Presentation Week Part 3: The Reverse Disclaimer and A Headline Prediction Presentation

Magicians and mentalists don't like headline predictions for two reasons.

Issue 1

The first thing they'll say is that predicting the future is too bold a power to claim. It's not good to claim bold powers when you want to appear "real." There it is again, the desire for people to think you're doing it for real. Knock it off. You don't want people to think it's real, you want them to feel like it's real in the moment. I don't think you understand how off-putting it is to play it "real." Let's remove you and magic from the equation. Imagine you met someone who had a real interest in vampires and he could tell you all the lore about them and the trivia and he knew about every vampire movie ever made. Depending on his personality you might think, "This guy is dull," or "He's a little nerdy, but this guy is really interesting," or "Wow, I didn't even know I gave a shit about vampires, but this guy is enthralling!" It's very easy to imagine how we might interact with that person. But how would you react to one of those people who aren't just like, "I'm interested in vampires," but instead say, "I'm a real vampire." Does that seem like someone you could connect with? Would you have anything to say other than, "Well... that's a nice ring... uhm... oh, so which of your uncle's molested you?"

You might say that magic was built on a long tradition of people claiming to be real -- that it's the foundation of this art. First, I don't know if that's really true. Second, if it is true, then perhaps we should not look at that history as an example to be followed, but rather as the shackles of the past. Maybe it's time to recast the art away from the ideals of some socially awkward misfits from centuries ago who couldn't get an ounce of pussy without claiming to have some fake powers.

So claiming to predict the future, as in a headline prediction, is a bold statement that is unlikely to be accepted by an audience. Good. That is what we want. Crazy claims, presentations, and rationales are essentially reverse disclaimers. But they actually accomplish what a disclaimer is intended to in a much better way. With a normal disclaimer you just substitute one lie for another. "I'm not reading your mind. I'm reading your body language." No you're not. But I get why you say that. It feels more honest (even though it's not), and it lets your audience know that you're not expecting them to really believe in something supernatural, and it lets you pretend that your performance is just so overwhelmingly powerful that -- unless you tell people not to -- they're going believe you're some sort of wizard.

reverse disclaimer is more honest because it's clearly fiction. And because it's clearly fiction the audience understands they don't need to analyze it critically. The reverse disclaimer might be, "I'm not going to read your mind. I don't need to. My invisible friend from childhood, Gerald is standing behind you and I can see the word in the book you're thinking of through his eyes. I met Gerald when I was 8. He caught me doing something... well, something shameful. And he has not left me alone since. When I was little I learned how to see through his eyes. At first it was fun. But as the years passed and I got real friends, I grew disinterested. That made Gerald very angry. If too much time passed without me playing with him, I would find that I'd blacked out and he would FORCE me to see through his eyes as he did those awful... awful things. [whispered] So much blood.... Well, that's not going to happen anymore because we are playing together now. Right, Gerald? Yes, yes. He's behind you right now. He's looking over your shoulder. Practically breathing in your ear. Gerald, stop it! Look at the first word or two on the page. Okay...yes... I can see it. It's... banana... banana bread?"

Or, you know, you could write the word on a clipboard.

Issue 2

The second problem people have with headline predictions is they're worried that something tragic might be on the front page on the day of their prediction. This concern might be somewhat valid for the stage performer. But not for those of us performing casually for friends, at small gatherings, etc. In fact it was this concern that gave me a great presentation idea. Not by alleviating the concern, but by amplifying it.

I have to say that this idea is so good that it must have been thought of before. It's kind of the inverse of a Docc Hilford idea, but I haven't seen anything quite like it. But it's more than possible it's not unique to me. 

So you've mailed a prediction to your friend's home days in advance. Told them not to tamper with it, etc. You have some way of inserting or switching the prediction on the day you're going to present this. Your prediction is in the form of a drawn version of the front page of your local newspaper.

I'll walk you through some scenarios on how it might go.

Let's say there's no tragedy on the front page that day. Thankfully most of the time that will be the case. In this example, the real headline in that day's paper is: Senate immigration bill suffers crushing defeat. The prediction you load into the envelope looks like this:

Your friend unfolds the prediction and is like, "Nope. You're wrong. Oh, you got the senate thing. But this fire didn't happen."

And you bow your head a little. "No... it didn't. Thank god. Thank god they listened to me. I just wish more people would listen."

You see? You're introducing a tragedy into the prediction and then acting as if you had some part in making it not happen.

And just when your friend is thinking, "Oh, this is a joke, I see," they remember that part of the prediction they've been holding onto all week actually is dead on. The fiction and reality become swirled together. 

But what if there was a real tragedy that day? What if six people did die in a house fire? Well, then you just up the tragedy in your prediction.

If the real headline is: Six dead, two injured in house fire.

Your prediction is: 46 dead, 8 missing as house fire spreads through neighborhood

A tear falls from your eye: "I did what I could. I just wish it could have been more."

If there's a murder or deadly accident, here's how you reframe it.

If the real headline is: Town Councilman, Jerry Peterson, found dead in a hit and run

Your prediction is: Town Councilman, Jerry Peterson, opens fire at the mall killing 16

"I did what I had to do," you say, shaking your head.

But Andy, it's crass to use tragedy as part of some trick you're performing.

First, have some perspective. You're a dot on a dot. 

Second, you're not performing this for a big audience (unless you just don't give a fuck, in which case yours is a show I want to see). You're performing it casually for friends. You're going to know if Jerry Peterson is their uncle or something. If you think it's bad karmically or something, then try to find his favorite charity and donate money to it. Or just think to yourself, if you were dead, would you really have an issue with someone using your death to bring some joy or mystery to someone else's life in a way that wouldn't affect anyone who knew and loved you? If you would, you need to chill out.

Third, it's really not an issue because the vast majority of the time you will not be embellishing a tragedy, just making one up out of thin air. 

Ok, b-b-b-b-but what if something really awful happens? Like a national tragedy. Like 9/11.

If that happened I wouldn't switch the prediction at all. I'd let her open the envelope and reveal the actual prediction I wrote and sealed in the envelope which says:

Pony rescues puppy from river.

Then I would look at her and say, "Fuck. I'm terrible at this."

Tomorrow: Spectator Cuts the Aces, Kind Of