Jerx Mailbag

After watching Shin Lim win America’s Got Talent: The Champions last night, I began wondering if all the magic on tv these days is a good or bad thing. Your thoughts?

Excerpted from an email from reader, A.C.

I think it’s probably a bad thing for most magicians, but it need not be bad for you, the person reading this.

Let me start by saying this… It’s shocking to me how popular magic is on t.v. at this time. There’s a bunch of shows devoted to magic, you have talent shows where magicians routinely do very well, and magicians are all over daytime and night time talk shows. If you’re under the age of thirty it may be hard for you to believe that there was a time when there was almost no magic on television. If you had come up to me as a kid and asked me what the “magic scene” on tv was, my response would be, “Well, David Copperfield had a special eight months ago. And then… let’s see… what else. Oh yes, Bill Bixby had a show where he played a magician five years before I was born.” And that’s not me exaggerating for comic effect. It’s pretty much the truth. Okay, maybe once every three years a magician would be on a talk-show, but if you weren’t watching it in the moment, you were fucked. That thing was lost to history.

So i’m genuinely amazed by all the magic content that exists out there on TV and online. And, honestly, I watch about zero minutes of it, on average. I have no real interest in that style of magic. I’m burnt out on it. When I had my old blog, in the early-mid 2000s, I felt obliged to comment on any magic that would show up on tv. But if I did that now, with this site, that’s all I’d ever do.

So, is all that magic on TV a good or bad thing? In my opinion it’s good for magic, but it’s probably not great for the average magic performer. In the 80s you could get away with doing some standard card magic as an amateur magician. Magic wasn’t as fucked-out as it is now, and the magic that was on tv wasn’t usually of the close-up card variety. So it was still pretty novel. Magic slid by for a long time because it was novel.

Now if you perform some typical close-up magic, your audience can often compare it to something similar they saw online a few days ago. And you’re just not going to compare to Shin Lim and his black-art and wind machine nonsense.

But the good news is this… you’re reading this site. And if you’re reading it regularly, you’re getting a consistent dose of me telling you that amateur/social magic needs to evolve. I’m pretty well convinced that amateur magic is going to develop into its own separate thing. You may say that’s a self-serving statement because I’ve spent years saying we need to treat amateur magic differently than professional magic. So essentially I’m just saying, “Yeah, I’ve been right all along.” But I just don’t see how amateur magic can continue to be the same as it has been traditionally. 20 years ago, the only way to see a card trick was for someone you knew to show you one. Now anyone, anywhere can see a card trick at anytime. And while magic in person is generally more powerful than magic online, if you’re just demonstrating the impossible (with no interactive element) then it doesn’t make much of a difference either way. (And no, interactive does not mean "have them hold the cards” or “have them name a random number.”)

For amateur magic to thrive in a world where people can watch the greatest magicians of all time whenever they want, then it needs to be something you do with people, rather than for them. It needs to be as distinct from watching magic online, as having sex is distinct from watching porn online. That’s my goal and where I’m trying to push things. So the success of Shin Lim or anyone else is really no issue for me because I’m trying to give people the experience of what I think amateur magic should be and this is something that can not be replicated by seeing it on tv