“Lying, the telling of beautiful untrue things, is the proper aim of Art.”
— Oscar Wilde
Deception is at the core of magic and magical performance. If the magic effect is not deceptive or “fooling,” there is no mystery.
I was raised to be an honest person. My parents told me it was not OK to lie. So how did I grow up to be a magician… an artist who tells truth in the form of lies?
“Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve… but I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.”
— Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie
There is more to magic than just “tricking people.” Let’s look at the dynamics of lying and social deception.
In a recent article, writer Ulrich Boser said: “Researchers have been studying deception for decades, trying to figure out why we tell lies. It turns out that we spin facts and make up fictions for all sorts of reasons. We might want to gain a raise or a reward, for example, or to protect friends or a lover. Our capacity for deceit appears nearly endless, from embroidering stories to wearing fake eyelashes to asking, “How are you?” when we don’t actually care. We even lie to ourselves about how much food we eat and how often we visit the gym.” You can read the full article here:
I was researching lying on Wikipedia and found out about Dr. Brad Blanton. He says that lying is the primary source of modern human stress and that practitioners of his technique (called “radical honesty”) will become happier by being more honest, even about painful or taboo subjects. Blanton claims that radical honesty can help all human relationships since it “creates an intimacy not possible if you are hiding something for the sake of someone’s feelings.”
How could a magician be radically honest and still create deceptive magic? H’mmmm
“I can fool you because you’re a human. Usually when we’re fooled, the mind hasn’t made a mistake. It’s come to the wrong conclusion for the right reason.”
— Jerry Andrus
Jerry Andrus was a wizard. In 1993, I had the pleasure of visiting him in his “Castle of Chaos” in Albany Oregon. He was also a very deep thinker and a very honest man.
Jerry avoided telling lies while performing his magic!
He was exacting as a script writer. Jerry never said his hands were empty if they contained a hidden object. In his scripts he told the truth. Although perhaps he did eliminate some sentences that might give too much information to his viewers!
“I always tell the truth. Even when I lie.”
— Al Pacino
Techno Magician Marco Tempest gives his thoughts on The Magic of Truth and Lies. Marco’s TED talk is well worth seeing again.
(If you listen closely you can hear Tobias Beckwith doing character voices as part of this story!)
One of the techniques I have used over the years when creating illusions is to make the story that accompanies the magic contain life enhancing content, rather than just deception.
At our yearly Magic & Meaning Conference, we learn how performers can make their magic more appealing by exploring alternative presentation techniques, so that their magic makes a more potent form of theater than “just tricks!”
Here are the questions I like to ask:
“One lie has the power to tarnish a thousand truths.”
— Al David
Here is an excellent talk on how YOU can spot a liar.
“Things come apart so easily when they have been held together with lies.”
— Dorothy Allison
“You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.”
— Abraham Lincoln
The truth is… We enjoy your feedback on these Muse letters and like it when you share them with your friends and other newsgroups.
The truth is… I am back home from our China shows and enjoying my time with Abbi here in Las Vegas.
“The Shanghai china tour was a blast…Bill Cook, Jeff, Melanie Kramer and Jordan Wright strike an action hero pose!”
The truth is… You can visit us at one of our upcoming events here in Las Vegas or online at www.mcbridemagic.tv.
The truth is… WONDERGROUND will host the faculty of Mystery School this Thursday, October 27th. www.vegaswonderground.com.
As we wind this up, we are preparing for Magic & Meaning, The Wonderground, Witches’ & Wizards’ Ball…and Fall Fest, all during the coming week!
Thanks to those of you who have made Magic & Meaning and the upcoming class on Mentalism both “Sold Out.” Click any of the other events in the calendar on the right at the top of this Museletter to get your spots in our other classes before they are all sold out, too!
Jeff McBride & all the folks at the McBride Magic & Mystery School
Dear Friends, Ladies & Gentlemen:
It is our pleasure this month to present a piece written just for you by our Dean, Eugene Burger:
For the past several years, the task of writing an October Museletter has fallen upon me. I think this is partly because images of Halloween goblins are on the same wavelength as my continuing fascination with things spooky and mysterious. And so it has been with a certain delight that I have accepted the task of writing the October contribution. After all, I do love the Halloween season!
But this year my thoughts are moving in a different direction. I am not thinking so much about things mysterious. Instead, I have been reflecting on much more, shall we say, “practical” matters. These thoughts spring from my work as a teacher and also from my great interest in the teaching process itself.
A thought has been in my mind for some time now. It surfaces at some point almost every day and, when it does, I try to understand it once more. I find that my understanding changes and even grows at times. Here is the thought that has been echoing in my mind:
Sometimes the greatest gift of all is failure.
Among other things, I have been thinking about how much time is spent in the teacher-student relationship with the teacher helping the student deal with failure—and, more specifically, the fear of failure. The fear of failure can be crippling and even paralyzing, whereas failure itself can be an important way to learn and grow. It’s an important difference. Perhaps to see this, to see it clearly and deeply so that the very seeing is action, requires personal courage. For fear can be met only with courage.
Then, another voice in my head rises up and says, “Wait a minute, Eugene, nobody wants to fail! Including you! So, if failure is a gift, it is a pretty weird gift. In fact, if you don’t mind, it’s a gift that I would just as well refuse to accept! Thanks anyway!”
Yes, I hear that voice, which is also my voice. Yet when I look at this closely, I see that failure can be a gift—perhaps, the greatest gift of all. Here is what I mean: first, when I fail (in the performance of a magic effect, for example), I may be inspired to work harder, to go back and fix the problem, and to move on. Learning from failure might be called “learning by fire.” And it works.
Second, failure may bring me new insights, new ideas that had previously never entered my mind. Some of my most creative thoughts have been generated by having something go terribly wrong during a performance.
Third, failure can be the gift that tells us to stop, to give up on a particular performance piece, to remove it from our show and stop performing it. The end. It’s over. Period.
Over the years, there have been many times when I have worked on a piece of magic for a very long time (sometimes on and off for years) and then finally, after repeated failure, I just gave up.
Sometimes, I think the best thing to do is to give up, to stop and spend my limited time working on a piece of magic that is within my reach. As Alan Watts put it so well, “When you get the message, hang up the phone.”
So I wonder, isn’t failure the greatest gift of all?