Harper's Magazine

Discussions of new films, books, television shows, and media indirectly related to magic and magicians. For example, there may be a book on mnemonics or theatrical technique we should know or at least know about.

Postby David » 06/13/08 04:06 PM

The current, July 2008, Harper's Magazine ( not Harper's Bizzare) has a 13 page story by Alex Stone, about competing in the FISM.
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Postby P.T.Widdle » 06/18/08 09:40 AM

Kind of surprised this article hasn't generated any discussion yet. It was a great read.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 06/18/08 10:52 AM

What's that magazine?
Mundus vult decipi
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Postby castawaydave » 06/18/08 03:55 PM

Originally posted by P.T.Widdle: "Kind of surprised this article hasn't generated any discussion yet. It was a great read."

I agree.
--Was going to mention this article last week, then held off figuring someone would beat me to it, but it has been quiet.

The July 2008 issue of Harper's has the latest pleasant surprise in what is becoming a series of recent articles about magic in mainstream publications (like the New Yorker piece with Jamy Ian Swiss) that portrays magic in a positive, intelligent light, for an audience that no-doubt usually doesn't read (or think at all) about such things.

Harper's is a respectably highbrow magazine that is often extremely interesting and thought-provoking. (Many are familiar with it's often-cited regular feature called "Harper's Index" which is a list of mind-blowing tidbits such as, "Amount that the I.R.S. has spent since 2006 on an outsourced program to collect unpaid taxes: $87,000,000. Amount the contractors have collected during that time: $50,000,000"...Or "Radius in feet within which a bee can smell a flower in unpolluted air: 3,281. Radius in air downwind from a city: 650"...)

--I'd have thought that Jonathan T., of all people, would absolutely "inhale" Harper's the moment it came out each month! :^D
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 06/19/08 10:01 AM

castawaydave wrote:...--I'd have thought that Jonathan T., of all people, would absolutely "inhale" Harper's the moment it came out each month! :^D


A great choice for something to read while the rest of the gang goes rummaging through the computer gaming and celebrity magazines. Here's a fun link to some of what's going on in/with Harpers.

It's all good. Some of us keep tabs on the output of the proletarian writing machine through other means. I miss My Weekly Reader, Hilights, Readers Digest and Mad Magazine - all of which which came without pretense of pertinence. These days you don't even need to read entrails to know what's about to be on the chats in a week when there's a pretty unified front proffered - can you say MonoCulture? See "TransMetropolitan" for that one... a decade ago? Anyone reading "Narcopolis" for fun or "Doktor Sleepless"? Yeah I miss "Promethea" - nostalgia in only a couple of years. BTW that one's pertinent to this forum as it offers a an easy-reading tour of some traditional magical frameworks and belief systems.

In the mean time I'm catching up on some literature, philosophy and psychology research which looks promising - and some works by Greg Egan and Alastair Reynolds for fun.

Recent cringeworthy news: when a little love is what you seek?... kind of ? Do they expect the customer to get some form of implants to use that product as intended?
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Postby P.T.Widdle » 06/19/08 12:07 PM

In addition to the FISM article, which I found to be even more gripping than Celebracadabra, there's also a fascinating piece about classic video game champions, specifically Billy Mitchel, who played the perfect Pac-Man game - getting all the dots and fruit on all 200 plus levels with only one man. He's a legendary and nefarious figure in that community.
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Postby Jon Racherbaumer » 06/19/08 12:11 PM

What should drive this discussion (which will unlikely gain much traction) is why Harper's, an issue-driven monthly with a heavy political bent, chose to run an article about a magician's experience competing at FISM?

I thought that the article was well-written (with just the right tone of an insider)and I realized afterwards that such an article ten years ago would have been met with derision and outrage. Can we assume that the Exposure Police have disbanded? The subtitle of the article ("With Tricks Explained") is a carrot on the wobbly stick for the laity. I, however, loved the footnotes. Footnote #3 clearly dismisses the Exposure Issue and calmly brushes aside any impotent complaints from WAM adherents. Who cares? Besides, do the tiny drawings really explain anything? Isn't there something bemusing about seeing scant descriptions of the Zarrow Shuffle and the Retention Vanish in Harper's Magazine? Furthermore, don't you think that the "insider talk" was ultimately too esoteric for the readership of Harper's to appreciate and fully understand?

There is so much inside stuff "out there" to be accessed these days. Info-zealots can happily spend 6 hours daily just mining the Internet. I know one fellow who told me he spent the entire day (yesterday) checking out the magic on You Tube.

I try to spend 2-3 hours daily reading BOOKS. Add the 2 hours I spend surfing the Net to the 2 hours I spend writing, the 8-hour workday is used up. Spending an hour at the gym leaves me little time to practice all of the moves that will inevitably be no longer secret.

Onward...
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 06/19/08 12:22 PM

The Harper's readers are also online and can link from the names to the pictures to the youtube videos and the online discussions of how to do the stuff if the videos don't suffice.

Maybe a generation of so of magic data rendered as trivia will spur a future generation to consider the nature of secrets and personal respect.

Yes, onward...or as put by a better writer than yours truly: "we must go forward, not backward, upward not forward, and allways twirling, twirling into the future".
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Postby castawaydave » 06/19/08 04:54 PM

Originally posted by Mr. Racherbaumer: "...why Harper's, an issue-driven monthly with a heavy political bent, chose to run an article about a magician's experience competing at FISM?" --I would like to know that too.
(Of course, magicians ARE the new rock stars, Pam Anderson said it herself. We knew magic is Now, Hip, Sexy, and apparently we have to add Intellectual.

Was also wondering why there wasn't any "exposure outrage".

I believe J.R. put it right: "...don't you think that the 'insider talk' was ultimately too esoteric for the readership of Harper's to appreciate and fully understand?"

Indeed--the "exposure" was muddied with enough jargon that not much was "really Exposed". --Lay readers would have to invest some serious study time to decipher everything the author threw at them. Of course, people now days often know quite a bit (palming, sleeving, basic misdirection, "fake thumbs") so you can't talk to them as if they're idiots...This article may serve to reinforce for some, the idea that there really IS more to it than they may have believed up to now...

------------
The 3rd footnote, alluded to above by Mr. Racherbaumer, should be quoted in full here. It would be interesting to hear what people would have to say about it.

[Following is from "The Magic Olympics" by Alex Stone, page 44, "Harper's" magazine July 2008.]

"In writing about magic, it's necessary to divulge some secrets. It must be stressed, however, that all of the methods and principles explained in this article have been published before and are, for all intents and purposes, public domain.
Still, some are bound to take offense at the discussion of secrets in a forum not solely intended for members of the guild.
As a working magician, I believe this hard-line stance on secrecy is misguided--even unhealthy. In general, attempts to demystify magic only tend to heighten peoples' curiosity.
When the infamous Masked Magician appeared on FOX, for example, demand for professional magicians in New York actually increased. Similarly, the systematic exposure of close-up methods on Japanese television over the past decade has, ironically perhaps, triggered an explosion in magic venues across the country.
Thus I see no harm in divulging a few methods in an article meant to broaden popular appreciation for the art of magic. To those who might disagree, I appeal to an old maxim: 'If you want to keep something secret--publish it'."
------------

Evidently, the more good stuff people see (or read about), the more they "learn"; the more they come to appreciate what's good, and the further additional skills it takes to make "such simple tricks" look like real Magic...

We must continue trying to get so good that even if they DO know about "palming", you'll STILL fool the ____ out of them...

(Thank YOU Mr. Ramsey!) ;^D
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Postby Necromancer » 06/19/08 05:38 PM

Four things:
(1) I'd be interested is seeing the author's sources for his claim that there was an increased demand for magicians in NY contemporary with the airing of the FOX show (although I would also ask why he should concentrate on just that state -- it was a national broadcast that should be expected to have affected magicians throughout the country).
(2) I am also unaware of the "systematic exposure of close-up methods on Japanese television" -- could we have some background, please -- and wonder how the "explosion in magic venues around the country" can be solely attributed to these shows. Weren't there non-exposure shows that were popular with the public, that can also be credited with the "explosion?"
(3) Without better research, let's not even discuss his conclusion.
(4) "If you want to keep something secret, publish it" is a truism with regard to magic hobbyists ignoring publications in their search for the next cool thing to show at the magic club. To the Harper's-reading public, it is inapplicable (and somewhat insulting).

Best,
Neil
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Postby Gord » 06/19/08 10:02 PM

For some ungodly reason Harper's is a week behind here in Canada, (Well, the Greater Toronto Area of Canada.) but I cannot wait to plunge into this.

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Postby Smartini » 06/21/08 01:52 AM

Gord,

I just checked three stores in Vancouver for this and was disappointed to know that we're behind the times as well...arrrggh!

I also won't offer any comment or discussion about the so called "research" which suggests that magic somehow benefits from exposure.

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Postby Richard Kaufman » 06/21/08 09:55 AM

Exactly what issue is this in?
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Postby Max Maven » 06/21/08 11:02 AM

It's in the issue that just reached subscribers, and is currently on newsstands (at least in the United States).

The article is well written. It's a pity that the content is rather pathetic. The author's understanding of magic is severely limited, and there are motivations behind the piece, which exists primarily for self-aggrandizement. I was sorry to see this appear in one of my favorite magazines; they usually hold to a higher standard.
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Postby Gord » 06/21/08 07:18 PM

Finally read it.
I'm sorry to say it reminded me of some kid constantly going "Look what I can do."
I don't think any of the magical explanations were warranted. Did saying he used back finger clip, or explaining how the Matrix work make the article better?
No.
Would have removing them make the article worse?
No.
So there was no reason for it. Any of it.
Just so unnecessary.

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Postby Gene Taylor » 06/24/08 10:35 PM

This article should get more attention from magicians. Particularly close-up magicians. Perhaps the readership of Harper's doesn't intersect greatly with the magic community. It should be of specific interest to anybody who attended FISM and actually SAW the Close-up competition. Over three pages of this article are devoted to a move-by-move description of the author's own failed act at FISM.

Jon Racherbaumer is right about the level of jargon. The exposure issue is muted by this. Max is dead on about the article as a whole. It is well written, but it is an amazing and head-shaking re-invention or, at best, a re-emphasis of events at FISM. Would that we could all re-imagine and attempt to justify our moments of failed magic in the pages of a national publication.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 06/24/08 11:07 PM

People like to fail in public these days. A good wallow in your own failure is sometimes the road to success.
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Postby Smartini » 06/25/08 01:05 AM

Here in Vancouver, Canada there is still no sign of the July issue of Harper's magazine. I note that a previous post speaks of the article being well written. When I was an undergraduate my English professor would assign Harper's as required reading as it was considered an excellent example of good writing. I'll be glad to read this issue without any homework attached.
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Postby Eric Fry » 06/25/08 01:09 AM

I've just read the article and I found myself angry to a surprising degree. I don't usually care about exposure, and I know all the arguments about why it doesn't matter.

But this article was such a continuous betrayal on a personal level of the author's fellow competitors and the SAM leadership, which approved his participation, that the author's sheer crappiness was overwhelming. What a turd! He betrayed people, not just secrets.

It was a classic case of Janet Malcolm's dictum that journalists are confidence artists who betray their sources without remorse. His disingenuous justifications have already been dissected by another poster, so I won't repeat them.

By the way, I wouldn't say the article puts magicians in a good light. The audience's behavior at the end of the show is pretty appalling.
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Postby laserheart » 06/26/08 06:16 PM

Is there an online version of the article for non-subscribers?
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Postby Eric Fry » 06/26/08 08:20 PM

I don't think so.

Has SAM commented on the article, does anyone know? Is Alex Stone well known? Is he, in fact, a professional, as his blurb claims? How did he get picked for FISM? Did he go to FISM for the sole purpose of writing the article? It contains so many details that I have to think he took notes at the time, in preparation for an article.
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Postby Joe Pecore » 06/26/08 08:49 PM

From http://magicunlimited.typepad.com : "Alex is a journalist, and had never performed magic before, but wanted to write an article about the experience of competing in the "Magic Olympics. Somehow, he managed to get sponsored by Richard Dooley of the SAM, and he presented what was one of the worst close up acts in FISM history."
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Postby Chris Aguilar » 06/26/08 09:22 PM

Nice standards they've got there at FISM.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 06/26/08 09:41 PM

At the time of FISM in Stockholm, you could hear from comments how awful some of the close-up acts were. People were completely mystified at the ineptitude of some of the competitors, and there was a great deal of criticism directed toward some of their sponsors.
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Postby Eric Fry » 06/26/08 11:15 PM

I saw the magicunlimited web site and posted a response there. Stone shows up on a Columbia U. web site as a grad student, and he may be the Alex Stone who publishes a short column in Discover magazine, a science publication. But I don't think it's correct to characterize him as a journalist who was pretending to be a magician. It's clear from the article that he knows of techniques beyond what you'd discover in a beginner's book at the library.

I don't know why this article, out of all the exposure of secrets that occurs, should make me so angry. I just think it was very disrespectful of Stone to compete and then comment on the techniques of his competitors in a general-interest publication. They could never have imagined such a thing happening when they fraternized with him and treated him as a peer.

As posters have pointed out, the readers wouldn't learn enough from the article to truly appreciate magic from an insider's point of view. So they don't gain what he claims is a justification for talking about techniques. Plus, they'd have to see the acts, not read about them, to have any sort of appreciation. At the same time, he managed to reveal some very essential points about sleight of hand.
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Postby Gene Taylor » 06/27/08 12:13 AM

It's also clear that there are exteme gaps in his knowledge, as Max alluded to. It angers me because there were two acts at the FISM Close-up competition that, as an American, and a member of the IBM and the SAM, caused me to cringe. But by far, the act that Alex Stone presented was the worst. He admits in Harpers that he was ill-prepared (the back pain, the Bode Miller comparison), yet he chose to compete in the highest profile magic competition we have. It belittles the efforts of the vast majority who had rehearsed their acts over and over and entered them in other competitions. It is likely that Alex's act had NEVER been performed before.

It's not the exposure that angers me. It is the inflated sense of self-importance. Shouldn't this article be about the good acts instead of the single worst act?
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 06/27/08 12:39 AM

He's just another nitwit who'll be shortly forgotten. We all still be here.
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Postby Dustin Stinett » 06/30/08 06:48 PM

I finally purchased the magazine yesterday and read the piece (and then all the posts here) and feel compelled to comment.

First, Im sorry I wasted my time and money on the piece. While fairly well written, it could have been much more so; and it could have been easily done without the exposure. The exposure is gratuitous at best; filler in what could have been a more compelling human interest story. Instead, the tone turns to look what I knowand now you know it too so arent we ever so cool?

The infamous footnote #3, filled with the typical rationalizations used by those who perpetrateand then dismissunwarranted exposure is seriously flawed. The comment that all of the methods and principles explained in this article have been published before and are, for all intents and purposes, public domain is not at all accurate. I suspect that Michael Ammar, David Stone, Jimmy Wilson, and a few others do not consider their published work public domain. The logical extension of this rationalizationthat the methods have been published and therefore are public domainmust then also apply to this article. Does this give me the right to send a PDF copy of this article to my friends whove had their hard work exposed at the hands of an apparent hack? We dont even tolerate this behavior amongst ourselves; but let us get a little mainstream magazine space and its no holds barred.

Screw that.

Magicof coursewill survive this miniscule blip on the exposure front. And yes: The laity will likely only be confused by the jargon-heavy descriptions. But what purpose did these exposures serve? And whatever happened to the notion that if the laity thinks they know what happenedeven if they are wrongthe magic is indeed exposed? What happens now if someone who has read this piece sees Armando Lucero perform his version of Matrix? I know, I know: Its a billion-to-one shot that it could even happen. So what? Again I ask: To what purpose did the exposures in this piece serve (other than to bolster the bruised ego of a FISM failure)?

Please understand that I have no problem with magic books and articles aimed at the general public, so long as they make sense and the exposure in them is indeed necessary. But there was nothing at all necessary about the exposure committed in this article. It added nothing of real substance to the story, unless you consider word-countat the expense of magics secretssubstance.

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Postby NCMarsh » 07/23/08 03:28 PM

When I was in High School, I was a slacker. I had a natural facility with academics, and did very well on tests -- and I intentionally avoided putting any real effort into homework, etc. Looking back, I think part of it was that I was constantly hearing -- from family, friends, teachers -- about how much potential I had. By making a deliberate show of not trying, I protected this praise and the pleasure it gave my ego. To put forth real effort would be to risk failing, and to risk the possibility that I wasn't as good as the people around me thought I was.

I see the same kind of adolescent ego/fantasy protection in this piece.

My take: this is a guy who has learned enough about magic to impress the crowd at the bar; he hears how good he is from people who already like him and who may not have experienced live, deceptive, close-up magic before. He has watched enough DVDs to identify and label some magic techniques in the performances of others.

He fancies himself a colleague of folks like Jon Armstrong and Rick Merrill. And I think this article is about protecting that fantasy.

We get the reasons why he didn't put the work in that other competitor's did...the guy was falling in love...and what's more: his topiting side was numb!

The inference seems to be that his act was just as worthwhile, and if only he'd put the time in...

Likewise with the exposure. He dismissively and flippantly tosses out his explanations -- and theories -- as to the other acts' methods. He does so in a way cluttered with jargon; often mis-used. It is about bringing the other acts down to his level, showing himself to be one of them. Oh that, I know that.

As someone who has written things online that now make me cringe in embarrassment (and seem impossible to get rid of), I think that -- if he continues in magic -- this article will be far more embarrassing than what actually happened on stage.

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Postby David Scollnik » 08/02/08 09:47 PM

I found this review of the Harper's magazine article, a review written by a non-magician, on-line earlier today.

The review can be found at this site:

ijustreadaboutthat.wordpress.com

[READ: July 2, 2008] The Magic Olympics

There are two reasons why Im mentioning this article. The first is that a few months ago I had read Paul Quarringtons The Spirit Cabinet and had seen The Illusionist a couple days apart. This article also explains some magic tricks which, rather than spoiling the effect, really makes you marvel at the skill of the magicians. Two, the opening of the article reminded me a lot of Arrested Development, our beloved TV show. On the show, Gob was an illusionist in a magicians guild. Not only do such guilds exist, but you can, in fact, be blackballed from them. (The United States has three: the Academy of Magical Arts,the International Brotherhood of Magicians, and the Society of American Magicians.) And you must belong to one to enter this International Competition. Theres also a guy who does a regurgitating trick which is exactly like Gobs regurgitating key trick (except that it works in the article). I guess they did some real research into magic before writing Gobs character.

So, this article is a fascinating look at Alex Stones attempt to win the 23rd The World Championships of Magic, this years held in Stockholm. Stone describes the contest in great detail, explaining that there are two main categories: stage magic & close-up magic. Stone works in sleight of hand, or close-up magic. He describes the acts that precede him, genuinely awed by some of the practitioners. Im not going to give away the end in case you want to read it yourself. But there was some pretty extreme drama going on. I was amazed at how into the story I got, and how much I would like to see it myself.
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Postby Scott M. » 08/03/08 09:48 AM

I'm not someone who thinks exposure is a big concern in magic today. Sorry. That said, I was irritated by this article. Considered within the context of the article as a whole, a lot of the exposure was clunky and inelegant -- it dragged the flow of the piece and seemed unnecessary. I almost got the feeling that an editor demanded it in order to spice up the article and justify an eye-catching cover line.

What I really had a problem with, though, was the ending of the piece -- the same ending the mainstream reviewer above really liked. Out of respect for the performer involved I won't go into the details, but the ending mixed exposure of another magician's routine with a kind of gross moral superiority. The writer makes these suppositions at the end to justify why he's better than all these magician creeps, and those suppositions are completely specious. He has no way of knowing about the lives of the people he's claiming himself superior to and is in no position to pass judgement on them.
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