A couple of weeks ago I performed a corporate show at the Grand Hotel in Brighton. After the show I was chatting to a couple of audience members and one paid me a compliment along the lines of “When I see someone on television reading minds I always assume it’s fake. The audience are in on it or something has been set up in advance but seeing you do it for real blew my mind!” A really lovely compliment. We ended up chatting about TV magic and the extent to which it can be faked. That night I got home, put on the TV and discovered a new magic show late on channel 5. The performer claimed to be a mind reader and then proceeded to perform a number of routines that could only be carried out for TV due to the heavy editing required to make them appear even remotely magical. So to what extent is magic on tv faked?
When magic first came to television many thought it wouldn’t work. Magic requires so much misdirection and whilst it’s possible to misdirect an audience directly in front of you, it’s not so easy to misdirect an audience sitting at home. This problem was resolved with camera angles. When the magician was up to no good ensure the camera was pointed elsewhere. Nothing wrong with this. Just misdirection on a more extreme level. Camera tricks were used, the most famous example of this was David Copperfields disappearance of the Statue of Liberty. A trick that relied solely on camera trickery and impossible to perform for an actual audience. Less sure if this is acceptable. My view is that if you can’t perform a trick one on one to an actual person it shouldn’t be performed at all. The 90’s and early 2000’s saw the rise of magic fakery on TV. Entire routines were being performed that couldn’t be shown in real life. Audience members were stooges and reactions were faked. Obviously this is not magic, just acting.
In recent years it has become increasingly popular to only show half the trick on TV. Everything is set up in advance, the viewers at home only get to see the later half of the trick. What you’re seeing may appear miraculous but to those actually taking part they’re only seeing a mediocre magic trick. A good example of this is the show, which shall remain nameless, I saw on Channel 5 a few nights ago. To the TV viewer the magician appeared to ask someone to look at any of their contacts on their phone. He then “read the mind” of the participant and told them the name they were thinking of. He then asked them to send this person a message, the magician could tell them exactly what the message was. A true miracle right? Except what you didn’t see was that prior to the cameras turning on the magician briefly borrowed the persons phone, by using a clever and quite illegal bit of technology, they cloned the persons phone so they would know every message that was being sent. The fact that the magician had to resort to illegal methods to perform a trick that if shown in full wouldn’t have flown past the most naïve viewer proves the weakness of television magic. This isn’t editing for the sake of brevity or to take the place of misdirection as with early TV magic. This is plain fraud. As I stated before, if it can’t be performed in real life it shouldn’t be on TV. If you want camera trickery, watch the latest super hero film. The audience is being conned and if you saw this magician performing in real life you’d be highly disappointed.
Due to the ease with which people can pause, rewind, watch in slow motion and download to you tube, where every move can be analysed, I can understand why more editing is required but there is a vast dichotomy between clever editing and all out fakery and too many modern magicians are choosing to fake their tricks for TV. Amongst the esoteric world of magician there is an entire market for you tube magic tricks. Tricks that you can perform on your social media channel which look amazing with a camera directly in front of you. If these same tricks were performed in the real world no one would be fooled. TV magic has created a genre of magician who spend their entire lives isolated in their bedrooms performing for a camera, completely incapable of performing for actual real people. Whilst this is probably the best place for them, to appreciate the pure joy of magic it needs to witnessed in person. TV will always be a pale imitation of the art of magic and modern magic is often nothing more than camera trickery and bad acting by the performer and the audience.
There are many great performers of TV magic out there, David Blaine and Derren Brown to name a few but increasingly modern TV magicians don’t have the requisite set of skills to perform for an intelligent audience and instead resort to faking it. Magic has found a new popularity in recent years and thanks to this there are live magic shows being performed in theatres, bars and restaurants throughout the UK every night. To get a true impression of the joy that a performance of magic can bring you need to get away from your TV screen and view one of these shows close up and personal.
Edward Crawford is a professional mind reader, also known as a mentalist. He performs throughout the world at corporate events, private parties and weddings. Each year he puts on a number of public shows, contact him for more details. This particular blog came about following a conversation after a show in Brighton and as the main purpose of blogging is to create links for my website here’s more details about hiring a Brighton magician. For the rest of the world hit the home button at the top.