Sunday, February 24, 2013

Ethics for magical people: performing magick (1 of 4)

When we attend a magic show, we expect to be amazed and amused. A good stage magician will make it seem that “the laws of nature have been violated.” Since people delight at being surprised, stage magicians encourage their audiences to indulge their imaginations. For a brief while, we put aside our skepticism, so that we can be entertained and explore alternative possibilities. Moreover, doing magic involves drama since the audience is waiting to see if the trick will happen or not. Magician Chris Lloyd writes, “Ideally, magic tricks should bring about a sense of wonder and excitement…”

Rossco, a stage magician, writes at the Magic Hat Forum, that “magicians are gatekeepers who keep the mysteries of the world.” He goes on to say, “We do this to provide a sense of joy and amazement (the audience) they so desperately crave.” As gatekeepers, magicians pledge to keep their secrets of magic, as part of the Magician’s Oath. In addition, Preston Houer, a magician for over thirty years, stresses that by not divulging secrets is how magicians let the audience suspend its disbelief.

In his essay “Belief and the Suspension of Disbelief,” Alain Nu, stage magician and mentalist, says that the audience has a contract with the stage magician to “relinquish rational thought to momentarily accept the events which are unfolding.” But he notes that a mentalist (stage psychic) has no such contract. According to Nu, this leads to the mentalist grappling with ethical issues such as some members of the audience believing that he is an actual psychic. Because of this, Nu stresses that the mentalist’s personal integrity is critical to his performance. In his act, he needs to assure the audience that he is only an entertainer.

Robert Carroll, noted skeptic and author of the “Skeptic’s Dictionary” website points out that “Good magicians are good tricksters and good tricksters can fool the smartest of people.” Carroll says that even intelligent people can convince themselves that what they see is true. He cautions how some people are often fooled by psychics (mentalists) since they want to believe in the act. Nu himself says that he blurs the line between fact and fiction to encourage further investigation of unexplained phenomena.

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