I had a pretty profound moment this weekend while working with one of the focus groups I mentioned last week. It was something a couple of the people said and it's related to a concept that I've been talking about here for almost two years, but they put it much more succinctly, and helped explain the "why" behind something I've been feeling instinctively for some time now. It could almost be a thesis statement for this site.
On the general form we give everyone to fill out before we start the group, there is a question we ask to get their broad feeling towards magic. We ask how much they like magic on a scale of 1 to 5. One being, "I don't like magic," and 5 being, "I love magic." These extreme ends are almost never selected, most people are a 2, 3, or 4. And, in particular, it's very rare for someone to pick, "I don't like magic," so when they do I always ask them about it.
In this session, of the ten people there, two of them had selected "I don't like magic." Both were middle-aged women.
Before we officially started the session I was informally talking with the two women as we sat at the table with the other participants. This was before we started recording the session, but to the best of my recollection this is how the conversation played out between me and the women who I'll call Anna and Beverly. Anna is a white woman, about 40, who had a background in theater. Beverly is a black woman in her mid-40s who is a stay-at-home mom who formerly worked in the finance industry.
Me: You both selected I don't like magic. That's pretty rare.
Me: Yes. Is there a reason why? I always like to ask. I get some good stories. Was it a bad experience?
Beverly: No, it's just not for me, I guess.
Me: Not for you?
Anna: I just get a weird vibe from it.
Me: In what way?
Anna: Not like a supernatural or superstitious vibe. It's just a weird energy. It's like, "Look what I can do."
Beverly: Right. "Look what I can do." And that's what kids say.
My partner who was at the table at the time said that everyone who was paying attention was nodding along too.
Had my style of presentation not already diverged significantly from a demonstration of my "power" this would have been an even bigger moment for me. As it was, it just confirmed a lot of what I had been feeling about the performer/spectator relationship in magic and why making it about the magician has backfired for the modern performer.
We think we're coming off like a powerful god. "LOOK WHAT I CAN DO! BEHOLD MY AWESOME POWER!" We have these self-flattering pseudo-concerns, "Am I coming off too god-like? Do I need to tone it down?"
When really, many magicians are coming off as children craving attention. "Look what I can do!"
This is certainly much more in line with the reality of the reactions that many performers deal with day to day. "I just determined which hand was holding the coin by reading this person's body language and she said she wishes her kid was here to see this." "I just did my $400 book test and they asked me if I was available for children's parties." "I'm the most famous magician in the world. I've made 100s of millions of dollars. And the general public consensus is that I'm kind of a goofball."
This site is not about giving advice. I'm never trying to convince people that I have the answers. If I write definitively it's only because it would be annoying to read the site if I prefaced everything with "I feel..." or "In my opinion...." This site is only really about my journey with magic. And perhaps there is some universality in that and perhaps not. Selfishly, I like the poor reputation magic and magicians have. It lowers expectations and gives me something to play off of when I perform. So you can take or leave anything I say. It's genuinely fine by me. But if you've found yourself wondering why what you're performing doesn't have a bigger effect on people, and why they're not drawn more towards your performances, I can only say that in the past I've wondered the same things too. And the big change for me happened when I started shunning credit; when the essence of my performances became, "Huh, this is strange," "Check this out," or, "Look what you can do," rather than, "Look what I can do!"