Backstory: An extraordinarily talented young magician I know named Chris Brown has a video up on YouTube which has garnered over 2 million views, an astonishing number in the YouTube universe and a sure sign that he did something right. Needless to say, many magicians hate him.
The Genii Forum, one of the most influential online forums for magicians, has a whole long thread of pompous deconstruction (no really, don't bother) about why Chris' video is terrible and pointless and why Chris needs to consult with them so he can learn how to really do magic like a pro. Okay, it's not entirely all about that, and there are some voices from people who actually get it, but in the subtext of the thread that description pretty much sums it all up.
Anyway, as one of his many mentors (and probably his biggest fan among us), I felt the need to respond in a public way to the whole thread. If you're not into magic you may want to skip this. On the other hand, if you're interested in hearing some inside dish about the magic community, read on.
UPDATE: 3/22/07 - After you read this, you may want to check out the follow up, which I posted directly to the Genii Forum here.
UPDATE: 3/23/07 - And another one here.
UPDATE: 12/16/09 - Apparently, most of the names on the Genii Forum have been "anonymized, so my posts no longer can be identified as mine (nor can Chris' responses, except where he identifies himself). I have therefore added my follow-ups below.
Hoo Boy, I just had to write in on this one. It's amazing to read such a typically clueless discussion as has characterized much of this thread. I'd almost wager money that most of those so upset about Chris' YouTube video aren't big fans of David Blaine either. When you don't know why the successful are successful you don't really understand your own art.
2 million hits on YouTube doesn't happen by accident, folks. It just doesn't. 2 million hits happens because you struck a chord with a lot of people by showing something, unfiltered by traditional media filters, that moves them in a deep and personal way. And they have, in turn, done your marketing for you, driven by passion -- theirs -- to share with all their friends whatever it is in your clip that moved them in some new way.
Chris' clip is more amazing than most of you know, and better magic, too. His technique is fine, and he's the most gifted natural performer I've encountered in many many moons.
He has a vision, guys. He's young and he's raw, but he has a vision, for himself and for magic. And he's got the cojones to pull it off, too.
People -- a lot of them, obviously -- saw the video and thought the magic was amazing. That's why they recommended it to their friends, and that's why he has 2 million hits. He has a lot of fans because they can feel that he's real. Not a prefabricated fake like Copperfield, but a real person who loves to make magic happen for real people.
And the humility! Chris has real humility. He's cocky as hell, but deep down he's a serious soul. Read his comments on the thread. It's all about gratitude for your opinions, about respect for his elders, about not wanting to start any fights, about his love for magic and his desire to express himself through it.
He learned from the Master, folks. He's a disciple of David Blaine all the way, and David Blaine is the most important magician since Houdini. By far. David Blaine saved magic. He's the reason really cool, hip, artistic kids now are attracted to magic.
I've been in magic well over thirty years and it was never the cool, hip, artistic kids who did magic. Never. To be a magician was to automatically not be the cool, hip, artistic kid.
Now, thanks to David Blaine, we have more amazing cool, hip, artistic young magicians than ever.
The aging magical chattering class hates the Blaine style, so snootily dismissed as "Street Magic," precisely because it has the actual "street" in it, as in real people, in the real world. The idea that magic should be something that happens in their world, on their streets, in their lives, is anathema to the dysfunctional paradigm in which magic has stagnated for the last hundred years.
Like the aging rock and roll chattering class that hates and fears Hip Hop -- which similarly emerges from and expresses the feelings of the street -- magic's aging chattering class has quite convinced themselves that real magicians work gigs for money, like birthday clowns, or work live in theaters. Getting someone to pay you a lot of money to do only the magic you really, really want to do, is obviously not a path a serious artist would ever take. That's why the best and wisest actors are the ones who do commercials and amusement park shows rather than those slackers, like Robert DeNiro, who become movie stars. That's why the band that played at your wedding is obviously a more "serious" bunch of musicians than Radiohead. Or U2.
The chattering class' slide from mediocrity into irrelevance will only get worse...
And to mix your magic with Hip Hop -- quelle horreur!
Hip hop is the lingua franca of youth, my friends, and it's a language in which youth are fluent. You want to express something meaningful to kids and young adults, in a way that's hip and cool, you back it with hip hop. And Chris does just that, not because he cares about being cool, but because hip hop is his lingua franca too, it's the music that expresses how he feels, in a language he understands.
How great for all of us who love magic that the art is being saved, day by day, by the people the old guard hate and fear the most. This is absolutely the best time in a hundred years to be a great magician, a golden age. And Chris is lucky and honored to be riding in the vanguard right now.
Just be grateful for our front-row seats.
Thanks, everyone, for your thoughtful responses. My own post emerged from what I saw as a deeply and unfairly stacked deck on this thread. Pete Biro posted the YouTube link, whereupon a whole slew of people saw fit to insult Chris, his video, and YouTube magicians in general. Most of the attacks came from a predictable if, in my opinion, flawed paradigm which states that young magicians making cool magic videos are somehow to be hated and dismissed.
Brad said, "If they spent half as much time reading "Our Magic" as they do reading their 'Final Cut Pro' manuals, magic would be a better place."
And: "In art, a mannerist period is defined as a time frame in which the means of expression become so pervasive nothing ends up being expressed. Today's younger generation has found themselves in/created for themselves a mannerist period."
Is it possible, Brad, that something important IS being expressed but that you simply can't read the language? That paragraph makes you sound exactly like those old folks who claimed that rock and roll was useless noise ("You can't even understand the words!") and that those kids who loved it were therefore idiots. History has not been kind to that particular viewpoint -- although patronizing kids remains as popular as ever.
Asking Chris to clarify his point is like asking a painter to explain a painting, or a musician to explain a song. The expression speaks for itself, and it either works for you or it doesn't.
But don't assume there's nothing there.
Chief mouthpiece Richard Kaufman saw fit to weigh in with three -- three! -- insulting comments, including:
"What's different now is that places like YouTube provide a location where everyone can strut their underdeveloped stuff for all the world to see.
"All I can say is, YUCK."
"I disagree, Tom. I would rather they NOT be performing publically [sic] for millions of people around the planet to see when they are fit only to practice in front of a mirror."
(Gee, Richard, just what in Chris' video do you think is only fit to practice in front of a mirror?)
"I don't recall what Eugene wrote, but I would say that performance without an audience is called practice."
(Oh. I guess 2 million people isn't a big enough crowd to be called an "audience?")
And finally, on his 4th post, Kaufman writes:
"I should add that I have not watch [sic] the clip in question on YouTube, merely commenting on the general phenomenon."
In other words, Kaufman has just pontificated 3 times about a clip he hasn't seen. He is admitting publicly that he is prejudiced (as in, "pre-judging") against magicians on YouTube, which automatically disqualifies his opinion from serious consideration.
And he's not the only one.
David Alexander: "YouTube and its clones have given an outlet for the ignorant and self-absorbed who have no business stepping away from their mirrors. The number of viewings for some of these videos is sad news in that a great many people are being educated as to what magic is, not what it can be in the hands of a competent performer."
That's some pretty broad hating without any specifics.
Brad Henderson gives props to David Blaine, finally. But where David Blaine trumps those who have followed is in his deep, spiritual quest for meaning. Not even the merely super-talented, like Cyril and Derren Brown, can touch that. Brown, in particular, falls back on his pseudo-scientific explanations, that old "combination of magic, psychology, and intuition" bullshit so favored by mentalists these days. Don't get me wrong: I love Brown and I think he's quite brilliant, but he doesn't project a transcendent search for meaning the way Blaine does.
Magicians get so wrapped up in technique, in history and crediting issues, that they fail to see the organic way in which all arts grow and change. Chris is driven by a vision -- not yet fully formed, I don't think -- but he has a real vision in the same way Blaine does. He's a truly modern magician, with multiple streams by which his fans can respond and interact with him.
How many people on this forum have motivated their audiences to make fan art?
Final Follow-up Comment
The magic community has shown a lot of hostility to the YouTube generation. But I'm surprised that a lot of people on this forum don't basically think Chris' video is cool, shows some pretty eye-popping (if standard, to all you pros) magic, and demonstrates nothing but respect and love for the art and craft. Same planet, different eyes, I guess.
I happen to think Chris' video presents magic in a great light -- the tricks all look great, his timing is good, and the music is modern and hip. There aren't that many magic clips I want to watch more than once but Chris did a great job with this one and it survives multiple viewings.
Of course, I'm quite partial to progressive Hip Hop, too, and the Cannibus song is very cool. Chris knows his music, and he communicates a lot by the choices he makes.
It seems as though a lot of non-magicians were impressed with the video as a demonstration of magic, too. That "Twins do magic" video linked to in an earlier post is a loving tribute by a couple of girls who were impressed by Chris' magic. You can either feel contempt for the uneducated laymen or you can ask what you can do to reach people the way Chris did.
Blaine wannabe: hogwash. Yes, Chris and many other magicians of note under 25 are the children of Blaine, no question. Chris would be the first to acknowledge this. Blaine created a whole new paradigm of magic for the 21st century: wear normal, hip clothes, take it to the streets, do it for real people with real objects in real situations...
And thank god for him, too. Blaine single-handedly stopped magic's slide into artistic irrelevance. I was getting pretty tired of magicians dressed like waiters doing tricks with gentlemen's hats and silk scarves and canes -- turn-of-the-century accouterments with little meaning to modern spectators.
I exaggerate, of course, but only slightly. How many magicians before Blaine can you think of who were as hip and contemporary as, say, The Red Hot Chili Peppers? Or Nicholas Cage? Or, for that matter, Criss Angel?
Angel wears jeans and tee shirts and performs in the streets, too, with cool music video-style editing. Is he also a Blaine wannabe? (Wait, don't answer that.)
Blaine provided a language; young magicians now use that language as a starting point for wherever their art needs to go. Chris is no more a Blaine wannabe than Channing Pollack was a Robert Houdin wannabe just because he, too, dressed in formal evening wear.
It was Houdin, in fact, who said that a magician should dress in the appropriate contemporary clothes of a gentleman. These days, gentlemen wear jeans and t-shirts far more often than tuxedos. At least the cool ones do.
Making a video after only 2 years in magic? Yup, a lot of us initially encouraged Chris to wait a while. But he's young, ambitious, and energetic and he wisely chose to ignore us older naysayers. After all, who are we to try to nip the blasting energy of youth in the bud? Chris will not be dissuaded by anyone; he has vision and drive, and I applaud him for it.
"You won't be young forever." Andy Warhol.
More power to you, young brother Chris. Take it all the way!