Guest Essay: 99 Percent in Magic Unite!

Inside Magic Image of Couple Learning Magic's True SecretsMark Panner is not exactly a friend of Inside Magic but he did lend us money to pay the server bill two months ago. In return for his kindness, we said he could write an opinion piece for the web site. This is that piece. He tries to find parallels between the 99 percent movement and magic secrets. We do not agree with his logic, argument or conclusions but a deal is a deal.  We note that while we do not edit Mark's writing, we had to change the title from its original, "99 Percent in Magic Untie."

As I was watching the occupy movement do their thing, I thought about inequity and how unfair it is. One of the questions that kept crossing my mind was, how come the Vegas Headliners get the best secrets and technology and we are all stuck with the turn of the century – Last Century! –boxes and mirrors. It's not fair at all.

There is no other word for it other than inequity and unfairness (okay so maybe two words) but it expresses the vas deference between the 99% of magicians who need to use boxes screens or assistants (if you can afford them or are able to even go to where they congregate to ask if they would like to work for you). The elite one percent get to make things vanish, float, change, appear, grow or shrink without anything at all.

I have been looking into this question for a long time. It's been six months so far and I think I have some answers but they are not good ones.

When magic began, there was relative parity among all magicians. Magicians could make things vanish, float, appear, disappear, change or multiply with equal ability. They all used the same skills and tools. In the Iron Age, everyone used Irons and in the Bronze Age they did the same and no one had better tools than their neighbor. One caveman's Iron thing was the same size and shape and substance as the caveman next door and that did not change until the end of the "Ages" part of history ("Iron," "Bronze," "Dinosaur," "Bird," and "Trains") and the start of the Jet Age (around the time of the Wright Brothers).

Until the Jet Age, people entertained people in their villages and huts with essentially the same tricks either bought from a central store or made from common instructions. All magic plans used to be printed in blue ink and sold in rolls to magicians who wanted to build their own tricks from supplies they had around their cave or hut.

It took a while for this to die out. As late as the 1940s, for instance, Harry Blackstone used the same equipment as all magicians to make the standard "magic rabbit" appear or disappear. Magic rabbits were raised to be genetically identical so that all magicians could interchangeably use their props to do the rabbit tricks regardless of their location. A Boston rabbit would fit a Chicago rabbit gimmick and vice-a-versa. But there was a war on and many of the rabbits were actually made in the equivalent of factory farms where they were grown by strict military specifications to fit standard government issue magic props as used by the professionals (such as Blackstone) or the amateur at home or the magicians who entertained the troops during the battles around the world.

With the advent of the space race, the "elite" magicians began to insist on using "different" methods to accomplish the effects performed by so many. "Good enough for government work" was an expression first used to denigrate the magicians who were forced to use surplus magic tricks left over from the war effort. The elite used bigger bunnies (or with different colored ears or faces) and insisted on different methods to make tricks happen.

The "elite" of our profession chose alternative methods of accomplishing the same tricks that all of us depend upon to make a living. For instance, when David Copperfield walked through the Great Wall of China (which is really longer than tall – that's true, look it up), he intentionally avoided the use of any store-bought or book-learned method. When Criss Angel levitated above the point of the hotel in Las Vegas, he likewise bypassed the readily available and thoroughly commercial methods of performing a levitation. He could have floated using a U.F. Grant Flying Carpet or Walter "Zaney" Blaney Ladder Levitation like the rest of us but he poo-pooed the idea. He wanted to be different.

Wait, some people say, shouldn't we be happy that the elite is figuring out new ways of doing things?

No. And here's why.

Magic will not be magic until everyone from the seasoned touring professional like David Copperfield all the way down to the bumbling amateur who does not have time to practice store-bought tricks have equal knowledge.

The elite in our industry intentionally refuse to use store-bought magic such as the classic "Sucker Sliding Die Box" or "Professor Cheer's Rope Routine." A check of the internet will show no videos of either David Copperfield or Criss Angel performing "The Professor's Nightmare" or "The Ball and Vase." They cannot say it is because these are bad tricks – they have been around forever. That means they are "beloved" and "liked." It is pure snobbery to turn one's nostrils up at such good magic just because "everybody does it."

But professionals work harder and practice more, their apologists say.

And why wouldn't they? They get the best tricks and the best props and so performing and practicing over and over is less of a drag for them. How many times can you practice "Hippity Hop Rabbits"? Not many, we'll tell you. If it was a better trick we would practice more and we would put in the same effort as the professionals. They get to work with assistants and directors and publicity agents. The common work-a-day magician is happy to get a fresh Devil's Napkin to perform the Vanishing Banana trick.

There are those that would decry our decrying of this intentional separation between the "professionals" and the rest of us as envy or jealousy and suggest that equal knowledge of secrets does not equal uniform results. They suggest that practice and hard work combined with dedication to innovation is what separates the magic "elite" from the rest of us.

If that was true, everyone who worked hard would get a Las Vegas show and have dancing girls as assistants and have their names in the paper and private islands.

For the common magician, it makes no sense to practice something unless you are going to do it in a show. So it is a viscous cycle. The elite get the shows so they get the magic worth practicing. The rest of us hang out at the magic equivalent of The Home Depot at 6:00 am hoping to get a day labor job from some mom looking to entertain birthday kids that day. We jump in the back of their truck with our crappy tricks and get whisked away to some suburban house where the only lunch is cake and ice cream and Kool-Aid and you get paid in cash and even then it isn't enough to get you back to the parking lot in time to hope for another day job if you are lucky.

Check the Las Vegas phone book. Neither David Copperfield or Criss Angel have advertisements (in the Yellow Pages or the White Pages). They don't offer to do birthday parties or corporate shows and they never advertise in the parent magazines or even in the want ads. Why? Because they think they are too good for that.

They are good, yes. But they are good because they have good tricks with secrets we don't get to know and that are fun to practice and to do. They also get to have full theaters with enthusiastic audiences who are there just to see them.

As for the claim that I am envious or jealous of their ability and innovation; I buff and rebuff it. I can argue that it is the elite magicians who are jealous that some of us have "real" jobs. We know how to do things in offices, on construction sites or in telemarketing sales rooms that they don't know how to do. Those "real" jobs let us buy tickets to their shows. David Copperfield doesn't have enough money to buy all the tickets available for his shows but we do.

How much longer will we tolerate this blatant elitism in our craft?

There was a time when Houdini, Thurston, Kreskin, Keller, Blackstone, Siegfried & Roy all shopped at the same magic store.

No longer. I stood in one Las Vegas magic shop for 2 1/2 days (taking breaks for lunch, dinner and necessary rest), but never saw David Copperfield, Lance Burton, Criss Angel or any so-called master magician visit store.

Facts are stubborn things. If magic was equal, those great magicians would have been at the same magic store at least once during our 2 1/2 day stake-out to purchase the latest thing or two. They would be seen bugging the owner to showing them a trick just "one more time" or pestering paying customers with demands that they "take a card."

Why would a master magician need to go to a Las Vegas magic shop to purchase equipment? Especially if they already own all the equipment?

The answer is simple. I own almost all of the same equipment carried by most magic shops – including the one I stood in for 2-1/2 days. But because I love magic, I visit every magic shop I can find when I am traveling. In fact, like most magicians who are not elite, I often purchased the same trick over and over and over, not realizing that I already own it.

Surely, master magicians own far more tricks than I do and therefore have less ability to know what tricks would be "new" to their collection. Or maybe the elite magicians don't have drawers full of crappy magic tricks bought on a whim like the rest of us.

Another objection may be that magic stores cater to the casual purchaser or even non-magician and so they sell tricks a master magician would not need. Another fallacy of falsehoodness.

I looked at a 1903 magic catalog from a certain New York magic store where the elites of that time shopped. You know what? It sold joy buzzers, sneeze powder, whoopee cushions, spring snakes in peanut cans, tubes that gave you black eyes, pepper gum and fake vomit. And yet, master magicians visited this store every time they were in the vicinity. Today's elite cannot be seen in a store that carries "pedestrian" items like shock pens, fake doo-doo, shock books, funny No Parking signs or fake bloody fingers in boxes. Houdini and Kellar were somehow able to hang out in the midst of cigarette loads, German-made glass "snot bubbles," dipping birds and devices to make water shoot up when someone sits on a toilet seat.

Magic's elite has unfairly kept secrets from the rest of us. I hate to say it, but I am right and everyone who takes the other side is wrong.

Magic is a special art. In art, the paint and canvas and wood thing they put the paint on are the same for all the painters. In magic, only the special "artists" get to have the good paint and the good canvas and the good brushes. The rest of us get crayons and construction paper and library paste.

I am afraid that unless something is done soon, the "elite" magicians will get all the great tricks, the best secrets, the biggest crowds and the most money. The common magician will get nothing but their fill of stale birthday cake and melted ice cream and a goodie bag full of frustration. If they're lucky, maybe they'll get a ride back to the parking lot to hope for a second show for the day.

Remember, when magic secrets are kept secret, only magicians who keep secrets will have them.

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