Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Ethics in Magic

Magic is a craft.

Part of the definition of a craft is that it is handed down from master to student. Every craft comes not just with a set of skills, but with a social context that includes a set of ethics about how to use those skills to the benefit and not detriment of society at large.

Sadly, we seem to be living in an era when crafts are dying and, with them, the ethics they embody. Journalism is effectively dead and, as the son of Journalists who were the last generation who understood the idea of "Journalism ethics" I may well write about that at another time. Today, however, my attention is focused on one of the crafts I practice-- that of stage magic.

As I was "brought up" in the art there are a number of rules of ethical magic. . In this generation of magicians I see a lot of them as being endangered.

I'd like to discuss them below and the good reasons they exist:

(1) NO magician should ever claim that their stunts are anything other then a performance. This doesn't mean that I can't say in my patter that I have some kind of paranormal ability, but it must be clear to the audience that this is patter. Part of the performance. Not a claim of actual reality.

We do this by clearly identifying ourselves as magicians before we perform, just as an actor makes it clear that their performance is part of a play. there for the enjoyment of the audience but not to be taken as an actual real-life experience.

This rule is very important and protects our audience from the harm our craft might otherwise do them. There is a long and ugly history of people using the skills and techniques of our craft to dupe other people for their own persoanl gain. Con-men (or women) posing as "spirtualists" or "mediums" can have profund effects on the lives of their victims that go well beyond just financial loss.

Even if we do not intend to take advantage of our audience members ourselves, hen we make them believe in things that do not exists we set them up to be harmed by other less scrupulous individuals.

The act of declaring our act to be a magic act warns that audiance that what they are about to see or hear is no more real then a play. That's the line between performer and con-man.

Today, we have a new crop of con-men showing up places like YouTube. They make the same claims as the "spirtualists" of the 1800s and are just as dangerous.

(2) TV Magic may NOT employ any "camera tricks."

This is a rule that was created by the first TV magician. A brilliant man by the name of Mark Williams. This rule protects the craft from irellevancy. If a magician is willing to employ TV tricks then the entire art of magic on TV is pointless. TV tricks have always been able to do more then we can. The very first TV technicians quickly figured out how to shrink people befoer your eyes and do all sorts of amazing things. Today, 3D animators can make dinosaurs appear out of thin air.

TV magic is only of interest if the TV is reporting what a live audiance could see. If it is only employed as a telepresnace device its a great boom to magicians, bringing their acts simultaneously into the living rooms of millions of audience mambers. Break that convenant though and you might as well not appear on TV at all.

Sadly, many modern "TV Magiciains" have broken this rule. Im my opinion they are killing their own market. Im just hopeful that after they've done so, and the audience has had time to forget them, that a new crop of ethical magicians will arise to reclaim that territory by re-forging that comittment to the viewer that Mr. Williams so rightly deemed necessary.

(3) Magicians don't reveal methods outside of the craft

Often immature magicians don't realize why this rule exists. Its not toprotect some "great secret brotherhood." In fact, it is to protect our audiance's enjoyment. The afct of the matter is that most of the methods employed by magicians to create our illusions are as old as the hills and fundementally dull and uninteresting. The audiance doen't come to see our cleverness. They come to be transported to another place. A place in their minds where the impossible is possible, if only for a little while. This sense of wonder is the gift we give our audiances.

Just as the Great and Powerful OZ was much more inetresting then the man behind the curtain, so too our effects are much more interesting then the mechanics that produce them. When you tell the audiance how it works, your no longer helping them to feel wonder-- rather you are just bvasically telling them they were fools to feel wonder in the first place.

Thats a nasty and mean spirited thing to do to our audiance and it diminishes our art to a point of trivial irrelvancy.

There have always been those who,being unable to master the illusions themselves, produced 10 minutes of attention for themselves by instead revelaing the methods. Those people ultimately disrespect both the audiance and the craft and serve nothign but their own terribly insecure egos. With YouTube and televisionm, the exposores have far more reach and the damage they cna do is that much greater.

The first two ethical issues above, we can do something abotu as magicians and I want to call on those who love our craft to do so. Social pressure is the best way to maintain ethics within a community and we can and should disdain the actiosn of those who break them. In thec ase of con-men, that is the one and only palce a magciain SHOULD expose methods, in order to show them for the frauds they truly are.

The last one, however, we cannot do as much about. That takes YOU the audiance to fix. Don't feed the revealers by giving them the attention they so desperately crave. Turn off the TV when the guy who is going to "show you how its done" comes on. Don't play the videos of those who reveal the workings of illusions on you tube.

If they cannot get the attention, they will give up and go find some other form of misbehavior to try.

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