Some magicians think too much. That’s how Glenn Bishop ends a post he made which was in response to my post about justifying the Okito box. While I would agree that some magicians think too much about the mechanics of a trick and work themselves into a corner so doing, I find the notion of thinking too much about the underlying motivation of a trick ludicrous. In my opinion some magicians think far too little.
Glenn seems to feel that you can use any kind of prop in your performances, without justification, as long as the audience is entertained. I suppose that’s true enough. Clowns tend to use colorful and outrageous props in their performances and they can be quite entertaining. I guess it really comes down to what kind of magician you want to be.
Personally, I want to create a realistic experience of the impossible, I don’t want to be the magician equivalent of a clown. Because I want to create a realistic experience of the impossible, I try to use props that make sense in the real world, props that the people I’m performing for can understand. On the rare occasions when I deviate from this protocol and employ an unusual prop, I want to have sound motivation for doing so, a reason that makes sense, if only in the context of the effect.
When we use a prop that makes no objective sense it detracts from the effect created. If it really didn’t matter, you could use one of these babies to produce something instead of doing a bare handed production. Which would an audience find more magical?
Glenn argues that in the case of the Okito if you go to the trouble of justifying it you have to also justify the use of half dollars and English pennies. I would point out that coins, even rare coins, exist in the real world – they make sense in and of themselves. A little round metal box you carry the coins in doesn’t. There’s no sound reason to carry the coins in the box, as I pointed out in the original post, especially if they’re rare coins which you don’t want damaged. I don’t know this just seems like common sense to me. Christ, if this constitutes over thinking I’m in serious trouble.
As I thought I made clear in the original post, coming up with a motivation for using an unusual object isn’t all that hard – it wasn’t like I was racking my brain to come up with the pick pocket scenario, I just exercised my imagination a little and tried to come up with a viable justification for using the thing. It worked and worked well. I was using it in my stand up act and it was always well received. So why would some magicians be resistant to searching out motivation when it’s not all that hard?
First, I think some magicians are simply lazy. No doubt it’s easier to say, “Well it’s all magic anyway,” and just use whatever props you want without coming up with any reasons. Then again, I guess some are simply incapable of exercising the limited bit of intellect needed to fashion a reasonable motivation. They tell themselves that as long as it’s entertaining it doesn’t matter. But again, clowns are entertaining, a monkey riding a little bicycle is entertaining, prop comics can be entertaining. Magic without motivation might be entertaining, but it’s a superficial species of entertainment at best, a series of empty tricks that do little more than pass the time. There’s no broader meaning imparted, no deeper engagement of minds. It is in a word empty.
I think the other reason some magicians take the easy way and ignore motivation is the mistaken assumption that laymen are idiots. Laymen are doctors and lawyers and teachers and scientists and on and on. Most laymen, when watching a trick that involves a strange prop, are going to immediately cop to the fact that the prop is somehow responsible. That’s fine if your intent is to trick people. Not worth a shit if you want to leave them with no explanation.
My two cents. See you next time.