Piracy and Magic
September 24th, 2012

This truly awesome Esquire  piece on Teller and the theft of magic tricks (sorry, “illusions”) has Santino written all over it:

“Invention is all fuzzy, sloppy stuff,” Steinmeyer says. “I have patents, and I have had patents that have expired. Everything has a limited lifetime. But when a person can’t make a living by coming up with new material, that’s when you have to wonder about the system. I would say that over the last few years, the last ten years, it’s a net zero. I’m putting as much money into it as I’m getting out.”

Steinmeyer is surrounded by so many pirates, he’s almost given up fighting them off. Because some venerable tricks, like the Zig-Zag Girl, have become so commonplace — much to the likely despair of its late inventor, Robert Harbin — many magicians have convinced themselves that every trick is fair game so long as they’re able to crack its code. Pursuing the Origami thieves alone would be more than “a full-time job,” Steinmeyer says. While his patents have provided some theoretical protection, he has never actually sued one of his robbers, because he knows how consuming and costly that grim task could be. Court cases might also require the magician to reveal too much about his trick in public, making the very act of protecting magic one of the easiest ways to destroy it.

That’s the Santino stuff. But this passage struck me as particularly profound:

Among his many works, Steinmeyer wrote Hiding the Elephant, his best-selling history of magic. In it, he writes that the best tricks are a “collection of tiny lies, in words and deeds, that are stacked and arranged ingeniously.” Like jokes, tricks should have little plots with a twist at the end that’s both implausible and yet logical. You shouldn’t see the punchline coming, but when you do see it, it makes sense. The secret to a great trick isn’t really its method; the method behind most tricks is ugly and disappointing, something blunt and mechanical. (When Penn & Teller have famously exposed a trick, they’ve almost always invented a ridiculously poetic method and built the trick around it; by making their art seem more intricate than it is, they force the audience to assume that the rest of their tricks are equally complex. Penn & Teller’s exposures are really part of an elaborate con.)

  1. Galley Wife September 25, 2012 at 10:45 am

    I can’t believe comments are closed on the below. Because I am FULL of comments. All intoned in Lucille’s voice. For example, Mitt Romney saying, “How much could a banana possibly cost? Ten dollars?”


  2. REPLY
  3. Galley Friend M.F. September 26, 2012 at 1:28 pm