Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Magic Circle Jerk

That broadly cynical bite in the opening sentence of my last post reminded me, as I was writing it, of Andy, the anonymous genius behind one of the greatest conceptual masterpieces the magic world has ever seen.


A couple of years ago, Andy made a fairly innocuous comment on The Magic Cafe, a popular Internet forum for magicians and wannabe magicians. Someone posted the question, "What's a good magic trick for picking up girls?" (The percentage of dorks on the Cafe is similar to the percentage of dorks in the magic community at large, which is to say about 95%.) Andy replied, "The Magic Ding Dong," a reference to a well-known smutty climax to the popular (and criminally overused) Sponge Balls trick.

Well, this silly little bit of risque humor got Andy banned from The Magic Cafe on the grounds that it was "inappropriate." No warning, no "check the rules and please refrain from making this type of post in the future." Just a flat-out ban.

I'm sure Cafe owner and operator Steve Brooks has regretted this banning ever since, because Andy's response was to start a blog, The Magic Circle Jerk, whose entire original purpose was to make fun of the Magic Cafe and it's overweight owner.

This is my forum to talk shit about magic and magicians. If you aren't into magic, you probably won't like it. If you are into magic, you probably won't like it either.

Rather quickly, The Magic Circle Jerk morphed into a more general blog about the sad state of magic and magicians. At the time, serious critical voices within the magic community were few and far between, so every post seemed like a blast of pure oxygen into a stale and stagnant community. As an added blessing, Andy proved to be an extraordinary blogger: by turns literate and raunchy, scathingly witty, ferociously astute, and casually hip.

Within a few months and with virtually no self-promotion, Andy's readership encompassed a quite healthy swath of the magic community. Andy had an amazing ability to cut right to the meat of any magic-related issue and find comic gold with his lacerating dissections. Frequent readers of this blog have probably followed more than one link to a Magic Circle Jerk post; in general, once Andy had covered a topic all the other magic blogs that sprang up in his wake had to scramble to find anything useful to add to the discussion.

I probably read the entire two+ years of MCJ posts all the way through at least three of four times; they were that astute and that funny. A small sampling of the topics either inspired by or covered by Andy:

The pros and cons of anonymous bloggers
The inanity of much of magic
The inanity of most magicians
The hypocrisy, greed, and inanity of magic marketing
The inanity of much of what passes for discussion on The Magic Cafe
The hypocrisy, greed, and, er, gluttony of Cafe founder Steve Brooks

Andy's beef with the Cafe emerged because of a double standard he noted; Cafe sponsors, especially if they were somewhat well-known in the magic community, got to say things mere mortals like Andy couldn't. As The Magic Circle Jerk became better known, Andy claimed to be getting inside information about the shady way the Cafe was run (exaggerating membership numbers in order to attract more advertisers, for instance), some of which he posted on his blog.

For a while (and perhaps still) Cafe members could get themselves banned just by mentioning The Magic Circle Jerk in a posting.

Andy always gave people a chance to respond, and some of the idiotic responses he got were jaw-droppingly funny. People threatened to sue him, threatened to beat him up, called him names...It's not a stretch to say that Andy was the Howard Stern of magic, the guy who broke open all the taboos with a combination of intellect, comedy, and scorching bad taste.

In one of his most inspired undertakings, Andy ran a contest to see who could start and maintain the most idiotic thread on The Magic Cafe. Circle Jerkers got points if their posts stayed up, which meant they couldn't be obviously fake (and with genuine threads like, "Which are better for card tricks, red-backed cards or blue-backed cards?", the challenge was harder than it seemed). I don't remember what post won, and it doesn't really matter. The point was that you really couldn't tell the fake moronic posts from the real ones.

Through all of this, Andy remained anonymous. From his posts one could determine the following:

He lives in New York.
He's probably somewhere between twenty-five and thirty-five (I'd guess around thirty).
He's very knowledgeable about magic.
He's very well educated.

From my own back and forth with Andy about psi research, I know that he has some mathematical and/or scientific training. Other than that, I know nothing. On his old Magic Rants blog (now reborn as MagiCentric), Steve Pellegrino claimed he knew where Andy worked.

As far as I know, no one else has a clue who this guy is. Rumors occasionally bounced around that he's actually a well-known magician who couldn't speak out under his own name for fear of losing his esteemed place in the magic world. But nothing ever came of any of the stories; Andy remains an enigma.

Since Andy started The Magic Circle Jerk, scores of magic blogs have sprung up. Many of them try to follow in Andy's footsteps; most of those come across as petty and nasty rather than astute. It's the difference between Jon Stewart and Michael Savage, wit and insight contrasted with infantile ranting.

A new generation of magicians has appeared on the scene in last decade, hip young magicians bred on David Blaine, Penguin Magic, and yes, The Magic Circle Jerk. For the first time in my lifetime, the public's image of a magician isn't necessarily the "fat guy in a bad tux with birds" (as Penn Jillette used to say). Young magicians are more aware of both their audiences and themselves -- and it shows in their performances.

The influence of The Magic Circle Jerk cannot be overstated, in my opinion. The Web has facilitated an open exchange of ideas impossible in previous eras, and among magic voices MCJ was in the vanguard of that shift. Many who never read it, indeed who never even heard of it, are benefitting from the dialogue wrought by MCJ. There have always been individual iconoclastic voices in every field; magic has had its Jarretts, its Annemans. But it took the distributed, networked power of the web to bring such a refreshingly caustic voice to the masses (of magicians).


On Tuesday, November 29th, at 2:22 a.m., the entire Magic Circle Jerk blog, archives and all, vanished with a --POOF--. It's Andy's final turn of the screw, his closing masterpiece, the sublime crowning touch of his short and brilliant career. I hope against hope that he remains anonymous forever, the Erdnase of his day, an enigmatic figure who arrived on the scene, changed the face of magic, and vanished into myth.

The historian in me would like to see his complete archives turn up in an expensive coffee-table book for the holidays, a Protocols of The Magic Circle Jerk. Of course, without those everpresent and hilarious links, a coffee table book of MCJ would probably be a leaden affair indeed. Perhaps it can reappear somewhere on the Web, an essential document in the early Twenty-first Century salvation of magic.

This was my forum to talk shit about magic and magicians. If you weren't into magic, you probably didn't like it. If you were into magic, you probably didn't like it either.


Anonymous said...

I thought you might enjoy this:

PeaceLove said...

Wow, thanks! Are you Andy?

Anonymous said...

I think you know this already, but I am not. He does rule though. Thanks for your interest.

Anonymous said...

The MCJ can still be read in the Internet Archive/Wayback Machine. Try this link.

PeaceLove said...

Anonymous, you're my hero!

Anonymous said...

The thing I liked about MCJ is how it skewered the Cafe's cliquishness, its occasional nastiness, and its moderators' abuse of power (like secretly deleting posts that made them look bad). We need a blog like that that takes the high and mighty down a notch or two.

Sean Cudeck said...

Awesome. I loved the magic circle jerk, and was extremely disappointed when he took down all his posts. Anonymous, you're the best.

Sean Phillips, professional magician, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Anonymous said...

He's back. He posted a new link on his old site.