Mailbag #8


Hi Andy! Just rereading the books and I had an idea regarding the Donny Ackerman time stop presentation. My idea is to use a doublecross gimmick to print the x in their hand as an added convincer you actually stopped time and opened their hand. — DRM

I think that’s a really good idea. You’re making me want to re-purchase Double Cross (I gave mine away). Usually that trick amounts to, “I’m going to make an X appear on your hand,” which is a fine impossibility, but not all that interesting.

For those unfamiliar, in the Donny Ackerman trick you claim to stop time and—while the world is frozen—you open your spectator’s hand that holds a secretly written name on a piece of paper.

What DRM is suggesting is you do something like this… You tell the story, you reveal the name, then you say, “It’s unfortunate. No one ever believes I really paused time. So while I had your palm open I drew a little X in there to prove I was there.”

I like it. You’d have to figure out the choreography for getting them to hold the paper without exposing the X. But that seems pretty doable.

I was just wondering if you could give some extra nuanced insight to your view in regards to the "Reverse Disclaimer" that you've talked about in the past and your old post, "The Sealed Room with the Little Door."

I don't think these two posts are contradictory with one another, but if you could provide a little more clarification to how these two concepts connect seamlessly with each other, and with your presentation-style in general that would be great. —YR

Sure. They are both connected by the idea of the “unbelievable premise.” In social magic, it can be awkward when it seems that perhaps you believe your own claims. “Is he suggesting he’s actually reading my mind?” “Does he want me to believe he’s really a bond-language expert?” The Reverse Disclaimer is about making your claim about what’s happening so unbelievable that it goes without saying that it’s intended as fiction, so no disclaimer is needed.

For example, looking at the Donny Ackerman trick mentioned above, the claim that you’re stopping time is so unbelievable that it acts as it’s own disclaimer that you’re not suggesting what you’re doing is real.

The idea behind The Sealed Room With the Little Door is this… You’ve established an unbelievable claim/premise. It’s not intended to be believed. But if your trick is strong enough, and there is no other “easy answer” for the spectator to consider, then you can get them to momentarily get caught up in the idea and almost consider the unbelievable premise as real because it’s the only thing they’ve been given that makes sense.

You can see it on people’s faces or hear it as they talk out what they just saw.

Let’s say I tell you to come outside and we look up in the sky and you see Santa Clause being pulled in his sleigh against the full moon. You see it clearly. Now, you know I’m a magician, so you’re looking for trickery. But there are no easy answers. It wasn’t a projection. It wasn’t a 2-dimensional Santa against a fake-moon hanging from a tree. Again, you know I’m a magician, and you know it must be some sort of a trick. But still, I think at some point this thought crosses your mind: “I wonder what he was doing here? It’s not even Christmas!” Like just for half a second before you’re like, “What the hell am I thinking?”

That’s your mind probing the “little door” even when the premise is 100% fantastical. If you have a premise that’s just slightly more believable—let’s say 98% fantastical (stopping time, ghosts, spells that induce good luck)—and a trick that’s really strong, you’ll find you can get even the most rational people’s minds drifting towards unbelievable ideas for a few seconds here or there before they snap out of it and question their sanity.

I’m curious what you think of these tweets by Brian Brushwood. —DD

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Hmmm….well, seeing them out of context I assumed he was joking because it’s such a poorly thought out and obviously manipulative attempt at making a point. But apparently he’s serious?

If someone has an issue with magic tutorials on youtube, and your response to them is, “Oh, I see. You’re in favor of the systematic butt-fucking of pre-teens!!” That suggests that maybe you don’t quite have the confidence in your position that you’re pretending to.

You can easily make the opposite argument in an equally stupid way. “Oh, you think kids should learn magic online rather than in the public library? Online? Where children are susceptible to grooming from perverts and pedophiles all over the world? Wow, that’s pretty fucked up.”

No one has been more anti-magic-perv than me. Hell, the foundation of the magic society I started is that we kick out creeps. But his argument is desperate and nonsensical. He’s acting as if the debate is: Should people be teaching magic online or should you be forced to learn it from your rapist? Like… those aren’t the only options, dude.

To get to the actual substance of the discussion—whether the easy availability of magic secrets online is good or bad for the art—my feelings are these:

  1. I think the internet has advanced the science of magic immensely: the technologies and methodologies behind magic have exploded in scope and dimension. If you look at the growth in magic methods between 1950 and 1970, for example, it’s pretty modest. If you look at the growth in the last 20 years it’s insane.

  2. I think the internet has had little to no effect on the art of magic. I think you probably still have the same percent of magicians who suck and the same percent who are good.

  3. I think the internet has been detrimental to the spectator’s experience of magic.

To expand on that last point, I don’t think exposure or “online tutorials” hurt magicians. I think they take away from the experience of a magic trick for non-magicians. If you saw someone penetrate one rubber-band through another in 1989 and it really captured your imagination, you might think about it for years to come. And maybe you stumble across the secret on your own. Or maybe you spend years wondering if there is actually some unknown way to really make one rubber band melt through another.

In 2019, if you see someone penetrate one rubber band through another and it really captures your imagination, you google rubber band magic and you can immediately find a video explanation for what you saw. That’s the end of it.

Some people are saying, “Andy, you don’t get it. Secrets aren’t important.” No, I get that. I’m making the exact same point. I don’t think secrets are important. I think the important thing is the experience and creating a pleasurable sense of mystery in someone’s life. But when secrets are so readily accessible, you undermine the experience and the mystery. You’re taking all the potential romance out of the situation.

I’m not against online magic tutorials. I definitely see the benefit of them (beyond just making it harder to diddle the kiddies). But I also see the benefits of there being some barriers to entry for some magic secrets as well. There are people who teach magic online because they want to grow the art, and some who do it because they’re grade-A dullards and know that no one would pay attention to them if they weren’t offering secrets. It’s not a black and white issue, there are shades of grey here. (“And also shades of brown and red on the underpants of the abused children!” Yes, yes. Okay. You’ve made your point, Brian.)

I used to be more in the “who gives a shit” camp. “Who cares if they google it and figure it out after the trick is over, as long as they enjoyed it while it happened. Either way they know it’s a trick, so what difference does it make? And, in fact, learning how it’s done may give them a greater appreciation for the cleverness of the effect or the skill of the performer.” But I don’t really buy that anymore. I’ve had too many experiences in the past few years where people have come up to me and spoken in wonder, awe, or bewilderment about some trick I did weeks, months, or even years before that was still a mystery to them. I’ve never had anyone come up to me and speak with any reverence about a trick I did that they figured out.

But whatever. I don’t really get too worked up about what’s taught/what’s not taught, what’s exposed/what’s not exposed. I always just feel like—with enough thought—I can stay a step ahead of all that, or even use it to my advantage.