A shocking ethical dilemna

All beginners in magic should address their questions here.

Postby Umpa Duze » 08/12/08 08:28 PM

Hi All,
I am interested in gathering some views about using a shock gag in a stage show. I am working on an effect in which the equipment appears to malfunction. A volunteer is turning a crank when smoke begins to fill the box. When I have seen similar effects performed the whole oops it isnt working premise feels very contrived and generally fails to connect emotionally with the audience. I am considering fitting the crank handle with the innards of a shock gum gag in order to create a more realistic and dramatic event in which the volunteer pulls back on his own and while I am examining his hand and checking to make sure he is ok, the box starts filling with smoke. Please let me know what you think about the ethics of this. The shock is quite light, and the ensuing action will quickly reorient the volunteers attention. This would be used with someone about 10-12 yrs old.

Thanks,
Umpa
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 08/12/08 08:32 PM

Umpa, such things are very difficult to gage without feedback from real people. Do you have a safe(r) environment to explore and attenuate your device?
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Postby Umpa Duze » 08/12/08 10:16 PM

Hi Jonathan,
I have asked some family members and some company (who happened to be newly ordained priests!)as to the ethical question. I have also tried out the shock devise on myself a number of times under different conditions. (Wetting the fingers before activating the device certainly increases the impact.) I am in the process of building the crank, and will certainly try it out once it is all together. Given the source of the shock, the handle should not deliver anything greater than the original gag, and will likely be slightly less given additional resistance in the system. Anyway, I appreciate your thoughts on this. I will certainly try it out on friends (hopefully not soon to be ex-friends) and family.


Cheers,
Umpa
Cheers,
Umpa Duze
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Postby Dustin Stinett » 08/12/08 10:29 PM

What are you after; drama or a laugh? (Or a quick bit of drama relieved by a laugh?)

Besides the inherent problems that might arise from a shockno matter how lightto the youngster, the only person feeling it is the youngster. Not everyone watching is going to understand why he reacted. They cannot possibly be emotionally involved.

On the other hand, a good old Funkin Ring might provide the spark you are looking for (pun intended). As you touch the crank (to help the kid, or to see what the problem is, whatever the motivation is) and let the sparks go, the kid will react, the audience will know why he reacted, and will then realize everything is okay and laugh. Its a win-win and no one can say they were actually shocked.

Just a thought.

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Postby Dale Shrimpton » 08/13/08 07:23 AM

i agree with Dustin. our job as magicians is to entertain, not torture.
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Postby raj k » 08/13/08 02:15 PM

Being electrocuted is one of my least favorite activities.....even 'mild' electrocution pisses me off. Its less about ethics, and more about respect. Simulation via sparking device will illicit a stronger response...unless you're looking for a black eye from the volunteer.
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Postby Ian Kendall » 08/13/08 02:20 PM

I remember sitting on a shocking chair at Blackpool many years ago. The dealer gleefully zapped me, and it was one of the most uncomfortable things that I've ever experienced. I had a pain in my backside for about an hour afterwards, and got very pissed off at the dealer, who just laughed at me.

I've also been hit by a faulty monitor that got me with around 240V. That hurt a lot.

The thought of zapping a _child_ with any kind of shock should see you gaffer taped to the wall and pelted with large, heavy, sharp objects. For a long time.

Take care, Ian
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 08/13/08 02:31 PM

Most so-called "Electric Chair" routines are stooged: the people are never shocked.

Needless to say, most people have no desire to receive an electrical shock, and few if any people on the planet want to get shocked by some [censored] magician! So DON'T DO IT!!!!

If it happened to me, I would turn around and punch you in the nose.
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Postby opie » 08/13/08 02:45 PM

I agree Richard, but the use of the Hand Shake Buzzer is a cute gag to simulate giving somebody an electrical shock, IF YOU QUICKLY SHOW the gimmick and get the laugh.

Even using that, however, I would always be prepared to duck, in the event I zapped a Genii guy with quick reflexes....haha

I vote for NO SHOCKS........

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Postby Richard Kaufman » 08/13/08 04:37 PM

I would agree, Opie, if the Joy Buzzer actually shocked you, but it doesn't give an electrical shock. It only surprises you. A genuine electrical jolt is another thing entirely (and no one has mentioned the effect it might have on someone wearing a pacemaker or chest-implanted defibrilator).
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Postby Jeff Haas » 08/13/08 05:20 PM

Why not redo the gag to get rid of shocking the volunteer? Some suggestions earlier in this thread are going the right way...

The volunteer turns the crank on the box. The magician sees it's not working, so he takes over. The magician cranks, it's still not working, so he adjusts one of the knobs, and sets off the Funkenring hidden in his hand. This makes the magician step back and look at his finger, and while this is going on, smoke starts coming out of the box.

The point is that the box is shorting out; who cares if the volunteer is turning the crank or not when it happens?
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Postby Mark Collier » 08/13/08 05:51 PM

I agree. I think it's funnier if the magician is the one that gets shocked. The Funkenring can make it seem like that is what is happening.

The magician gets 'hoisted by his own petard'.
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Postby Cugel » 08/13/08 06:12 PM

Phil Cass has used one of these chairs for years in his stage act. He's never been punched by a spectator (and he always picks some huge guy; an adult not a child). Maybe the fact that he was a pro footballer and is pretty big himself is a factor.
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Postby Umpa Duze » 08/13/08 08:32 PM

Hi All,
First, let me thank all of you for your thoughts. I never realized how brutal magicians were. Punched in the face, taped to the wall and hit with sharp objects, shock gags as torture, black eye from the volunteer.Wow! It really raises the question of how these nefarious tools of torture have become so successful as kid gags? Clearly if you received a painful shock that lasted for an hour, or from a 240v source we are talking about two very different things. What I liked about the shock gag is that introduced an element of reality (like Houdin releasing real ether into the air above the audience) that would sell the idea of a malfunctioning machine. The volunteers reaction would be genuine and in my mind be more likely to draw the audience in to the illusion. I use the Funkenring in another effect, and it may be a better solution here as well. The funkenring startles and may be better because the audience sees it, but the subtlety of the slight shock might create more drama with the audience being more receptive to the volunteers experience than the magicians. I am not sure. It is interesting to me that in polling acquaintances outside of magic, including school teachers, psychologists, and two priests, among others, that their take was 180 degrees from those expressed so far by my fellow magicians. Of ten people asked, eight thought the shock would be so light as to be fine and might enhance the audiences experience. Anyway, please share more of your thoughts with me as I am finding the discussion helpful in making up my mind about this.

Cheers,
Umpa
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 08/13/08 09:34 PM

As I said, most of these types of things are stooged: the shocks are not real.
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Postby Umpa Duze » 08/14/08 12:17 AM

Hi Richard,
To me the stooged events generally look like what they are. As I watched the performances of the effect I am working on, every performer did their best to play up the "magician in trouble" scenario, but the audience always seemed to be in on it, never actually buying into the illusion. As a result, the audiences experienced a running gag rather than magic (at least from my perspective).

Cheers,
Umpa
Cheers,
Umpa Duze
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Postby Ian Kendall » 08/14/08 04:01 AM

The chair I sat on was designed to do the effect without stooging. It was horrible.

How many of the people outside magic that you polled have been shocked? Did you try your device on them?

Remember that you are talking about hurting a _child_. You have no idea what kind of pain threshold they will have. What may seem a mild shock to you may cause a lot of pain to your spectator, and you end with a sobbing child on stage. I'd be interested to hear your out for that one.

Magicians' opinions on this matter differ from real people because we tend to think about these things in more detail. However, it seems you have already made up your mind and are looking for approval.

As for violent responses, it took a lot of self control not to deck the grinning fool who hurt me...

Take care, Ian
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Postby Cugel » 08/14/08 05:39 AM

Well, if you didn't deck him then, you probably never were going to.

Having said that, I think it's a no-no to use this sort of thing with kids. Using it with some huge guy in his twenties (obviously not Ian Kendall) in a nightclub venue is probably par for the course.
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Postby Frank Dudgeon » 08/14/08 11:59 AM

Umpa Daze said: "It is interesting to me that in polling acquaintances outside of magic, including school teachers, psychologists, and two priests, among others, that their take was 180 degrees from those expressed so far by my fellow magicians. Of ten people asked, eight thought the shock would be so light as to be fine and might enhance the audiences experience."

I'd think that if you are aware that you will receive a "light shock" ahead of time...or ask someone if that would be okay...then there isn't a problem. But if even a light shock is a surprise, I could see it being a terrifying experience for the volunteer. The shock wouldn't hurt, but what would seem, even for an instant, to be a very dangerous situation would scare the heck out of me.
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Postby raj k » 08/14/08 04:23 PM

Umpa Duze wrote:....To me the stooged events generally look like what they are. As I watched the performances of the effect I am working on, every performer did their best to play up the "magician in trouble" scenario, but the audience always seemed to be in on it, never actually buying into the illusion. As a result, the audiences experienced a running gag rather than magic (at least from my perspective).

Cheers,
Umpa


Magicians in general are poor actors and have minimal (if any) actors training. Magic is illusion by definition.

A popular anecdote attributed to Laurence Olivier - Upon learning that his Marathon Man co-star Dustin Hoffman had stayed awake for two days to look properly exhausted in one scene, he told the younger actor, "You should try acting, my boy. It's much easier."

Try acting. Much easier than being sued...
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Postby Bill Palmer » 08/17/08 08:12 PM

Not to mention the effect it might have on an [censored] magician who shocked Richard Kaufman. Shocking Richard Kaufman can cause permanent brain damage and severe physical injury.

Maybe there should be a warning label on these things. ;)
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Postby Bill Palmer » 08/17/08 08:15 PM

I was working a series of shows with Marvyn and Carol Roy. One evening he decided to do the shocking chair bit, with a stooge he picked from the audience.

The stooge was far more convincing than most magicians I have seen when they attempt to act. Marvyn knew precisely what to tell the fellow to do.

It did not look stooged to the audience. It fooled my assistant, who was very smart, totally.
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Postby Doc Dixon » 08/17/08 10:00 PM

Umpa,

I'm guessing this kind of electrical shock causes about the same amount of discomfort as a slap to the back of the head.
So, with that in mind, let's assume you have a 10 year old son and he's on stage with a magician and the magician gives him a slap to the back of the head.
How would you feel about this magician?

You now know how a lot of us (and your potential audiences) might feel about you.

Respectfully,

DD

PS: There's part of me that thinks this post is a magic/cyber equivalent of the Milgram experiment.
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Postby Bill Palmer » 08/17/08 11:40 PM

I think that you should realize that it does not take much to set up the idea that a machine has had a serious malfunction. You could get a similar result from a "bang" device, followed by smoke coming out of the machine. In fact, it might be more effective if you had a "bang" device go off. The audience cannot feel a shock that a spectator receives. But they can hear the bang.

Using school teachers, psychologists and priests as judges of the violence of magicians is not really a good comparison. The three groups you cite have a much higher profile among people who abuse children than magicians do. ;)

What makes these people think that a magician can control the amount of shock with any degree of accuracy anyway?

Regarding Ian's experience with the magic dealer -- I think I would have filed suit on him. Anyone who intentionally harms someone as a gag deserves to be prosecuted.
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Postby Umpa Duze » 08/18/08 07:10 PM

Hi All,
Thanks again for sharing your thoughts with me. I am modifying the equipment in line with your recommendations, replacing the shock with a bang device and a makin' sparks which should be enough of a surprise to have the volunteer step back from the machine. (No the sparks will not be directed towards the volunteer...just in case my reputation has been fully sullied by posing this thread). I really enjoy this forum because of the generous contributions and thoughtful responses.

Thanks again,
Umpa
Cheers,
Umpa Duze
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 08/18/08 07:39 PM

If you run a thick fake wire offstage and have an obvious extension box in the middle - that could have the bang and flash as they crank - and be out of harm's reach for all involved.

just a thought,

jon
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Postby Larry Barnowsky » 08/18/08 07:46 PM

Good idea. Stay away from delivering electric shocks. Besides being reprehensible, you open yourself to liability. We all have heard of young athletes dying from arrhythmias in sporting events. Calibrating electrical equipment can be tricky. The resistance of the human body varies so a low voltage could deliver a higher current than expected.
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Postby Jon Allen » 08/22/08 04:35 AM

I was once given a gentle squeeze on the shoulder by a friend who came up to me from behind. He didn't know I had a serious injury and the pain was excruciating. A mild shock could have consequences beyond your control. Surely you would want to be in control of everything in your show?

It also seems to me that the shock is only a convincer to the prop not working. As has been mentioned, surely there are other ways to convey this? I would think the audience would much prefer to see the magician in trouble than one of their own in discomfort. There's also the chance that the other kids might just laugh at the child on stage and make him/her feel even worse.
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Postby Paul Gordon » 08/22/08 04:52 AM

At a magic convention a few years ago, a magician did the hand-shocker thing on someone; who then had an [color:#CC0000]epipetic fit[/color]! Not funny, not clever. As RK said, if someone did it to me - they'd get a bigger shock and a fat lip!

I remember a Dutch magician trying something similar on Bobby Bernard about 20 years ago. BIG MISTAKE! Bobby went NUTS!

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Postby 000 » 08/22/08 05:12 AM

Paid stooges ( decent wage, Im a professional stooge!)the way to go this one.
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Postby jason156 » 08/22/08 10:27 AM

I know this is going to come off as overly politically correct, but my sister has epilepsy and I was taught that the word fit was old fashioned and slightly inappropriate. The word you should use is seizure .
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Postby David Prouty » 08/22/08 10:55 AM

With all this talk, maybe I should consider removing my "Peanut Butter and Taser" trick from my kid show...
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Postby Jim Riser » 08/22/08 01:40 PM

I'm probably one of the rare breed who does not mind being shocked. I grew up playing with Van de Graaff generators and Tesla Coils. We often directed the inches long sparks to areas on our forearms where the shock would short circuit our nervous system and cause the hand to involuntarily twitch - COOL! FUN!

Just last week I used my body as an electrical meter. A friend had proudly hooked up a new machine to his 3 phase line and wanted me to see it in operation. His new machine ran fine; but when touching it and another machine at the same time, I could feel the unmistakable tingle of electricity. His system was not grounded properly. This is horribly unsafe.

Most people do not like to get shocked especially unexpectedly and in front of others. I do not feel it is a good idea to shock a spectator who has volunteered to help make your act look good. Forget any form of anything that might injure or emabrrass your volunteer. Also keep in mind than funkenrings are small rotary files grinding away at the "flint" metal to produce the sparks. There are white hot particles of metal shooting off into the air and possibly into the eyes of the volunteer. Bang shooters utilize a small cap charged with gun powder which could burn the volunteer. I would steer clear of any of these. If something can injure a spectator, it will someday do so.

As a matter of fact I see no logic in all of the sparks seen on many illusions these days. I will not go see a show by Frans H. due to all of this silly illogical sparks effects.

Getting back to your specific problem ... I think Jonathan's suggestion of a slightly remote box smoking and making the noise would be the safest and most effective route. Whatever you do, be certain to avoid any danger to a volunteer.

If you are doing kid shows, the moms will talk and if their little darling was injured or embarrassed, they will let the other moms know - resulting in the end of your getting repeat shows from that group of people.
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Postby Comedy Writer » 12/04/08 04:02 PM

I wouldn't do it.
Sounds like a bad idea.
Why would you want to abuse a volunteer?
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Postby Umpa Duze » 12/08/08 08:09 PM

Hi All,
I wanted to report on what I ended up doing. I appreciate all of the concerns raised here on Genii and feel that the advice was beneficial in pushing me to think of other ways to achieve my goal. My original interest in the shock device was in finding a way to inject a little more realism into the interactions on stage. To accomplish this, I wanted the participant to believe that the machine had gone awry and to reduce the clown element of the presentation. I do not mean that the presentation should be serious, but rather lighthearted in a way that one might muddle through when something went wrong during a performance. The suggestion of adding sparks etc. missed the key experiential element that I wanted. So I decided to try to create an experience that was not negative, shocking, or in anyway abusive of my volunteer, and at the same time have the volunteer experience the glitch in the machinery. To accomplish this, I created a crank handle that the assistant is asked to turn. The outer surface is a thin plastic tube of the sort one would use in repairing a sink drain. This covers a second tube of heavy PVC pipe with a large opening cut out of one side(to set up the effect). There is a trigger which operates a bang device (spring loaded cap mechanism) inside the enclosed handle after the handle is turned a small number of times.

The assistant hears the muted pop of the cap and feels a slightly bulging of the handle. There is a clear sense that something went wrong, but the volunteer is completely isolated from the cap and is therefore in no danger at all. The effect is more bewildering than shocking, and it communicates the essential message that the machine has malfunctioned for real.

Thanks again to all who shared their thoughts with me,
Umpa
Cheers,
Umpa Duze
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