Absolute Magic

My recent You Tube card trick, This'n'That, has now somehow had over 3.5 million views in just 7 weeks making it one of YouTube's most popular clips ever! I'm moving house at the moment so everything's in boxes, but once I find the right cable I'll upload the sequel video to YouTube and post it here too. In the meantime, I thought I'd share a quote from "Absolute Magic", a book about performance technique by famous UK psychological illusionist Derren Brown. He's less well known for his card magic mastery which, it has to be said, is exceptional.

"Performing our art, especially for an audience of non-magicians, demands the highest standards and a knowledge and fluency with the stuff of performance. Hobbyists... feel that they have a right to know all the methods and secrets... but are generally less interested in the real glue that binds those secrets together: the performance itself."

"Having someone else perform your material badly can be like watching a neighbour sodomize your pets. And I know what that's like."

The response to my clip on YouTube has been phenomenal - I've found hundreds of other people who've since uploaded videos of themselves doing the trick, and even one amazing mashup which uses my voice cut to some great original stop-motion animation!

Whilst it's entirely flattering to see others upload their own performance of the trick, I do wish some people would take a little more time to practice. In fact, whilst some of the video responses are excellent, others aren't and one in particular begins with an apology about how bad their performance is because they've only just learnt it. If that's the case then practice more before showing anybody, let alone sharing a video of it!

Its also interesting to see comments demanding to know the secrets. As Derren says in his book, hobbyists feel that they have a right to know. I noticed in the comments to my video that people are sometimes shocked that they might have to pay to learn a trick.

There's an entire industry of hundreds of magic stores around the world selling methods to professional magicians, and its a good way of filtering those who are serious about learning and performing magic well from those who just want to know the secret or want to be able to "do the trick" without the bother of practicing first. This barrier to entry has always worked well to stop people performing tricks badly. Bad performances obviously don't impress anybody and inevitably result in the performer looking foolish, and the spectators being wary of future opportunities to see magic in case its just as bad.

Unfortunately the Internet makes secrets revealed videos all to easy to make and share. The worst thing about these is that they don't show how to make the sleight of hand moves look natural and the performance look like real magic. Instead they focus on the "spoiler" aspect, just showing the mechanical workings of the trick. When people try to learn tricks from these videos it's no wonder that their performance is not at all magical.

What do you think? Should all magic secrets be free? Would that result in the decline of magic's popularity, as the overall quality of magicians became diluted? Does posting tricks on YouTube help or hinder magic's cause? I'd love to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment.