Dear Jerxy: Why Magic?

Dear Jerxy: You seem to talk a lot of shit about magicians, so why are you into magic?

Bring-It in Boise

Dear Bring-It: I don't think your question really makes any sense. That's like asking, "Hey, you claim to enjoy sex, so why don't you like rapists?"

I like magic a lot, but I don't always love the people it draws to it. I do think it's getting better. I think it's becoming a more open and inviting arena. It's still pretty homogenous, but it's definitely a little better. When I was a teenager going to my first magic conventions, they were 100% white, 100% male, and 95% over 40. In the early 2000s I saw a Sankey lecture here in NYC. I scanned the room looking for anyone who wasn't my father's age. There were maybe four people in my age range. Three of them were total fucking spazzes: matted hair, BO, wearing sweatpants and a dress-shirt stained with Arby's Horsey Sauce. I ended up hitting it off with the one normal guy, but honestly 90% of our conversations were just, "Can you believe this group?" 

I get the sense magic lectures and conventions aren't so much like that anymore (but I haven't been to one in so long, so who knows). I think this is in part due to the internet. By making magic not such a secret society I think it has encouraged more normal people to get involved. Back in the day I always felt like magic was 1/3rd lovers of the art, 1/3rd anti-social weirdos looking to have something over other people, and 1/3rd pedophiles who were like, "I hear little boys are into this hobby."

Here's what I like about magic:

The old guys. I was just complaining about old guys, but I do love the Dai Vernon figures in magic and the way they're revered. Even when they've lost their skills they are still respected and adored, and I think that's a great thing about magic.

The young women. In all honesty it's pretty embarrassing what a dong-fest magic is. Not only is it male-dominated but it's also often demeaning and dismissive of women who try and get involved (if not just completely creepy towards them). But I guess the one good part of being so backwards is that we get to enjoy the emergence of a feminine perspective in magic in the modern day. Sure, this is shit we should have been supporting and have sorted out 100 years ago. But we didn't. So when I see someone like Ekaterina Dobrokhotova bring a distinctly feminine charm and power to her performances, it feels like maybe it's more of a sea-change in the art than just a novelty. I still think we do a horrible job of supporting women in magic, and I think women often make the mistake of emulating the dull habits of their male counterparts. But I do see many women who are just getting too good to be ignored.

The History: I love the stories of magic. I mean, not the boring history that I assume they talk about at those magic history conventions. But like how 12 morons died doing the bullet catch! And magicians as spies, or saving lives from theater fires, busting psychics, stealing tricks, all that good stuff.

That most of you stink at it. Most of you are so terrible at performing magic for real people that I come off as super talented to them. Their expectations are so low. Everyone who, for example, plays violin in front of a crowd, is generally pretty good. You've got to be great to stand out as a violin player. But with magic you just have to be competent.

That deception can be an art form.

That it encompasses everything because it is essentially nothing. Magic doesn't exist. So when you learn magic you're not really learning magic. Instead you are learning dozens of other arts and crafts that allow you to present the illusion of magic. Whenever I talk to friends with kids and we talk about hobbies for the kids, I encourage them to get into magic. Magic is a great gateway to the world around you and it helps you identify your passions. Outsiders just think of it as sleight-of-hand. But I can't even begin to list all the areas I've had to explore in order to learn and present a particular trick, or magic in general. Writing, acting, comedy, electronics, memory and mnemonics, psychology, gambling, topology, cons, filmmaking, cold reading, juggling, crafting, dance, mime, mathematics, science, history, carpentry, theater, origami, sewing, forgery, animal training, drawing, optics, physical fitness, puzzle solving, and so on and so on. I love that "doing magic" might involve rubber cementing a bunch of shit together, or memorizing the most popular female names of the 20th century, or determining the sight-lines and angles of every seat in a theater so you can build a stage to vanish an elephant on. Other hobbies don't have that range. If your kid plays piano it's not like, "Oh, well sometimes she sits at the piano and plays with her fingers, and other times she uses different colored light rays to make you think you heard the song."