I think that Joe has stimulated what I hope will be a positive and important dialogue.
There seems to be a belief in the industry that the standard descriptive words "magician" and "mentalist" are enough to turn a prospective client off. The oft-repeated "hire a bad musician, hire another musician; hire a bad magician, never hire another magician" are used to describe public perception of the entire industry and to decry the low state of quality in the marketplace.
Simply retitling oneself "deceptionist" or "illusionator" or even "chief entertainment officer" is not necessarily enough to combat negative public opinion. It is simply a way to fool oneself that what *we* provide is special, while what *they* provide is crap. Titles are only that, titles. They are about as meaningful as the phrase "award-winning" when the competition is a local one in which every competitor was awarded a title to avoid hurting anyone's feelings. The title does not help the buyer when they are seeking a service, it just adds more smoke to the screen.
The terms mentalist or magician are very valid to the buyer. They describe, in part, the medium you perform in. The what. When people are looking for a performance of magic, it helps them to use that term to search. The "how" is what distinguishes one performer from another and is just one factor that sets them apart from others offering that basic service. It also can be used as a metric to differentiate an exceptional performer from a competent one.
Would it be helpful if all performers aspired to being more than competent? Would it be nice if performers targeted specific markets and focused on exceptional service? Wouldn't it be great if we could all agree on what a "magic" performance is?
The answers to all of these might be in the affirmative, but there is no one answer except this: do your best. Provide good value and keep your client's best interest as the core of whatever you aspire to and you can't go wrong.
As an industry this is arguably what we suffer from the most: not enough people working in the best interest of our clients and our industry.
As someone who has managed to eke out a decent living performing magic the last twenty-plus years, I might recommend the following: focus on producing the best show you can, design it for the audience *you* desire, and do good work. Treat every performance as an audition for another performance (it is) and do no harm. I heard a wise performer once remark that if you remember that in every show there may be one audience member who has never experienced what you do and may never see another magic performance, you are more likely to feel the responsibility associated with your work and aspire to do your best.
After all, we are makers of memories. What memories we create are up to us. We owe it to the audience in front of us to inspire a passion within them to look at the world with fresh eyes and leave them full of joy.
Which, after all, is one feeling we all desire...