Magic Media Onslaught – Two Sides of a Flipper-Half

 

If you are like me – and I know I am – you no doubt have grown tired of the constant media coverage of magic and magicians.

It seems no tabloid is complete without the obligatory ‘Magic Scandal’ replete with embarrassing snap-shots showing this or the other with him or her while they were here or there.

We won’t get into the exploitive semi-nude photos some of the European and UK rags publish on their inside pages to boost circulation of their readership and any red-blooded reader.

The reason we see the latest scandals in 36 point type emblazoned across papers and mags is because next to sex, Magic sells. Actually anything next to sex sells but editors believe Magic sells papers even if there is no sexual connotation.

An article in the recent edition of Editor and Publisher – a very legitimate review of print journalism – had no less than three articles documenting how print publications rely upon Magic stories as a crutch. One quote is instructive. In “Will the Old Saw Still Cut the Mustard?” William Hardice recalls his first editor at the now-defunct Chicago Daily News telling him, “Son, one day you’ll be a City Editor like me. You’ll have two hours to deadline and a gaping, sucking hole on the front page. Your stomach will turn, the sweating will start, and then you’ll drop to your knees to pray for a school bus crash, a sex scandal, or a magic war.”

Mr. Holdice, former City or Metro Editor at several of the nation’s top papers confirms the prophesy. ‘A good magic dispute or ‘war’ fills the hole and sucks in the readers.’

The practice of exploiting every magician faux-pas or personality dispute is tried-and-true. As Chicago First Baseman and Rifleman Star Chuck Connors famously noted, ‘you dance with the horse you rode in on.’

I can’t be surprised by the flood of reporters filling the lobbies of every convention hotel looking for a story or candid shot of one our stars messing up a pass, or fudging a false shuffle. How many more times must we see the grainy, telephoto shots of Guy Tussle losing his pinky break during an otherwise outstanding Ambitious Card Routine?

We are often betrayed by those we consider our own. Every newspaper of merit or cable channel has their designated talking magic ‘authority’ to give ‘insight’ into the latest magic news.

In my humble but elitist opinion I doubt any working magician would consider these men and women to be expert or their insights meaningful. Recall the press onslaught at last year’s convention. MSNBC’s ‘expert’ Tony Spain actually opined ‘most modern levitations today use rare earth magnets rather than extensive rigging. That’s why David Copperfield will not permit anyone wearing metal or carrying a compass to sit in the first three rows of his show.’

Forget that Mr. Spain has just exposed one of the best effects in Magic and rendered useless years of research and development necessary to devise Mr. Copperfield’s Flying illusion, he is just plain wrong. I spoke with Mr. Copperfield’s advance woman and learned the ‘no metal or compass rule’ has always been in effect and theaters less room…

 

If you are like me – and I know I am – you no doubt have grown tired of the constant media coverage of magic and magicians.

It seems no tabloid is complete without the obligatory ‘Magic Scandal’ replete with embarrassing snap-shots showing this or the other with him or her while they were here or there.

We won’t get into the exploitive semi-nude photos some of the European and UK rags publish on their inside pages to boost circulation of their readership and any red-blooded reader.

The reason we see the latest scandals in 36 point type emblazoned across papers and mags is because next to sex, Magic sells. Actually anything next to sex sells but editors believe Magic sells papers even if there is no sexual connotation.

An article in the recent edition of Editor and Publisher – a very legitimate review of print journalism – had no less than three articles documenting how print publications rely upon Magic stories as a crutch. One quote is instructive. In “Will the Old Saw Still Cut the Mustard?” William Hardice recalls his first editor at the now-defunct Chicago Daily News telling him, “Son, one day you’ll be a City Editor like me. You’ll have two hours to deadline and a gaping, sucking hole on the front page. Your stomach will turn, the sweating will start, and then you’ll drop to your knees to pray for a school bus crash, a sex scandal, or a magic war.”

Mr. Holdice, former City or Metro Editor at several of the nation’s top papers confirms the prophesy. ‘A good magic dispute or ‘war’ fills the hole and sucks in the readers.’

The practice of exploiting every magician faux-pas or personality dispute is tried-and-true. As Chicago First Baseman and Rifleman Star Chuck Connors famously noted, ‘you dance with the horse you rode in on.’

I can’t be surprised by the flood of reporters filling the lobbies of every convention hotel looking for a story or candid shot of one our stars messing up a pass, or fudging a false shuffle. How many more times must we see the grainy, telephoto shots of Guy Tussle losing his pinky break during an otherwise outstanding Ambitious Card Routine?

We are often betrayed by those we consider our own. Every newspaper of merit or cable channel has their designated talking magic ‘authority’ to give ‘insight’ into the latest magic news.

In my humble but elitist opinion I doubt any working magician would consider these men and women to be expert or their insights meaningful. Recall the press onslaught at last year’s convention. MSNBC’s ‘expert’ Tony Spain actually opined ‘most modern levitations today use rare earth magnets rather than extensive rigging. That’s why David Copperfield will not permit anyone wearing metal or carrying a compass to sit in the first three rows of his show.’

Forget that Mr. Spain has just exposed one of the best effects in Magic and rendered useless years of research and development necessary to devise Mr. Copperfield’s Flying illusion, he is just plain wrong. I spoke with Mr. Copperfield’s advance woman and learned the ‘no metal or compass rule’ has always been in effect and theaters less room between the stage and audience, there may be a three row containment zone.

She noted, however, since Mr. Copperfield began playing in larger venues, this rule has been relaxed. She said, “we had the no metal or compass rule since the start.”

Don’t expect a retraction or apology from the media. While the New York Times and Washington Post proclaim to be above such magic scandal reporting, they are well aware of its awesome drawing power. To take advantage of the benefits, they will report on the scandal as a story in a story.

Hence last week’s story, ‘Magician Sues National Enquirer over Backstage Photos.’ The A-1 story ran in all editions of the Newspaper of Record decrying the evils of tabloid journalism but still included the sordid details of Viv LeTor’s fight to keep photos of his assistants readying the show. The paper quoted its brethren at The National Enquirer but had no comment from Mr. LeTor or his people. No one seems to care how the shots were taken in the secured area or that The National Enquirer paid handsomely for the photos.

Ironically, the Times’ Magic Expert incorrectly identified one of the props being set for the show as a ‘Vanishing Cane – probably a plastic one made by Fantasio.’ I confirmed with Mr. LeTor he does not use a Vanishing Cane in his routine. While he does use Fantasio’s candles, his only cane is neither plastic nor made by Fantasio. It is an old Walsh model bought from Tannens decades ago.

It is now sweeps month and so we should ready ourselves for the story after story documenting magic scandals, the latest magic effects, the paparazzi surrounding most of our top stars, and of course the beefcake and cheesecake photos of magic headliners in the nude.

This too will pass.

I want to draw to your considered attention, however, a very dangerous trend. In an effort to appear ‘magician-friendly’ several major newspapers stoop to unethical levels. I think magic can ill-afford to be caught up in the likely public scandal when this gets out.

At a recent lecture our club held at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena (we had to move to the larger quarters to accommodate the ever-increasing membership); Gary ‘Phaeton’ Owens verified the rumors. He said many papers have asked him to perform his Headline Prediction in their market. No problem, Phaeton tells them and offers to set-up the stunt in advance of the town’s tour date. The scary difference, however, is the journalists are so desperate to be associated with a magician; many have offered to write whatever headline Phaeton intends to predict.

On so many levels this is wrong. Magicians cannot be writing the news for papers or other media. Phaeton is top-shelf and would never give into such an offer but as we all see daily, the press will push constantly for the latest magic story – even if they have to invent it.

So as the sightings of Houdini and Elvis are reported weekly in supermarket tabloids, media experts demonstrate their crass indifference to our ethics, public libraries seek additional taxes to add to their swelling magic book shelves, we all must wait.

With time, this attention will fade and there may even come a time when we will look back with longing for a time when Claudia Schiffer had to attach herself to a magician to gain credibility and publicity. We should enjoy this while we can. Evel Knievel’s quote is fitting, “when the dogs no longer bark when you walk by, kids no longer ask for your autograph, newspapers don’t know you, you find yourself missing all this.”

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