Greetings once again, my fellow curmudgeons.
This past week, I found myself thinking about how deeply I loathe magic. I suppose it's just one item on a long list of performance genres that I find odious (a list that would most certainly include professional wrestling, one-person plays, mime, ice dancing, and anything called performance art). And yet, in a way, magic stands alone in its obnoxiousness.
To some extent, we who attend performances do so in order to watch others do things we can't. We may buy tickets to see an extraordinarily skillful singer or actor, an insightful speaker, a gifted musician, an inspired dancer, or a clever comic. And, to be sure, part of the entertainment is the opportunity to marvel at their superior abilities. But only at a magic show are spectators treated to an ongoing demonstration of their own shortcomings. And that seems to be the extent of the entertainment. They watch someone do something that appears magical, knowing full well that there's a logical explanation, and knowing full well that they almost certainly will not be able to figure it out. And what's the big payoff? "Yep. You got me again. I cannot fathom how you did that." What fun.
What kinds of people learn magic tricks? People with naturally magnetic personalities? People who just like to make others happy? Those with great generosity of spirit? No. It's the misfit who never got enough attention as a child. These are the same guys who carry around a pet snake or bring a guitar to a party. But the magic trick guys are worse. They’re the ones with the perverse need to entertain captive audiences by showing them puzzles they can’t solve. They’re those smug sons of bitches who love to flaunt their ability to leave you baffled.
If you ever, as a child, encountered the bully who'd make you hit yourself repeatedly while demanding, "Why are you hitting yourself? Why are you hitting yourself?" then you know the humiliation of being forced to participate in your own defeat. So it is with magicians. "I just made that coin disappear. Where'd it go? Huh? Bet you don't know. Oh, you want to see my other hand? Sure. Oh, look! It's not there either, dummy. Wait a minute, what's that behind your ear? Don't you even know what's behind your own ear? Oh, look: it's the coin. How'd it get there? Huh? Huh? Boy, are you stupid."
All right. Fine. Magicians might not use those exact words in their acts, but we all know the mockery is implied.
And yet people buy tickets to magic shows, don't they? They line right up and file in and take their seats. They ooh and ahh as the overdramatic music surges, watching trick after trick and thinking “Wow! How did he do that?”—a question that will never be answered. Some will even volunteer to participate, knowing full well that magic tricks are not designed to favor the dignity of the volunteer. The Curmudgeon cannot begin to explain what draws these masochistic rubes to willingly submit themselves to public ridicule. Then again, there are people who pay good money to be humiliated in other ways and I can't understand that either.
For those who crave an even greater degree of public embarrassment, there is magic’s louder, more intrusive cousin, the hypnotist act, in which an alleged hypnotist puts his subjects under and makes them act like chickens and such. I don’t know how he does it, and also, I don’t care. I know there’s some sort of fakery involved and, much as I’d love to spend hours pondering how the bamboozlement is executed, it so happens I have some socks that need darning.
While I realize there are at least enough magic lovers out there to keep the illusion business thriving, I’d be quite content to never hear “Is this your card?” again. Honestly, the only magic the Curmudgeon wants to see is someone making all the magicians disappear . . . I don't even need to know how it's done. Abracadabra!