief they had nor do they return to a belief of what they were involved in was phony (just phone-y Smile ). I think they believed all along or, at least, were uncertain but now are total believers. This is erasure of disbelief and is exactly what Thomas is saying dillutes magic on the other end.

Gandolf walks into the Dwarf mines and light erupts from his staff to lead his party through their journey. No one claps. No one is astonished. This is what wizards do. The repetition of "magic" becomes science.

The blind acceptance of the unexplained erases magic.

So, can we do a magic too strong? You bet. That is why we have routining. Each effect should build in impossability. When that fails, even if just for one individual, the magic suffers.

It is the flaw in card tricks. It is duely believed that a magician can handle cards such that he can have any card chosen and have it controlled to any part of the deck. Such can be entertaining tricks. For magic we must look beyond this perception and work in a frame that is outside this perception.

Sometimes this changing of the frame is created by method and other times by routining...or both. Smile

If I could end the perfect show I would want to end on an effect that left the audience in total belief. How would I get away with it?

The magic presented would have to be emotionally compelling. More meaningful than "Hey, look what I can do." Give them more to believe in than just the magic trick. Do this and your audience will exert Emotional Investment in Belief.

Movies have become hypnotic inducers of such states. So many senses are being so masterfully overwhelmed for the purpose of some meaningful (sometimes) experience. When the lights go down and the screen begins to flicker we allow those images great lattitude with our emotions. In many cases greater latitude than we allow real humans to have.

In the theater the emotions are "real" but the consequences are empty. We are safe.

Too much magic wants to challenge our natural world. That challenge is what makes magic uncomfortable for some people...they feel unsafe. They feel fooled.

There are so many more wonderful emotions one can conjure. Please don’t settle for fooled.


Tom Cutts

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Jeb Sherrill
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All this talk about SOD and now cards too, reminds me of a magician I used to know. He was a card worker and started out his routine by classic forcing, say a 6 of hearts, and then when the guy took it he'd say "don't pick the 6 of hearts". I almost choked. From the first move complete SOD was full in force. After that, every trick he did was just another show of his card handling prowess. They assumed he could do anything with the deck. The magic was gone.

We can perform a trick as amazingly as we wish to, but we must make certain it looks like magic and not skill (you know what I mean here). SOD is a powerful weapon, but it can blow up in your face.


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I'm sorry I missed this discussion when it first occurred. However in the spirit of nostalgia, some may liken to re-explore this thread for various thoughts on Suspension of Disbelief.

Some of the more involved, longer messages I ended up skimming so I hope I'm not repeating anybody, except to paraphrase Michael Ammar on the psychology of the Floating Bill. You have to take away the audience's belief that there is IT by your actions and through what you say.

Your actions can either prove or disprove the presence of IT by acting freely (rather than stiffly) and by the horizontal hook-up followed by a one-point hook-up to the bill itself, thus animating it seemingly in the same manner but cancelling out the possibility of the other method.

More importantly is what you say. I've used this plot on many occasions and most of you probably know just how easily people end up believing it, as being the most likely reason. "Static". The fibres in the bill, when rubbed properly, create a static field that allow you to suspend the bill.

At first, there's utter disbelief, like they do not trust their own senses. Then while their mind is racing to solve this cognitive dissonance, you offer a plausible solution that they immediately accept. I can't believe the number of times I've had people rubbing their pants for hours afterwards, trying to duplicate the effect themselves.

A magician must also make the impossible seem possible. If a stunt is totally impossible, they won't credit you for anything. Example: the Bending Fork by Yigal Mesika. If you just put the fork on the table and let it contort on it's own, the first thought people are going to have is it's a gaffed fork and totally discredit you.

But if you downplay and manage the audience's perceptions and lead them to believe you are the cause, they will likely suspend their beliefs, not disbeliefs. ie do regular metal-bending effects and just as they figure that you're doing the bending yourself by misdirecting them at the crucial time, you use the final gaff that's in their eyes the entire time to astound them again and re-evaluate the previous effects you have done, leaving them no option but to credit you.

Wow, I can see how difficult it is to write short, brief comments on this topic!

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The term “suspension of disbelief” does NOT have it’s origin in magic; it’s a theatrical and literary term that was first coined by Samuel T. Coleridge, an English poet and literary critic. The exact quote, taken from his “Biographia Literaria”, written in 1817 is: “That willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.”

Thomas' original observation is a good, and quite interesting one-- Coleridge is often misquoted. The "willing" and "poetic faith" portions are rarely included. As Thomas pointed out, it was not a term specifically designed to be applied to magic-- though many refer to it like it was.

Magicians use the term "effect" in a wishful thing manner as well. If you believe the magic happens between the spectators' ears, the "effect" is what is carried away long after the performance. It is what they feel (and would express to others) a day, a week, or a month later.
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I completely disagree with Thomas...in regard to Miss Cleo. "Of course, the telemarketers on the other end of the line are well trained in cold-reading."

They are not very good at cold reading. And they kept sending things to a "Goret" at my address who's birthday was 2 days before mine...

True story, by the way Smile
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