Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Let's Talk: Magic

As people know, I can sometimes overthink things.

No, really.  If you look back at my blog posts, you'll see me getting overly analytical and thoughtful about everything from Christmas Carols (seriously, see every post I did in December), to ... well, really any post I do on anything.  I love to nitpick.  I love to puzzle things out.  I love to dig deep into the "why" and "how" of things.

This, I think, makes it all the more puzzling that for years (in fact, to this day) the thing I wanted to be when I grew up was a stage magician.

Vegas stage, dark suits, mysterious stare, perfect hair, non-offensive rock music, smoke machines, giant death traps, cards flying through the air, sexy assistants, I wanted it all.

Or, barring that, I wanted to just be good enough to be able to do birthday parties and leave kids amazed.

Yes.  This.  This is exactly what I wanted.

When I was young, I watched every single David Copperfield performance (the magician, not the book) that came on TV.  I watched him walk through the Great Wall of China, escape an exploding building, make the Statue of Liberty disappear, and I've even seen him live twice.  Once was a ways back in the crowd was I watched a giant saw blade cut him in half, and the other was right up near the front where I (unfortunately) saw how a trick happened due to the particular angle I was sitting at.

I watched specials about street magic, I watched everything with Penn and Teller, I watched Criss Angel's Mindfreak, I shopped in every single magic store I ever found, and I even owned my own magic kit when I was little, complete with little sponge balls, plastic cups, and a bunch of little things that go with cheap illusions, half of which I lost within a year.

Of all the superheroes I love, one I have a particular fondness for is Zatanna.  She, despite the fact she has one of the worst gimmicks ever for a written/visual medium, actually works as a stage magician, and that immediately made her one of my favorites growing up.

Yes, just that.  Just the "works as a magician" bit.  Seriously.  Ahem.  Moving on...
I even watched the specials FOX aired years ago where they had a mysterious "masked magician" reveal the secrets to dozens of magic tricks in an attempt to "shake things up" and make magicians learn new tricks.  I had already figured some of them out, but watching the rest be revealed really help me, myself, understand more about how magic worked.  About how it wasn't just having the gimmick or trick, but knowing how to present it.  You had to know how to direct the audience's attention so that they'd see what you wanted them to see.

Also, you needed an audience that, deep down, wanted to believe.  Performing to a bunch of people all determined to guess how the trick works, is mind-numbing and probably pretty soul-crushing.  Fielding questions all the time with guesses about how you do things, accusations of methods to perform the trick, and just waiting for that one jerk in the audience to stand up, point, and say "I FIGURED IT OUT" and blow it for must be stressful.

So why would I, a renowned nitpicker and someone who loves to dissect how everything in the universe works, want to be a magician?

Well, I could say it's because when a trick is successful, it means that the magician is automatically the smartest person in the room, and who wouldn't want that sensation?

But I don't think it's anything that cynical.  When I watch magic, I do start watching to see if I notice any tricks or gimmicks to see if it's something I can figure out, and I do compare the new tricks I see to other tricks in an attempt to see if I can connect anything, but honestly?

When I watch a magic trick that works perfectly, I get fully caught up in it.  I lose track of watching for hands disappearing near pockets, assistants sneaking away while the magician holds my attention, or watching to see how lights and mirrors are positioned.  In that moment, when a master of the craft does their thing, I believe.  I'm swept away in wonder as my brain desperately tries to cobble together everything that just happened in clear violation of how I know the world works.

When I say I believe, I don't mean I believe there's actual magic in the universe (though, sometimes I do, and sometimes I just wish there was).  I don't think that this is an actual enchanter or wizard performing card tricks in front of me.  In fact, if it ever turns out that a magician really had magical powers and could make things disappear, I'd almost feel cheated.  I want to feel wonder at a person's skill, not just have to accept "oh, no, he actually has magic powers, and instead of doing any good with them, he's making balls disappear from under cups."

I know how many hours a professional magician puts into learning a trick and mastering it.  Years of practice trying to be the best at it, lots of money invested in sets, time, and travel to get to perform it, and tweaking things as you go everywhere to try to improve the showmanship is a huge investment.  When I think of actual magic as presented by the media, I picture someone just saying a few magic words and "poof,"  It's almost cheating.

So what you're telling me is you can actually channel the fires of damnation for entertainment purposes?  LAME.
(Sure, it might take years or an entire lifetime to learn how to correctly hold your hands in position and pronounce the words correctly, but it's still different.)

I love the show.  I love being pulled into the magician's story, expecting one thing, and then being presented something completely opposite to what I know should happen.  I love being left wondering where I should be looking, and I respect the magician for taking me, a (hopefully) reasonably intelligent person, and tricking me without making me feel dumb.

It's one of my favorite things in life, and there's still that part of me that loves to pull out a deck of cards sometimes, shuffle it around, and make a card appear at the top.  Sure, it's just a trick, but for that moment, I get to tell the story and make it bigger.

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