Wednesday, May 10, 2006

MCJ on Blaine (from 2004)

Okay, I swear I'm not trying to be lazy here, posting the words of others. But some things are worth revisiting. Back in December, I wrote glowingly about the now-defunct "Magic Circle Jerk" blog (original post, and follow-up) and it's anonymous maestro Andy. Well, Andy sent me an email last night urging me to keep up the good fight with regards Blaine, and he included his very funny cut-through-the-bullshit post on Blaine from 2004. I had so much fun rereading it that I asked and received permission to post it here.

If anything, this post is even more relevant today than it was two+ years ago. The naysayers hatered of Blaine has deepened. Check the Cafe and the Genii Forum.

I still have no idea who Andy is, by the way. So don't ask.

When you're done reading this, I recommend you check out John LeBlanc's thoughtful Blaine posts on his excellent Escamoteurettes blog. It's nice to see I'm not alone...


Thursday, January 22, 2004
Andy's Take On Tired Topics: David Blaine

I like David Blaine.

Shhhhh. Don't talk to me. I'm a nerd.

Oh, yeah, that's right, I like David Blaine. I enjoy his specials, I have his DVD, I've read his book. What does this say about me? I don't think it says a whole hell of a lot. Maybe that I enjoy watching magic. I like to watch people freak out. I don't know.

Freud says that in order to find out about a person, we shouldn't ask them what they like, we should ask them what they dislike.

Comedian/writer Ali Farahnakian had a great show here in NYC called "Word of Mouth" and he talked about how when people are in traffic slamming on their horn, what we hear is-- HONK HONK "Hey fuck you, buddy" HONK HONK "C'mon. Move it, Asshole!" But what they're really saying is--HONK HONK "Somebody please pay attention to me!" HONK HONK "Somebody love me!"

So I always wonder what people are really saying when they constantly bitch about Blaine. I mean, I love music, but I hate shitty groups like Matchbox 20. I think they're lame and kind of worthless. But every time someone mentions Matchbox 20 or I hear a song by them I don't get all bothered by it. I just realize people have different tastes and some people like shitty, weak, pseudo-rock and roll.

In this thread on The Magic Cafe, "Macgyver" neatly lists the reasons why people dislike Blaine (He pretends he's listing other people's reasons, but they're clearly also his). They're almost all completely ridiculous. Let's take a look:

1. Constant use of plants and stooges-- Actually, he doesn't constantly use plants and stooges. Just because you don't understand how he accomplished a trick, that doesn't mean it utilized a plant or a stooge.

2. Camera tricks. -- Oh, come on. He used a camera trick to enhance the Balducci (levitation) for television. But ultimately he was trying to dramatically represent what the spectators were actually reacting to. Let's say you could make yourself disappear but it could only be performed for a couple of people at a particular angle. You're making your TV special and you realize that if you just film your disappearance it will be obvious to the television audience what is happening. But you don't want to lose the disappearance because the reaction to it was so fantastic. So you do a camera trick for the disappearance and intersperse it with the spectators reactions to the real disappearance. Is that so awful? Maybe. I can understand if you're completely anti-camera tricks. But somehow I don't think the vitriol reserved for Blaine stems from his performance of the Balducci.

3. Doing tricks that are store bought and require little skill, such as ID/Svengali/coin bite, ect. -- I have a theory. I don't think people were mad because Blaine was doing tricks that they could do. I think people got mad because Blaine was doing tricks that they could do, but they don't. In other words, many people bought an Invisible Deck when they first got into magic, but eventually stopped doing it and got into more complicated, convoluted tricks. Then they see Blaine on TV doing tricks that they disregarded years ago, and in their heads they're thinking "Why the hell am I spending all this time trying to do an invisible pass?" And that's a good question, why are you spending all that time trying to perfect an invisible pass? But that might be a difficult question to answer, so instead I think you should probably just piss on Blaine for taking bites out of quarters.

And honestly, this should have been a happy day for magicians. Here is someone getting national exposure and doing tricks that we can duplicate. If you weren't able to turn that into a positive for yourself without denigrating Blaine, then I'm afraid your creativity is rather sterile.

4. Having no story or patter, he keeps saying "look, look, look. Watch this, Watch here, look here, look, look, look." -- You know what I hate? Fucking stories and patter. Seriously, that stuff is way overrated. I don't need someone who's all like, "The last time I was India, I purchased this mysterious box." If I were a regular spectator I'd think, "Show me the trick, but don't patronize me, asshole." I think the longer you're involved in magic the more you believe you need some kind of story to accompany a trick. When you've seen twisting the aces a million times you begin to think, "Hey, this might be better if I wrapped it in a story about Paul Revere's midnight ride." But most times, it's not. It's really not. I agree that a trick benefits from context, but I don't think that a story or intricate patter is required. In David Blaine's case, the whole context of his performance is that he is someone who comes to you with no prelude, performs something impossible for you, then he leaves. The character is meant to be mysterious. About the best idea for fucking up the character he's trying to create would be for him to come up and say, "Good evening, my name is David Blaine and I'm here to show you some wondrous magical-merriment! Now, not long ago I was in the attic of a haunted house when a leprechaun gave me this coin..."

5. The Stunts... which have nothing to do with magic, only to get him more TV coverage and specials. --Oh, my god. Someone in the entertainment industry who does things to get himself more tv coverage and specials? For shame, Mr. Blaine. For shame. And what's wrong with the stunts? I like the notion that he's pushing himself to the limits of his endurance. I think that's interesting. Maybe it's not technically magical, but here's the way I look at it: Seeing a guy standing on a pole for 3 days when he could conceivably fall and smash his head on the pavement seems much more impossible than having someone accurately predict which one of four cards I would think of (i.e. B'wave). But that shows what I know, because the same people who think the stunts are lame think B'wave is genius.

6. He calls strolling magic, "street magic", which it isn't. Street magic is an art and Blaine alienated MANY street magicians by referring to what he does as street magic. --Jesus Christ, now you're just being silly. Really, that's what you have a problem with? The fact that he calls magic that he is performing on the street, Street Magic? You're beginning to betray your real motivations.

7. He comes across looking for the screaming spectator, and trying to be cool (which he is). Not for entertaining those specific people, but to make himself appear special and weird out their sense of reality. --I don't even really understand what this means, but if you're saying that he looks for people to get good reactions from. Well, asshole, you're right. HE'S TAPING A FUCKING TV SHOW!

8. He created many Blaine-wannabe's which do nothing but expose magic and go around showing friends BAD magic. --True. But don't blame him because there are a lot of unimaginative people out there.

Now, I'm not saying everyone has to like David Blaine, but the reason a lot of people come off as jealous when they complain about him is that their complaints seem to shift with Blaine's interests.

-When he first started out people complained that he was doing simple tricks right off the shelf that they could do themselves.
-When he stopped doing simple tricks off the shelf the same people complained that he was now doing tricks that they couldn't. "Oh yeah, well if I had a gimmicked store window, I could reach in there too."
-When he does his stunts people say, "That's not magic." But at the same time they say, "He's not really doing it."

In other words, no matter what this guy does people piss on him. So that's why their indignance seems somewhat hollow.

My favorite thing is when Blaine was hanging in the box in England and all these people would get on the message boards and say, "Nobody here even cares about Blaine. It's a bore quite frankly. All the people I talk to about him think that he's an idiot and that his stunt is stupid." Whenever someone goes out of their way to tell you how little they care about something, you can be pretty certain they're full of shit. You may say you don't care about Blaine, and that you find the whole thing boring, but the fact that you're talking to your friends about him and going onto message boards to read and write posts about him reveals a different truth.

If you don't like Blaine, that's great. Don't watch his shows. Don't read about him. But as with the other topics this week, letting everyone know how much you don't like Blaine is probably a waste of some precious resources. You come off not looking like the more talented, cool, unimpressed, person you believe you do. You come off as a person saying, "Somebody please pay attention to me! Somebody love me!"
Posted by: Andy / 5:59 PM


Jeff said...

I forgot how much I miss Andy commenting on things. Glad to see he's still out there somewhere.

After watching the response to Blaine this week, it seems to me that his shows unintentionally bring out all the Old Farts (regardless of their chronological age.)

PeaceLove said...

The vitriol has been amazing to watch. On the other hand, some pro-Blaine voices have risen up as well. Like him or not, Blaine's influence is becoming clearer and clearer as a new generation of magicians grows up.

Anonymous said...

He's a fuck and an arse and I can do much better than he can. Plus, I'm better looking and get the ladies with my magic. Come on, he's doing tricks and stunts. Stunts aren't magic, and his tricks aren't much to talk about either.

Defend him all ou want, but there are many better performers out there who deserve to be where blaine is.

Rick Carruth said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rick Carruth said...

"Defend him all you want, but there are many better performers out there who deserve to be where blaine is."

Oh really? And how many of them are willing to take every penny they have and make a pilot for a certain type of magical performance they believe in, and pitch it to the network executives?

David has achieved success because he was willing to take risk when all these other 'great' magicians you talk about wouldn't.

David took the risk.. the others didn't. Now... who deserves it and who doesn't ?

You've been living in a socialist country too long pal..

Jeff said... responded to the troll. Sucker!

PeaceLove said...

Hey, children. Play nice!

Anonymous sounds like it could actually be a buddy of mine dissing Blaine for a goof (the line, "I'm better looking and get the ladies with my magic" has a fake smarminess that's too good to be true).

So how about it, anonymous. Ready to fess up?

Anonymous said...

Peacelove, you are all too kind. I've been officially outed, it's true. Just wanted to stir things up a bit, and of course you know what I really think of Blaine. In a nutshell, 2000 years ago, hell, even 500 years ago he'd be starting a new religion with what he's doing. The boy knows how to connect with people, engage our psyche, present magic, theatrically, spiritaully, and dramatically. Two thumbs up.

And Rick, so sorry you took the bait, but I love to see how passionate people are about what they believe, and you my friend, are passionate. DB deserves all the credit and more, he is a member of an elite few, who pursue a dream at all cost to self, life balance, friends, family, etc. I'd put a few athletes, a few musicians, and a few do-gooders in the same category, but not many, and certainly not many other magicians.

jb (anonymous)

PeaceLove said...

Thanks for coming clean, jb. Of course you're better looking than Blaine!

Of course.

PeaceLove said...

I think I mentioned elsewhere another quality that distinguishes Blaine from many of his imitators: taste. He has hired great people at every step of his organization, true, but ultimately he is responsible for everything on those specials. Love him or hate him, you can't argue that his performance suffers from the kind of schlocky, kitschy overtones that mar not only so much of magic, but so much of the American mediasphere as well. Blaine is low-key, warm, and gracious with everyone he encounters.

I actually agree with some comments on The Magic Cafe and Genii Forum about one place Blaine stepped over the line: in his account of the woman free-diver who drowned. I understand his desire to establish the danger of the sport with real story, but the way he presented it, with footage of the drowned woman being pulled up, seemed exploitative to me and, apparently, many others. I wish Blaine could have found a better way to make the point, or even tell the story, without that sensationalistic footage.

Rick Carruth said...

Darnnit guys! I though I had jumped a bushwhacker and I was ready to unload..

Actually, I've gone from forum to forum and blog to blog the last three days defending David's right to do whatever he wants. It's his dime, after all.

I do not automatically like everything David does. He dould have included considerably more magic on this special, with two hours to play with..

But.. as I've said over and over the past couple of days, -IF- you are a real, honest to goodness, working magician, then you owe a debt of gratitude to David Blaine. Just as a number of pro golfers are wary of Tiger Wood, none seem to complain when they collect paychecks that have doubled since Tigers emergence on the PGA..

Side note.. I heard a short time ago (Thursday night late) that David has made the statement that he will re-attempt to the break the record. I suspected as much. Why else would he have chains except to be able to come back later and say 'that was a mistake.. it took too much away from my effort' ...