Why Are Close Up Magicians So Weird?
Following on from a blog post I made a few months ago, I decided this time to type into Google ‘Why are magicians’ and this happened to be the top query.
It is often portrayed in the media that magicians lack certain social skills, as it is presumed that they have spent vast periods of their youth locked away in their rooms practising their sleight of hand.
Nonetheless, given the literal thousands of overwhelmingly positive responses I have personally witnessed from those who have experienced excellent magic, the popularity of this query did surprise me a bit.
Especially considering that you Google the same thing but with ‘magician’ replaced with ‘musician’, the first thing to show up is ‘Why are musicians so cool’.
I think we can both agree that there are at least as many terrible musicians than there are terrible magicians.
But I think I know where people might be coming from.
There’s More to Magic Than the Moves
Due to the fact that some folks simply don’t care for particular kinds of magic or personality types, let’s assume that those who find magicians ‘weird’ have no other prejudices, aren’t extremely religious, and enjoy being entertained in general.
I will only be examining the reasons behind this opinion on the assumption that magicians are at fault (as, let’s face it, some people are just downright miserable).
I believe a large part of this can be understood with the musician comparison in mind.
Musicians, like magicians, spend a long time practising their art. They start off, for the most part, being very bad, and get better over time. One can’t simply pick up a guitar, or a pack of cards, and handle either like a pro on their first try.
The difference, however, is if 10 musicians learn to play a song note-for-note on the guitar, it will be hard to tell them apart. Once the notes have been learned, the recitals will, by and large, sound nearly identical.
If 10 magicians all learn a trick, each one will be different. This is because merely learning the mechanics of a trick is only the beginning.
A spectator will be dazzled at a perfectly played piece of music on a guitar, but may well be bored to tears at a perfectly executed card trick.
Why is this? Because skill is required in both the mechanics and the presentation of a trick for it to be entertaining.
Magic is Hard!
The musician does not need a whimsical story, a hilarious joke, or a fascinating commentary to go along with a piece of music. It speaks for itself.
A magic trick, on the other hand, is (arguably) inherently meaningless.
The magician gives the trick life by attaching meaning to the trick, thus creating an emotional attachment of some kind between it and whoever is watching.
You may not think that a baffling magic trick doesn’t need any of the above, and that it, like a perfectly-played musical arrangement, speaks for itself.
But if the same piece of magic were performed by an amateur magician, and then by an accomplished master of the art, the difference would be night and day.
This is a long-winded way of saying that there are a lot of factors that go into an entertaining magical performance, and if you have witnessed a magician who has not developed a strong performing persona, they may well come across as nervous, tedious, and, indeed, ‘weird’ (albeit a lazy & somewhat vague word to describe a under-practised magician).
It’s Your Fault, Really
But what about when it isn’t the magician’s fault?
Now let’s assume that the magician in front of you is a) doing magic that you like, and b) is experienced enough to present their magic in a professional manner.
What could possibly cause someone to think them ‘weird’ (I still don’t think this is an especially applicable term to use, but I’ll stick with it as it is the one Google provided)?
Simply put, a large number of the general public do not like to be made to feel foolish.
Magic should not, I believe, be presented as a challenge. The sets up the audience as the ‘loser’ of the challenge, and they feel demeaned as a result.
Even when not presented as a direct challenge, however, there are some who will inevitably take it upon themselves to try to ‘best’ the magician as they see the magic as a puzzle to be solved or a test to be passed.
They view magic purely as an exercise in seeing how the trick is done, and will be disheartened when the trick invariably achieves the effect it set out to achieve.
As long as we magicians endeavour to improve the way we present our magic, we can only hope that we are not considered ‘weird’, but a bit ‘wonderful’ instead.