Mixed Emotions

I’m a big believer that magic needs to touch on emotions other than “surprise” in order to be memorable and to stay with people. This was the through-line of Magic for Young Lovers. But I also know that the hobby of magic often appeals to people who aren’t great in regards to their emotional intelligence, so suggesting they try and connect with people via their tricks is antithetical to why they got into magic in the first place. “You think I’m practicing card sleights for four hours a night because I’m good at relating to people on an emotional level?”

I’m going to empower you. I’m going to help you move from socially awkward to socially adroit (at least when it comes to magic). I have some posts coming up about the emotional aspect of magic tricks, but first I need to lay some groundwork so we’re on the same page.

Here is the evolution I often see with people who try and endow their magic with some emotional relevance.

Hey… this is cool. I’ll make the card come to the top a bunch of times for no real reason.

I know. I’ll arbitrarily change all these coins from silver to copper then to Chinese coins. Sweet.

Maybe I’ll cut this rope in a bunch of pieces and the restore it and change their lengths. Heh-heh… now that’s some impossible stuff.

Hmmmm…. you know what? All of this seems sort of frivolous. I think I need to perform some effects that touch people emotionally.

I wonder what I can do to make people cry?

Like, what the fuck? That’s the leap you make? From just performing a series of meaningless impossibilities to wanting to make people cry? There’s a whole emotional spectrum that you kind of jumped over there. You don’t need to go to that extreme. That would be like if people were taking advantage of you at work and I said, “Hey, don’t let them bully you. Stand up for yourself.” And you said, “I know. The next time they tell me I have to work on the weekend I’ll murder them.” Like whoa, pump the brakes a little.

Yes, I’ve made people tear up through magic, but usually because they’re connecting to something on a level I couldn’t have anticipated, not because that was my goal. If you go into it with that intention, it’s going to come across as awkward at best and manipulative at worst.

The key to an “emotion-based” presentation is simply this: put the trick in a context people can identify with. By its nature, the surprise or the impossibility of an effect is the part to which they can’t really feel a connection. But the framework you put the trick in is something to which they can relate. And that’s going to be how you engage their emotions in a subtle way (not like, “Ok, I want you to think of the initials of the man who sexually assaulted you.”)

Tomorrow I’m going to delve into this subject a little deeper and post an excerpt from the opening essay of MFYL.

On Friday we’ll look at the half-hearted way a lot of professional mentalists try and inject emotion into their presentations, and why it comes across so poorly. Then I’ll describe a way to adapt that weak technique for social situations to make it much stronger.