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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Food for thought » » Blaine and the horns of the dilemma (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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saxmangeoff
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I taped the David Blaine "Drowned Alive" special and watched through it this evening, fast forwarding through the underwater hype stuff and watching the magical bits. The special itself is being talked to death elsewhere, but I wanted to talk here specifically about how Blaine relates to Whit Haydn's "Horns of the Dilemma" theory (There's no such thing as magic/There's no other way) which is being discussed here in Food for Thought.

Specifically, it stood out to me while watching that Blaine is clearly not aiming for the horns of the dilemma. He wants the audience to land square on the "there is no other way" horn. The show included clips of several spectators exclaiming how David Blaine was real. His big finales are not huge illusions, they are huge stunts.

So, David Blaine is performing as the "mysterious stranger", and definitely does not give the audience "a wink and a nod" as Whit says. And he's very successful with this approach. What effect, if any, does this have on Whit's theory?

(I've posted this as a separate topic because I don't want to hijack other threads discussing Whit's theories, and I'd like this one to focus on how David Blaine's success relates to those theories.)

Geoff
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I think it proves that people will watch it if it's on T.V.

I think T.V. magic is a little different than close up-ish magic.

Success does not mean everything, but it cannot totally be ignored. I however ignored the show. (Although I might as well have watched it as I was told all about it at work)

"If there is no bread let them eat cake". perhaps it could be reversed in some instances. I don't know if she really said it.
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Whit Haydn
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The theory has nothing to do with success. A pure comedian, doing no real magic might be more successful than a great artist with less than universal appeal.

The theory is simply a way of understanding what it is we do, and what we want to accomplish, and how the best way to go about it might be. It examines the nature of the art of Magic in an effort to understand it.

How to make a successful career in Magic has more to do with marketing, astute understanding of the market place, having a good act that works solid in its venue, etc., etc., than with the artistic value of the magic.

However, the theory will make it easier for someone--whether working on a purely commercial act or attempting to create something truly rich and meaningful--to construct an act that has integrity, a sense of purpose, and that works well both as magic and theater.

It can help you understand why something isn't working and fix it. It relieves you of a lot of trial and error.

Personally, I like David Blaine, and since I didn't see the special yet, I won't comment on it. However, he seems to vacilate from show to show about whether he is a trickster or a "real" magician. That vacilation itself may be enough to keep most people bouncing back and forth in their heads.

But charlatans are often much more successful than artists. And some people crossover from art to charlatanry--and sometimes back.
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By the reactions that I have heard on David about this and preceding shows he has done, he has a complete understanding of who his audience is and how to work them. David hangs them on the appropriate horn and lets them dangle. I've heard as many people say they care not for him as those that do, but both groups continue to watch and talk about him. That is what they mean by, "The best of both worlds".
Whit knows his audience just as well and treats them accordingly. What works in one medium for one performer may not translate to another medium/performer. Think of the evolution from vaudeville to radio to movies to television. Few were able to successfully tackle all, yet many handled one well. Whit's theory holds up well and I doubt what David does has any effect at all.

Television has a strange power all it's own that sometimes makes me shiver.
kregg
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If David doesn't attract advertisers the network won't air his special for an hour during prime time or live for that matter. Otherwise, he'd be on the networks cable stepchild channel (like A&E).
The bottom line is always the bottom line and that's no bull.
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saxmangeoff
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Another thought that occurs to me is that the stunts themselves could be a form of illusion breaker. He does "real magic" but seems awfully human when he tries to hold his breath, and we see another "normal" human has held his breath 2 minutes longer. If he were magic, shouldn't he be able to do it? (Maybe he just needed some gillyweed. Smile )

Also, when I speak of Blaine's success, I don't just mean his celebrity. I also mean his ability to seriously mess with people's minds while seeming (to me) to be aiming for total conviction rather than the horns of the dilemma. I'm just trying to sort out how this fits in with how I understand things.

Geoff
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Dave V
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"There is no magic; there is no other explanation"

Most TV viewers "know" there is no magic. Special Effects, TV magic, etc pretty much killed the mystery. So the first half is already taken care of. Now someone comes along and "proves" he's the real deal.

"But, there is no real magic, is there? But he did such and such... I know he did, I saw it! And so did his street spectators! They thought it was real, so why shouldn't I? It must be real, there is no other explanation, but it can't be, but it is... but it can't, but... but... "

:fruity:

I think in a sort of backhanded way, this fits Whit's theory pretty well.
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kregg
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The real trick would've been to perform a double lift with his prune hands after being fished from his bowl.
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saxmangeoff
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Dave,

I've wondered about that. Perhaps, to a large extent, a cynical American audience provides one ready-made horn?

Geoff
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I think David Letterman said it rather well.

"David Blaine tried to set the record for being able to hold his breath by beating the previous record of 8 minutes and 42 seconds. He failed. However, he did set the record for being the world's biggest dumbass."
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Dave V
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That's pretty much how I figured it, at least as far as the TV audience is concerned. Blaine just capitalized on it. He's mixed tricks and stunts to the point where we can no longer tell which one he's doing. If he succeeded in the Drowning Alive thing, bursting out with a "Ta Daa!" the viewers would be disappointed thinking it was merely a trick. Failing the way he did added a measure of "reality" to it so now they start to think it really was real... but it can't be... but it is... etc, etc,

I'm not saying it was a scripted failure, but it sure added the exact amount of realism he (and the network execs) was looking for.
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Whit Haydn
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There must be a sort of ping-pong effect that Blaine creates, or he wouldn't stay in the public mind. Once the thing is decided, there is no conflict. What Blaine sort of does is raise controversy between members of the audience--some believing, some caught on the horns of the dilemma wonderfully, and the rest admiring Blaine for his ability to con the others. This conflict keeps things lively, and the controvery going. When it ends--if it does--the only losers will be those who believed. They will feel kinda stupid.

I think it is important for people to understand the the idea of a theory is NOT to promote one artistic vision over another. If it does, then it is a limited theory.

The theory is meant to describe what we are doing, for the most part, rather than saying things can only be done one way.

It is simply a way of analyzing the various visions and understanding them. The only thing that distinguishes what we are calling "performance magic" and similar entertainments from the rest of theater is the attempt to implant a false idea into the mind of the spectator. There are other arts from the Art of Deception that are not magic and that would fit this definition, so we needed to qualify it further by saying that it was for entertainment and art, and that the thing being proven was known to be untrue.

The implications of this are great, and there are many directions that you can go from here. My concepts after this are all just my opinions and artistic judgements. The whole theory of magic that I have been explaining is simply MY theory--one way to look at magic. It is not original, or new. It is just one approach that has been successful for many performers over a long time.

Artists can take many different and valid paths. I am simply trying to find a language whereby we can discuss these various approaches. I think by positioning magic as a common branch of both the Art of Theater and the Art of Deception, we have really made it possible to describe a wide range of approaches to the art of magic ranging from the very edges of criminality to the highest of artistic visions.

By describing how an artist aproaches the dilemma, confronts it, avoids it, etc., we are actually able to attempt to compare Blaine to Angel, or Billy McComb to Tommy Cooper.

A common language enables us to make the fine distinctions that an artist needs to make.

This thread was started with that thought in mind, and I think it expresses the very value of this approach. We can talk about Blaine in light of the theory, whether he follows my approach or not. We can see how his art differs in its approach to the dillema, and that is the whole point. It gives us a way to discuss and analyze what we each individually as artists like and dislike about various other artistic approaches to the art we love.

It should be interesting to any artist to try to understand the choices that another has made, and especially if that other is as successful and iconic as Blaine. It does not add or take away from Blaine to analyze what it is that he is doing. That is the right way for a place like this forum to operate.

"David Blaine Rules!/Blaine Eats!" type opinions are meaningless.

Look to understand what Blaine is doing, because it is very obvious he knows what he wants to create, and I believe for the most part he has accomplished it. And been a financial and public success.
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It seems Mr Blaine wants his audience to believe he is in reality a Shaman mystery man. Which works for him greatly.

As I understand it, early in his career he went to Paul Harris ( a REAL Shaman if you ask me ! ) and Paul helped come up with this persona for Mr. Blaine.

The rest is magic history.
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Just because a magician does a stunt it not make a stunt magic.
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RandyStewart
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I don't know where the dilema here is for the audience other than could he really drown?

On a tangent, I have a friend who held a world record for deepest dive. I believe it was in Palau. The Guiness Record group had tags attached to the weighted rope dropped into the ocean. He broke the last one held by himself as well. He's now NAUI Technical Operations Director with 25 years diving experience. He said the panic state, despite having every working device/equipment to keep you alive, can occur and is a very strong and real condition which can get you killed.

He told me of his last record dive in which he had to change out tanks to continue the descent. Finding yourself in very murky water, at crushing depths and having to pull the mouthpiece OUT, switch tanks onto your back and resume breathing into another mouthpiece convinced him he was insane. This was really the only place he experienced a nervous flutter. This was also not the place to panic as he was alone and even if he could surface quickly, decompression would not have been properly achieved. But he saw where one could experience an irrational panic attack.

Incidentally, he's found that female divers have proved the superior candidates because they typically enter the program without machismo or the testosterone-laden need to conquer the world.

Similarly, I saw an episode of 'Myth Busters' explore the Chinese Water Torture technique in which the tortured are strapped laying down on a flat surface with a drop of water falling on their forehead every few seconds. Sounds perfectly harmless.

The subject, although in company of the entire show and film crew actually broke down in tears and cried aloud after just a few hours. She said what really began to get at her was the restraints and every drop reminded her of her helpless state. The experiment was abondoned shortly thereafter. Their conclusion was, even for the strong willed, a few days of this might very well drive a person to madness.

I think Blaine is doing this stunt for a week is he? I'm sure many view this and don't think much of it as he does have an oxygen source and medics standing by. It is similarly impossible for anyone on the outside to understand and keep at bay that moment of irrational panic that can and has killed others who were in no apparent danger.

I'm sure it's lonely but a dilema on some horns for him and him alone.
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If David Blaine decided to perform a straight jacket escape would you wait around for two hours to watch him wriggling on a rope, while the monitors showed you clips of how they sew straight jackets or bind bull rope? On the other hand, if he announce that he was going to jump out of a plane in a straight jacket without a chute you'd probably tune in for the ordeal. Just like the under water stunt. It got your interest. Not so with me, I deplore "TV magic." Besides, I tend to get out more than most and I prefer real life experiences. The guy trying to sell me a High Definition TV told me that I could see an individual blade of grass. I asked him if it would mow the lawn while I watched it!
An opinion one way or another doesn't lessen David's accomplishments as a magician. Yes, he is a magician and for attention he performs stunts. It's like topping an ice cream sunday with a cherry, if you don't like cherries don't put it in your mouth.
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RandyStewart
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Kregg,

I like the restrained jump from a plane idea but not for me to do.

I haven't seen Blaine's TV specials as I'm out of town more often than not. I also haven't seen this 'Drowned Alive' stunt. I don't even know if it's still in progress. I know of these things when they show up at sites like this. And no, it didn't get my attention enough to tune into the tube or worse, get a DVD copy of it as advertised in one of the banners here at the Café. It seems to work for him and those who tune into this sort of stuff. I hear his accountant and banker like him a lot too.

As I stated, merely a tangent thought on stunts involving water.
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Not everything a magician does has to be magic. A performance might include all sorts of magic and related arts to be rounded out.

Look at Billy McComb. He did some silly bits of business and prop comedy, a funny but very amazing color changing hank routine, and then a comedic and lengthy buildup with the mouse leading to the Slow-Motion Vanishing Bird Cage. The audience never seemed prepared for that vanish.

The set up and delivery was perfect. The audience was totally sucker-punched. So doing comedy, prop bits, stories and other things than magic can make the magic more accessable, friendly and even possibly more effective.

A show of one butt-kicking trick after another could wear an audience out, or even lessen the believability and impact of each trick.

Illusion shows would want to have some theatrical depictions of magic as well as solid magic meant to leave them on the horns of the dilemma. You have to hold an audience for some time, and this is difficult to do if you hit them with powerful effect after powerful effect--you will wear them out.

A magician might do rope tricks, carnival stunts, juggling, flourishes--all kinds of disparate skills, talents and other business.

But if he doesn't eventually leave the audience on the horns of the dilemma, he is not a magician in my opinion.

So Blaine is doing a lot of things that I think are not only good magic, but good theater.

The stunts aren't magic, but they aren't meant to be. They create a "wash-over" effect of believability that lends credence to his magic.

In the same way, flourishes are able to lend a "washover effect" to card magic--by showing skill, you can easily ring in a trick card or trick deck and the audience will be less prepared to look for that.

Blaine does most of his magic in a nearly perfect format for miracle magic.

If you come up to one person or a small group and do just one mind-blowing effect, presentation and entertainment aren't as important as they are when you need to hold a group's attention for an hour.

The impact of the effect is heightened by its singularity and focus and perceived importance in a way that wouldn't be there if the effect were a series of effects that the spectators had "come" to see.

Also, the argument of the trick is front and center, and the audience is caught off-guard and vulnerable. The premises and conclusion are starkly outlined when there is little frilly theater and presentation added to it. This makes for greater impact.
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Quote:
On 2006-05-12 15:47, Whit Haydn wrote:
But if he doesn't eventually leave the audience on the horns of the dilemma, he is not a magician in my opinion.

I would rather have them sit back and ENJOY the ride and book me back next year.
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kregg
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Whit,
I was with you until I read, "But if he doesn't eventually leave the audience on the horns of dilemma, he is not a magician..."

Would you please clarify the sense of how you meant it, when adding the word eventually. Does this mean that magic is an event or a happenstance? In essence, by performing magic effects the audience will catch on sooner or later that I am a magician.
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