Acer -- Bucking the Stereotype

Discuss the tricks and sleights which appear in Genii.

Postby Guest » 06/23/04 12:48 PM

This informal survey of free association amongst (I guess are) laypersons is the tip of the iceberg. Strong trends towards being perceived as dated paradigms developed quickly with only 21 responses.
I know that 21 responses isn't enough to base a solid relation; hundreds or maybe thousands along many demographics would be required to more accurately understand the layman's perception. I'm just surprised that these trends in this survey developed so quickly and so commonly. Geeez!
Thank you, David Acer. You've really hit the nail on the head. You've also given me a lot to think about regarding my relationship with my audiences.
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Postby Lisa Cousins » 06/26/04 09:54 AM

I've been immersed in the world of magic and magicians for a good while now, and if someone were to ask me what I thought of when I heard the word "magician," I would say "rabbit out of a hat."

Is that so wroonnngggg?

On the one hand, you could say "dated," but on the other you could say "classic."

I'd bet that most people, when they hear the word "opera," conjure up the image of a braided lady wailing away in a viking helmet, yet I very much doubt that opera buffs worry about this general public perception of their art.

Rabbit out of a hat and Brunhilda are just a kind of visual shorthand, handy for cartoonists and the like.
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Postby Jon Racherbaumer » 06/26/04 10:32 AM

Over thirty years ago, the late Ernie Heldman (formerly of St. Louis) put out a manuscript titled "The Magic of Magic," which gathered a great number of examples from current media (newspapers and magazines)that showed the frequency that advertisers used the word or images of "magic" and "magicians." These words (in all its forms), particularly the former, are still used with abandon; perhaps too advertising is largely responsible for inculcating and ingraining the stereotypes (of what a magician is and does).

The Rabbit and Hat, Merlin, Mandrake, Wands, and so on are mind-numbingly used.

Films, especially comedies, more typically depict the magician as a geek, lounge act, birthday-party clown, or low-end novelty act...which is unfortunate.

Those struggling in the biz have long fought to overcome these negative, demeaning stereotypes...

It also seems like magic-as-a-performance-art, depending on the culture it finds itself and at different times in history, has its ups and downs. Before Doug Henning, Copperfield, Blaine, and the hey-day of televised specials, "magic" was in a down-cycle. When night clubs and other post-WW II venues dried up, live television provided a boost (Mark Wilson, Don Alan, Eniw Heldman, and others).

The Magic Castle, though still active, is not what it was during its peak years.

The magic bars, particularly in Chicago, had a hey-day lasting several decades. Now the magic bar scene, except for Malones, appears moribund.

With S & R gone in Vegas, it will be interesting to see how the magic scene there fares in the next ten years.

Otherwise, I sense a sea-change brewing out there. Those magicians in the biz are scrambling and adapting. Magic clubs are mostly peopled by older magicians, and the hey-day of the great magic shops is over, slaughtered by the Internet.
Where is the infusion of young magicians who stay the course?

I fear that a down-cycle coming...or at least a dip. If this comes to pass, then the stereotypes will morph again.

Nevertheless, I still whisper:

Onward...
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 06/26/04 11:10 AM

Originally posted by Jon Racherbaumer:
...Where is the infusion of young magicians who stay the course?
Magic remains intrinsic to human experience. Much like happiness or awe.

As to finding young people to perpetuate the follies of old... let's give them a break and watch how they adapt available ideas and methods to suit their environment.
Mundus vult decipi
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Postby Pete Biro » 06/26/04 11:29 AM

ROCKER... Hey, the Magic Castle is MORE than it was in "the good old days" -- you need to come by... lots of top guys working, lots of action, fun, and great people hangin' (No, we don't have Vernon, Miller, Ose anymore, but we have Haydn, Fisher, Ogawa, and others) so don't bury the joint... and the new Chef Arnold is cookin' up a storm...

And the number of Teen Magicians, and their "chops" at the last WMS in Las Vegas would amaze you.

And the THEM specials, will wake up another load of dudes dying to be kewl.

I gotta tell you, things have changed, but they always do.

The quantity of some of the products that are moving will fry your thoughts...

:cool: :cool: :cool:
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Postby Matthew Field » 06/26/04 02:36 PM

I wrote about this subject in the preface to Eugene Burger's "Strange Ceremonies." The name most laypeople associate with magic is Houdini, who died 80 years ago. The image they most associate with a magician is, I think, Mickey Mouse in the "Sorceror's Apprentice" sequence from Disney's "Fantasia." (Although this may have changed with the advent of the Harry Potter and "Lord of the Rings" movies.)

My point in that piece of writing was that Eugene Burger's approach, to integrate a bit of Bizarre Magick into non-Bizarre performances, might lend a bit of fresh air to outdated memes. (Jesus -- I'm starting to sound like Racherbaumer!)

It is that outdated image which Don Alan, Doug Henning, David Copperfield, David Blaine and Marco Tempest (among many others) have attempted, each in his own way, to change.

Obviously, as David Acer notes in his excellent article, we still have a very long way to go.

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Postby Jeff Haas » 06/26/04 09:07 PM

I don't think we'll ever lose the stereotyped image of the magician in a tux, pulling a rabbit out of a hat. It's an icon that's been part of popular culture for years.

Like a lot of icons, it gets recycled over and over...notice sometime how many mad scientists in lab coats you see in TV commercials. They get used for cat food, sandwiches, car safety, etc.

And it's easy to name the other icons...dumb old dad, the mean boss, the milkman (even though they don't exist any more), clowns, rappers, action heros...the list goes on.

A lot of people run variety performers together...clown/magician/juggler seems to be one concept in a lot of minds.

You're never going to change the icon. All you can ever do is the best performance you're capable of, using skill, original ideas and engaging the audience. Then people will say, "Oh, this guy is different, he's not like all those others."

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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 06/26/04 09:23 PM

Originally posted by Jeff Haas:
...You're never going to change the icon. ...
Unfortunately, such is what distinguishes the magician from the entertainer who does tricks.

Icons serve a popular culture in much the same way as words serve a language. It is a modest feat to add or shift the associations between the symbol and the emotional context.

It is a less modest feat to replace the visual component of an icon. Some consideration should be given before detaching the visual symbol from its emotional context, as such could be less than ecological for the audience.

For example, consider the characters in the movie Shrek2.

Did anyone else cringe about the line 'the ogre I married' ?
Mundus vult decipi
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Postby Guest » 06/26/04 11:19 PM

Man, Jonathan, your post kicked my rump! It took me a while but I think I get it. How's this?

You're saying that easier to alter (shift) or add to the existing perception than it is to completely change it. And that changing it (replacing), or trying to change it better be thought out thoroughly, or such a change could well be counter-productive.

That leads me to think that these icons (perceptions) evolve over time. Will this free association actually evolve? Will there be a cataclismic event(s) to "assist" this? Can this evolution be manipulated, or will it happen regardless?

These are just thoughts. I've always been intrigued with people's perceptions of both Magic and Live Gaming. Both cut like knives to the heart of the Human Condition. And that is cool.

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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 06/29/04 06:37 PM

Originally posted by Friday:
... Will there be a cataclysmic event(s) to "assist" this? Can this evolution be manipulated, or will it happen regardless? ...
The Shrek2 characters, like little red riding hood's cross dressing wolf foil are good examples of reframing in action.
No cataclysm required. Evolution happens as it happens. There was a movie that almost affected people and an icon long ago. Silent Night, Deadly Night. It was almost banned.

I suggest magic could do with a few well chosen reframes. Emphasize the 'well chosen'. We don't need to be mocked by people asking what size batteries our wands take...
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Postby Pete Biro » 06/29/04 07:48 PM

Shrek2 was genius from top to bottom.
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Postby Guest » 06/29/04 11:06 PM

Thank you Jonathan. I'm beginning to understand how you used the word "reframe" in lieu of "replace." Profound work. :genii:
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Postby Guest » 06/30/04 04:07 AM

Thought-provoking posts such as Jonathan's post of 27 June make me realise what a truly excellent forum this is. Thank you.

Dave
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Postby Guest » 08/29/04 11:22 PM

My late rabbit, Trixie, would never worry about the stereotype of a magician pulling a rabbit from a hat. She would sit docily in my hat, let the children pet her and would select a card from a fanned deck (this is an instinctive behavior, most rabbits will pluck a card from a proffered fan and sling it to one side.) Trixie was the part of the show the kids loved and would remember. In the years I was doing these shows, I never had an unhappy customer. So, if the lay person thinks magic = rabbit from a hat, I may be partly to blame from showing exactly that for years to lots of little kids. Not necessarily a bad thing....
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Postby Guest » 08/31/04 02:40 PM

If anyone is interested about this sort of association theories due look for any Consumer Behaviour book and check the chapter on Consumer memory.

It seems that the most powerful period and image of magicias was when the rabbits were pulled out of a hat. Perhaps the image has since scattered and thus no new image has taken that place. Meaning, we have too many images in our heads today so we will rely the old one which is the dominant one.

Another reason could be that people are not considering Copperfiel, S&R, Blaine etc as magicians. Maybe a very different answer could be if the recall cue would be an illusionist? Mystical entertainer? That sort of things.

On another point, how negative is this connotation of a magician and a properly dressed gentleman with a rabbit in his hat? I have started to feel a great respect for manipulators who are always so nicely dressed and their action is purely (from the audience point of view) sleight of hand. I wish there would be more! And I also believe that if there would be more manipulators they would shift (in that memory network) from magician to a subgroup that is remembered on its own.

If we follow the theory, we should have a network model where under the nod magician would be several links to several nods. These nods could be for example, fun, mystical, manipulators, illusionist, gentlemen, unbelievable, skill etc. etc.

I will stop my rant now. I could go on forever as this is one of the main subjects of my thesis.
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Postby Alexander Crawford » 10/26/04 03:29 AM

Originally posted by Jeff Haas:
You're never going to change the icon.
To change the icon, we need to change the stereotype.

It seems to me that stand-up comedians successfully did just this in the 80s with the introduction of alternative comedy.

It ruffled a lot of feathers then, but is now so ingrained that the term "alternative" is almost inappropriate.

How did they do it? I think they made the comedy:
  • a bit more topical
  • a bit more "edgy"
  • and more relevant to the audience

So we've just got to work out how we can change the stereotype and consequently the icon. Probably not the same way ... except that relevance must be key somehow!
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Postby Brian Marks » 10/26/04 10:17 PM

stand up comics changed their icons several times in the last 50 years here in the US.

I love Yiddish Catskill comics who stared in English and ended in Yiddish. This and mother in law jokes. It all had the same rytham from all the comics. No difference untile Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl showed up. Robert Klein changed stand up once again.

Can Magicians change their icon? not without televison
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 10/27/04 04:40 AM

Originally posted by Brian Marks:
Can Magicians change their icon? not without television
We have an additional problem that comics don't face. We have Harry Potter and Gandlof in a media cat fight over whose robes we should wear on the catwalk of public awareness.

Add to this media predisposition, that of the bizarrists whose fashion sense intrudes on the Wiccans and begs for notoriety as what the media call satan worshipers.

Lenny Bruce was lucky to get away with dressing as a Catholic preist. We face a different and more deeply rooted problem as our craft seeks not to mock or provide a vent for social forces, but to change, even for just a moment, how people see their worlds.

Are we ready for a magician who goes out and does what Lenny Bruce did? How would we feel if they wound up the way Lenny Bruce did?
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Postby AMCabral » 10/27/04 09:13 AM

Are we ready for a magician who goes out and does what Lenny Bruce did?
Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't that almost precisely what Penn & Teller have done?

-T
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 10/27/04 11:26 AM

Originally posted by AntonioMCabral:
Are we ready for a magician who goes out and does what Lenny Bruce did?
Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't that almost precisely what Penn & Teller have done?

-T
Penn may be brash, though I sincerely doubt P&T are looking to provoke thought in their audiences.

I agree they have been somewhat annoying to those in our community who fret over exposure. Staying with a general audience perspective, can you imagine them doing a two human transposition with a black guy and a white guy? Then perhaps finishing the trick by showing four Chinese kids and both guys nowhere in sight? It's a cute coin trick that might translate well to an illusion show if you can get away with non PC material.

I like P&T, just don't see them as out there making a difference the way Lenny Bruce did.
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Postby AMCabral » 10/27/04 12:27 PM

Penn may be brash, though I sincerely doubt P&T are looking to provoke thought in their audiences.

I agree they have been somewhat annoying to those in our community who fret over exposure. Staying with a general audience perspective, can you imagine them doing a two human transposition with a black guy and a white guy? Then perhaps finishing the trick by showing four Chinese kids and both guys nowhere in sight? It's a cute coin trick that might translate well to an illusion show if you can get away with non PC material.

I like P&T, just don't see them as out there making a difference the way Lenny Bruce did.
I disagree wholly.

First of all, Penn and Teller are all about provoking thought in their audiences. That's what all the so-called "exposure" is all about. Their early piece about the principles of sleight-of-hand with Teller "smoking a cigarette" is entirely about provoking thought in regards to deception, illusion and paranoia...and there's no "effect" involved. It entertains by provoking thought.

Secondly, there's nothing un-PC about the stage illusion you describe. Dante did the "backstage" illusion on "You Asked For It" and instead of his white female assitant, the surprse is out pops his black manservant. Nice contrast, but if there's someone in the audience actually offended by the mere sight of a black person, they've got bigger problems and need more provocative thought than a magic show can provide. Besides, this has been covered in comedy movie and even beer commercials. Hardly provocative fare.

Lenny Bruce wasn't just about shouting "f***" in a crowded theater. It was the topics under discussion that were the issue. And if you don't think P&T are in the same ballpark, watch "Bulls***" some time. Watch them jump on secondhand smoke and bottled water. And they're cursing, too!

-T
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Postby Matthew Field » 10/27/04 12:43 PM

As a huge admirer of Lenny Bruce, I'm not sure I'd compare P&T with him in terms of the groundbreaking he did, but it is also true that P&T have used their magic to address large social issues.

I am thinking in particular of their T&R with the U.S. Constitution, although many of their routines are thoughtful explorations or challenges of things our socity takes for granted.

I have the highest regard for these gentlemen. All three of them.

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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 10/27/04 01:08 PM

Originally posted by AntonioMCabral:
I disagree wholly.

First of all, Penn and Teller are all about provoking thought in their audiences. That's what all the so-called "exposure" is all about.
I guess we disagree. To me at least, Lenny Bruce went after racism and the Catholic Church ( some of its institutional behaviors - not the faith ) while as you say, P&T did a torn and restored with a copy of the constitution, and flustered a few magicians with some exposure in routines. Okay we disagree.

The mention of a race transposition may have been couched in PC language. My bad. Same for the oblique reference to Lenny Bruce's startling call-outs of the audience by using ethnic slurs.

I don't know how safe it is to do what Lenny Bruce did long ago. Some argue that we already have legislators taking our constitution and doing a T&R with its contents under cover of an act of Patriot(ism). Tough act to follow when a magician uses symbols, and legislators use the courts and police.

Agreed about comedy looking at the race issue. The wonderful film by Eddie Murphy and the gang at SNL years ago showing a black man made up to pass as white and experiencing a completely different world was groundbreaking. Another difficult act to follow when Chris Rock as already publicly commented that he is rich and even for all his wealthy, no white person would trade places with him.

Okay we disagree about P&T. I hope we are agreed about the basic history and content of Lenny Bruce's work.

*
I take the position that in order to change a public perception we need to offer more potent and viable images than the ones they already have of us.
*
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Postby Guest » 10/28/04 08:09 PM

Lenny Bruce wasn't cutting edge...he was more of a jagged edge.

He appeared on stage naked more than once. He got fired for "blue material." He stabbed into religion, politics, human sexuality, Hitler, the Jewish faith, race relations, patriotism...T & A. He squirted Pearl Bailey with a fire extinguisher. He was arrested and convicted for drug possession numerous times. He was arrested and tried for obscenity numerous times. He once fired his own attorney to conduct his own defence... :rolleyes: He fell out of a hotel window...He died of a morphine overdose at the age of 40.

The man was a comedian. The man was shocking. The man was loved and hated. The man altered our perceptions. The man was controversial. The man was an ANIMAL. And all in the public eye; it made him an icon.

To my knowledge, no magician in the world even comes close in comparison to this man and what he did and the effect he had on society's mind and its perceptions. Maybe John Belushi or Jim Morrison did...waaal...maybe...'cept they aren't magicians.

Penn and Teller probably could if they wanted to. If they really really wanted to, they could cut like surgeons cleanly to the heart of our emotions. But they'd lose that gig at the Rio if they took it toooo far, as far as Bruce did. So why bother? Eh? Why bother?

I offer this. One needs to be a lunatic to alter perception and to be cutting edge. One needs to do something successfully that has NOT been done before to change perception, or hasn't been done for more than 100 years to change the perception. Who do we know...up & coming...that has this potential? Who? Name one. Heck...name two...name them all...and be ready for the onslaught of comments from others about why they do or don't agree the choices are different.

David Blaine came THAT close to doing it. The world saw him take conjuring out of the theaters and out of the birthday parties and out of the restaurants and put it back on the streets. He did it on TV! He put magic on the streets...right back where it came from! He was a MAGICIAN. He was Shocking. He was Loved and Hated...(still is!) Add controversial. Add "animal."

Then he quit. Instead of magic and sorcery, he started doing daredevil "stunts" like "30 Days in a Bowl of Jello." I honestly think that he was minutes away from fundamentally altering everyones' perceptions of magic and magicians large scale. Minutes...INCHES.

Please don't turn this topic into a Blaine Bashing session. I'm only stating my little opinions on what I got from watching his TV shows and listening to everyone talk about him when the first shows were aired. I felt and understood that he wasn't fitting into the stereotypical form of "today's magician." In and of itself, that simple fact is very interesting to me.

I can't help but think how Magic would be seen through the eyes of our guests if he had done more shows like his first ones.

Gentlemen...call the fire department.
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