Revealing magic

12 09 2013

I saw a show recently and after the presenter had made a particularly impressive fire ball they said:A flash

so if you see a magician making flames appear out of the end of their fingers or a wand they are using the stuff I’ve just shown you.

It was a throw-away comment and whilst I’m sure the presenter meant no harm they broke the first and most important rule of magic there is. —You don’t give away how you do a trick, ever.— [the pic is not of that presenter]

Science presenters giving away magic secrets is not a new thing. Many moons ago I met a well-respected performer who was drumming up an audience for their next presentation by showing people a magic trick where a silk handkerchief is vanished. This is not a difficult trick but it relies on a secret piece of equipment, a gimmick. I enjoyed the effect, the presenter did it quite well for a non-magician, but then I was horrified to hear the performer say:

let me show you how it’s done, you need one of these secret things here, that is how I did it.

I cringed as I heard them say it and at the first opportunity I went over to them to tell them they had to stop giving the game away. Again they weren’t trying to annoy anyone but giving away magic tricks, however trivial they might seem to us as science presenters, is something that you just mustn’t do.

Magic commentsThe picture to the left is NOT suitable for work, it contains language that WILL offend, I include it only to give you an idea of how magicians react to magic secrets being given away. The picture is a screen grab of a small number of YouTube comments that follow a video that gives away how a particular trick is performed and reveals a particular gimmick.

To give you a (heavily redacted) flavour:

Why is it that people feel the need to spoil magic? There are so many of us out there that actually make money performing with gimmicks such as the “xxxx”

If you can afford a xxxx then you should know what you’re doing, YOU don’t have the rights to expose this set up, that xxxx is trademarked and you just gave away it’s inner workings, you’re not a magician, you don’t have morals

I agree, these are people who suck at performing, so they feel they need to expose it in order to feel “special”. Whoever posted this is a ____

I won’t finish that last sentence. You get the idea. Do you really want people to think the same of you as these people think of the YouTube star? No? So don’t reveal magic tricks.

The last commenter thinks those who feel the need to expose or reveal tricks do so in order to feel special. I think that is definitely one reason why science presenters do this. When we are on stage we are trying to impress. What better way to impress than to give away a secret?

There’s another reason though. Whilst science presentations and magic shows on the surface seem quite similar, they both normally involve one person showing a series of effects to an audience to delight and amaze, the purpose of each show is totally different. This is a point that can be lost to science presenters who are not familiar with magic and its workings.

The whole point of a magic show is to hide the methods behind your effects. In a science show the point is to reveal the methods behind your effects.

Some magicians appear to reveal effects, Penn and Teller do a wonderful routine with cups and balls where the whole point is to reveal how the trick was done (watch the host in the video be totally thrown by the ‘revealing’ of the trick, it is something a magician just doesn’t do). Don’t be fooled into thinking because sometimes one magic act reveals the workings of one trick (or seems to…) it is ok to reveal the workings of any magic trick. It is not.

Magic only works when the performer and the audience both chose to enter a state where the normal rules of our world no longer apply. Things disappear or transport, thoughts are divined, the unexplainable is presented as entertainment. Any magician will tell you that mechanism of the trick in a magic performance actually only makes up a tiny part of the overall effect. But giving away that tiny part ruins all the hard work the performer has put into developing the effect. And it ruins something that for the audience was once ‘magical’ and reduces it to the level of a cheap deceit.

Giving away magic secrets is like going round telling four year olds Santa doesn’t exist.

Science presenters, it is ok to perform effects that might also be used by magicians but you should never refer to it as the workings of a magic trick. Giving away the workings of tricks is something you just don’t do.

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