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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Right or Wrong? » » How do Penn and Teller justify exposing illusions? (1 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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Kent Wong
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I'm not going to get into the P&T debate, but the "Exposure of Secrets" issue is an interesting one. Almost every magic book warns against the exposure of secrets and for the most part, magicians blindly accept this adage. But has anyone spent some serious time to think about what the secrets of magic really are and why we need to protect them?

Surely, it must mean more than maintaining some type of monopoly over methods. Since the beginning of the 20th century (or earlier) anyone could walk into a magic store and become entitled to the secret of a trick just by laying down a few dollars on the counter. Even magicians such as Houdini published and sold instructional pamphlets to the general public. With the advent of computers and the internet, access to secrets has become easier and easier. For the adage to have any historical or substantive meaning, it must go beyond methodology.

The more I think about it, the more the argument seems to revolve around the spectator. If you've ever performed a beautiful feat of magic for a spectator and then explained how it was done, you will see the disappointment in the spectator's eyes. The simplicity of most methods is not only anti-climatic, but an insult to most spectator's intelligence. They should have been smart enough to figure it out themselves.

As magicians, it is our job to create a theatrical piece of entertainment for the spectators without making them look or feel stupid. I forget who once said that, "Audiences do not mind being fooled, so long as they are being fooled by a gentleman". Exposure violates this rule by slapping the spectator in the face with the ulimate "Gotcha".

But, think about the circumstance of exposure in this case. It contemplates showing a spectator a trick, exposing the method, and in the process (intentionally or unintentionally) making the spectator feel foolish for not deciphering the simplicity of the method. That is very different from the distribution of secrets to customers purchasing items from a magic dealer. In the latter case, the recipient of the method is not made to feel foolish (especially if you are dealing with a reliable dealer who takes an interest to ensure you are buying the right product for your needs. Admittedly, this is becoming harder to find).

This seems to coincide with the thoughts of Jamy Ian Swiss in his book "Shattering Illusion". In one of his essays therein, Mr. Swiss suggests that the method to a trick is nothing more than a theatrical tool. He compares the exposure of magic methods to Steven Speilberg's exposure of how the light sabers worked in Star Wars. Did it take away from the acting? the script? the overall audience appreciation for the theatrical piece of entertainment? No. [But I do note that even Mr. Speilberg refrained from interrupting the movie to show how the sabers were made, for that would have destroyed the temporary suspension of disbelief].

Mr Swiss goes on to suggest that the exposure of methods may be acceptable if properly presented in the context of theatrical entertainment and not just for the sake of exposing an effect. Admittedly, I've had a hard time accepting this. I was brought up on the take no prisioners code of "don't tell the secrets". But if Mr. Swiss is correct, what does it really mean? Does it mean that exposure of methods is tolerated if it contributes positively to the entertainment value of the theatrical piece (and implicity therein refrains from making the spectators feel foolish for not having figured out the method themselves) without destroying the temporary suspension of disbelief?

I wish I knew the answer. For now, I'm having a hard enough time even grasping the question.

kent
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Servante
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And people are always disappointed when they find out!
That, to me, is one of the big reasons for not exposing method.

From time to time, over the last number of decades, I've had to reveal something about method to an assistant...or have taught a student or two the rudiments and then sent them to the library...or, in a couple of cases, have written and produced full stage shows that have required that lay people know about these things.
And every single time, when the method is revealed, the response has been, "Oh. Is that all?"
And they've looked disappointed.

They really don't want to know.
But some of them want to guess.

Look, it's like crossword puzzles. People love working them...but see no sport in filling one out if the key is printed next to it.

Most of my adult audiences have been curious, but not adamant. Many of my kid audiences have tried to suss things out.

But I think the point, with adult audiences, anyway, is that the guessing is a tiny part of the process...and if they find out, they're not happy.
Maybe this is another reason that so many of the revealed methods are forgotten.

Just a postulation.
Kent Wong
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Hmm... now you've got me thinking.

When a person goes to see a movie and the actor sheds a tear in a particularly heart-wrenching scene, what is the audience thinking at that time? Is the audience thinking, "How does that person shed a tear on demand?" or is the audience simply allowing themselves to be swept away by the emotions of the moment? In the latter case, that would seem to be the temporary suspension of disbelief.

In other words, unless it is the intention of the theatrical piece you are presenting, the spectator shouldn't care about method. The spectator should be pulled into the entertainment theme of the moment. For me, if a spectator is more concerned with how I did a trick than simply enjoying the moment of magic, then I have failed to create a temporary suspension of disbelief.

O.K. ... time to stop thinking ... my head hurts. Smile

Kent
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Servante
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Well, I think that's true. And I think most people don't want the answer handed to them, though they don't mind guessing about it (like that crossword puzzle).

And I think, also, as you've said, if you're doing your job, sussing the thing out is not in the forefront of the audience member's mind.

Now...I am a magician and an actor and a playwright. In fact, I make the bulk of my income as a playwright...so I watch a movie or a play or a magician in a different way, perhaps, than most audience members would. I do tend to watch technically.
But that's me. And most of the people here, I suspect. It is not, as a general thing, our audience.
nabil
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Quote:
O.K., DO I HAVE TO DEFINE WHAT I MEAN BY EXPOSURE?????? I MEAN SPILLING THE SECRET BEHIND MAGIC!!! I really can't believe that actual magicians are debating this. ...Confused now, Phil

Sorry to upset you Phil. For some of us, this is a friendly, philosophical discussion. Its great to read other's thoughts, because they make us consider things from many perspectives, which hopefully leads to a better understanding of magic (what is it, really?).
Sometimes it is good to really examine the definition of the words we use, because language seems to shape thought. In our case, we have learned to use the word EXPOSURE to define the explanation of a method. I was just calling the psychological effect of that word into question, in the same way that many have called into qusetion the psychological effect of the word TRICK. My thought was that the words TRICK and EXPOSE can have similar effects on the way that we, and others, think about what it is we are doing.
By the way, I'm not suggesting that anyone banish the word EXPOSE from their vocabulary, like many of us refuse to use the word TRICK. Refusing to use words tend to keep people "in the box", and one might end up becoming a wizard, spelling magic with a k, and generally weirding people out. (By the way, if you're reading this and you just got back from a ritualistic magick camp, please keep doing what you are doing. You are the color in the "A Fun Magic Coloring Book" of the world, and I love you precisely BECAUSE you weird me out.)
I'm a huge, huge fan of people who come out and do things radically different. Which brings us back to Penn and Teller. They call into question a lot of things for a lot of people, especially with their cable show. If you look at history and the people who have really helped masses of people, it is usually the same people who ****ed off the most people.


Posted: Jan 19, 2007 12:37am
-----------------------------------------------
Oh yeah, to those who keep using the words "suspension of disbelief" in regards to magic, I recommend "Strong Magic" by Darwin Ortiz. He has some GREAT thoughts on that, and the whole magic=theater thing.
Servante
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Yeah, but the whole phrase is WILLING suspension of disbelief." Magic, like all theatre, is a contract between audience and artist.

Now didn't THAT sound high blown! Smile
nabil
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"a contract between audience and artist"...I like that. Never heard magic or theater referred to as such. I've come to think of magic as violent dance ice dance..no wait, that's hockey. Might I still suggest you check out the book? Darwin basically postulates that magic is more strong when people do not willingly suspend there disbelief. It's an interesting take.
Kent Wong
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Ortiz's book is extremely thought provoking. It's interesting to see how an experienced close-up performer views his role as opposed to, let's say, a stage performer. The performing situations and the demands upon the performer are quite different. That, in itself, is very eye-opening.

Another important element that I have often heard reference to is the Temporary Suspension of Disbelief. When a person leaves a movie, they know that the actors making that movie are different from the characters they portrayed. That's another essential term of the "contract".

When this translates into magic, the spectator's eventually need to be released from the spell we cast during our performance. To do otherwise would be a betrayal of the trust the spectators place in us.

Kent
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r1ch-oxford
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It's quite simple. Penn & Teller really don't like other magicians. If the things they do **** you guys off, then it was supposed to.

Just my thoughts,

Rich
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With the rampant misspellings and misinformation in this thread (It's Jillette, not "Gillette", and TELLER wrote the intro to Mead's book, not Penn.), I can see good reason to not like magicians. We can come off as cagey misanthropes who think that the audience is stupid, rather than simply uninitiated. Name another modern, popular magic act that respects the audience's intelligence like Penn and Teller. If David Blaine or Criss Angel are written up in the Times or the New Yorker, it's merely to comment on the sad state of today's entertainment.

The audience does enjoy being let in, just a little. Oh, and guess what? Vernon showed how a false transfer works almost every time he did the Cups and Balls. Is that same audience going to be impossible to fool with the same move later, or are they going to think they know just a little more?
Blair Marshall
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70 postings, over 1300 views. As a marketing approach to self-promotion you boys must admit their efforts/strategy/hard work has paid off in T.V. specials, world travel, Vegas shows!!! Perhaps we should all study, why they are successful, and what could we do to make ourselves stand out from the crowd (which Teller defines so well in his interviews)and appeal to our target audience....lay folks!. They have p.o.'d a small niche group (magicians) to enable them to appeal to the masses, and the niche group helped them do it by squealing loud, long (and continuously!!!).

This topic should have been in a marketing/business section, would much rather be discussing "Grand Illusion", then helping P&T fill their pockets.

Oh yes, I do not particularily like what they did (are doing!) re. exposure, but as has been said many time before, the lay audience has very short memories, and if a few million in N.A. see their shtick, that leaves me the other 300 plus million to work for,that have not seen or heard of P&T. Work to appeal to these folks, and you will have the last laugh.

Another thing, why do we (magicians) not refer to "them" as just P&T, and quit giving them free time??

Just my few cents! (I am sure there will be another 70 plus posts, and a few 1000 more views before this topic moves down the list!!!)

Blair Marshall
"ShaZzam!"

(Another p.s., haven't magicians since the 1800's try to include a sucker trick in their shows - ie. Backstage with a Magician, and many others, even the lowly spot card! etc.)
Cain
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Quote:
On 2007-01-21 16:04, Holtzclaw wrote:
The audience does enjoy being let in, just a little. Oh, and guess what? Vernon showed how a false transfer works almost every time he did the Cups and Balls. Is that same audience going to be impossible to fool with the same move later, or are they going to think they know just a little more?


I'm not sure what type of explanation Vernon offered for the false transfer, but I can tell it's something most people know exists. I performed several card tricks for a fellow student in a grad class once, and of course, general discussion about magic followed. He mentioned coin tricks and said the problem with coins is that if it's not in one hand, then it's in the other (not entirely true given there are relatively sophisticated ways of apparently showing one's hand as empty). But I'd say he generally got it right. People still get fooled by false transfers all the time, objects get palmed, but the public knows about these things.

There are lots of problems with Penn and Teller. I do like how they, following in Randi's footsteps, help expose psychic frauds, but I'm not at all fond of their libertarian politics and ultra-capitalist agenda. Nor am I big fan of the fact that their hook is ******** on magicians and exposing secrets to lay people. You're an ambassador to magic, whether or not you've literally taken an oath.

Here's an anecdote. I was doing magic for some fellow students before a seminar when a person in our little emerging clique arrived late. It was the first time I had shared my magic with them, and the group immediately urged me to do something for her. ("You gotta see this!") She coldly goes through the motions, and shortly into the effect she confesses, "I hate this stuff." Great. Although everyone else was amazed, she reacted with indifference, maybe a tinge of contempt, all the while exuding the whole "get-on-with-it-magicboy" attitude.

A month or so goes by, and again, I had broken out the pasteboards for another person and my impromptu set came to an end. Sitting, feeling bored, she asks to see something. So now, I'm a monkey who's going to do "something" to pass the time? I already had them out, and I didn't want to be rude, but I did explicitly ask, "What's the point if you hate this stuff anyway?" She asked a couple more times over my weak-hearted protest, and so I reluctantly obliged. In this one-on-one situation, she became difficult. Why persist in asking me to show you a trick if you're going to be a !@#$% about it? One of those spectators where the selection process takes five times longer than it needs to, and then there's the replacement process, which is even more challenging. Four Aces are clearly displayed, put face down on the table, and she's supposed to put her hand on top. "Can I look at them?" Me, in my head: "Why? I just showed them to you!! No, you can't look at them, ***." So I have to make some lame excuse to grab them back, show 'em as four Aces again, and come up with an impromptu recovery to segue into something else, all the while pretending nothing has been compromised. She's burning my hands, interrupting me so that she can more clearly burn my hands, and the final effect ends up being less than thrilling. And since it is less than thrilling, since she's not very impressed (although I don't think she fully clocked the method for whatever I ended up doing), this is taken as "victory" in her mind.
In this perverse prize fight she set up in her head, she won because she wasn't truly fooled (she knows some "move" happened at a crucial moment). So now basking in this quasi-triumph, she discloses how her cousin showed her all types of magic (with cards: "showing two as one," "forcing" a spectator to pick a certain card, compelling a controllable replacement, making sure she shuffles immediately afterward to negate a control, etc). The worst part about her friendly sharing is that she offered this knowledge from the position of a gracious winner. I'm not sure if that exposure in some way validated an already contemptuous view toward magic she has always held, or what's the story.

In the meanwhile, I did manage to set up Bannon's Play It Straight, false shuffled, put the cards away. As an extemporaneous, noncommittal afterthought, I asked if her highness could be bothered to see one more, knowing that her highnesses, in all her highnesses' infinite wisdom, could easily deduct the method. This time she was lulled into a sense of ease and selected one of the thirteen force cards. I did the whole magician in trouble schtick (one gets flustered performing before royalty) and saw her try to contain her surprise and emotional response to the revelation. People say revenge magic is not satisfying, but that was very sweet at the time. We've now been married for six months. Yeah, right. The romantics among you wish. I never did another trick for that crazy !@#$% again.

Ah, back to my point. I think a person needs to take into consideration the interests of other magicians and lay people. The thing I "expose" for teenagers and men is the bubble peak of the bottom card. "This is the glimpse gamblers use to gain an advantage." They think it's "cool."
Ellusionst discussing the Arcane Playing cards: "Michaelangelo took four years to create the Sistine Chapel masterpiece... these took five."

Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes: "You know Einstein got bad grades as a kid? Well, mine are even worse!"
BlackShadow
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Vernon's explanation of his false transfer fake exposure was misdirection. People thought they were getting the real deal on something which had just baffled them, which made a cast iron cover for his final loads. He then goes on to prove that his fake explanation was rubbish by which time he's got his finals in without a so much as a hint to anybody.

Vernon had reservations about his mini exposure but it was a means to a harder hitting climax. That's what Penn and Teller do. It's not the end but the means to entertainment.

People get too tangled up with codes or oaths. Magic is not supposed to be an old boys club, it is a performing art, practiced to generate entertainment
purplemonk
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To Penn & Teller, I say Why the heck not?! It isn't like IBM, SAM, or any other Magician organization will do anything --- except Ban you from their group...but who really cares? Honestly! Unless you like to hang out and treat your magic as a social club than who really cares if you get banned. I don't! I'm in magic to make money -- plain in simple...I'm in it to make MONEY...nothing more...

As far as legal issues...is this really a concern? Most illusion secret are very loosely guard by patent laws and such...if any. I think we need more Penn & Tellers...more Mask Magicians. The whole Ethics in Magic is stupid...I couldn;t care less abotu what my fellow magician think --- I perform for my audience...and if that means given them something they want...even if I have to steal that routine from someone else...I will!
The Hitchhiker
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Hip trendy and relevant, not sure about that.
Terry Holley
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Quote:
On 2007-04-22 17:05, purplemonk wrote:
The whole Ethics in Magic is stupid...I couldn;t care less abotu what my fellow magician think --- I perform for my audience...and if that means given them something they want...even if I have to steal that routine from someone else...I will!


Quite an admission. Thanks for the warning!

Terry
Co-author with illusionist Andre' Kole of "Astrology and Psychic Phenomena."
Darth Ewok
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I'm going to quote Jim Steinmeyer, "Magicians guard an empty vault" all these secret we claim to have and protect can be gained by anyone that walks into a magic shop. as DC says the magic is in the performance. all this worry of exposure hurting the art is a little silly. most people that enjoy magic don't want to know the secret.

Let me give you an example. I remember seeing Copperfield perform the Origami box. I was amazed at this trick. Even after I became a magician I didn't want to know how this trick worked. Of course it didn't take long before I figured it out, but the point is for awhile it was real magic to me, and that is what magic fans want.

BTW, lots of people mention P&T on America's got Talent. First of all "Blast Off" is so over the top that no one would connect it to any other illusion. And am I the only one... figured out they did "Blast Off" on the show as a dig at Criss Angel's exposure on his show? Heck, Penn even dedicates the trick to Criss saying, "Show em how it's done buddy" in a very sarcastic way.

I saw Penn do an interview once (not sure where) where he said P&T only expose tricks that they design to be exposed. Look at their clear cups & Balls. They go so fast with the clear cups than some magicians would have trouble following it. And the point of the trick isn't to expose, it's to set up the effect of still fooling the audience with the final appearance of, in Penn's words: "the **** potato!"

Just my opinion on everything. Feel free to bash me. I got to go work on my darn snap production
my real name is Kevin Harrison

http://www.myspace.com/magicalclerk
kcg5
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Whatever. They are funny, and if they interest more people in the art, go for it.

In the mismade lady clip, I love how he dedicates it to Criss Angel!
Nobody expects the spanish inquisition!!!!!



"History will be kind to me, as I intend to write it"- Sir Winston Churchill
Gabriel Knight
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Oath, you assume that everyone takes the oath or will play by the rules.

With Internet now, heck, a 13 year old kid is on YouTube exposing every single DVD trick he can get his hands on. If you want to keep a secret, don't sell it. Or, don't sell to people who aren't SAM or IBM members. This would limit your income on any product. While Criss Angel runs out and sells a version of Icarus for 1/3 the cost and calls it his own, then it is exposed directly off the DVD produced by Criss Angel where he admits he uses camera tricks.
And the movie CLICK, or the thumbtip is exposed in MAINSTREAM movies after they walk into a magic shop. And tell me 100's of millions didn't see those movies...
noxas
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It was stated on a one-off TV show in the UK (50 Greatest Magic Tricks) that Penn and Teller only reveal the effect if they are the original creators of the effect, or if the secret is actually more interesting than the effect... How true that is, I do not know.
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