Tangent Thursday…Magic and the suspension of disbelief

To get up to speed, check out Last Thursday’s Entry , to sum up, we’re dealing with the question of:

“As a performer who concentrates in the art of “mindreading” and other “psychic” demonstrations, where is the line between encouraging the suspension of disbelief and promoting critical thinking and skepticism”

I’m glad David the LDP (I don’t care what god you do or don’t believe in, that is your title!), pointed out one of the assumptions in this little issue. Generally, the conventional wisdom among magicians is that the greater the suspension of disbelief, the greater the emotional impact a trick or show can have. Although I think the evidence for this is mostly anecdotal, it certainly seems to bear out in practice.

Think of yourself at a play or movie. The very definition of being “swept up” in a movie means that you’ve let your critical, real world reasoning go, and you are experiencing the entertainment as if it were “real”. In general, if an actor forgets their lines, or does something to ruin the illusion that they are in fact, the character they are portraying, we lose our emotional connection with the content, and we’re snapped back to reality. The same goes for special effects or technical errors. When something happens to engage our rational mind, the enjoyment of the entertainment is ruined. There are exceptions. People who are specialists in certain fields (audio technicians, SFX, editors, directors, etc) are interested in the craft of the medium, and get some of their enjoyment from figuring out how this or that was done. But at the end of the day, we care when it’s Luke Skywalker getting his hand cut off, but it’s just silly if it’s Mark Hamill putting on some fake blood and shoving his hand in his armpit.

So, while I see Dave’s point, my goal as a magician is to engage the audience’s emotions. It makes the experience more entertaining, and dare I say significant for them, and it makes the job easier and more enjoyable for me.

That being said, I’ll get back to the dilemma in my next post. You won’t have to wait a week, I promise…


1 Comment

Filed under Ethics, Magic, Performing Arts, Psychics, Uncategorized

One response to “Tangent Thursday…Magic and the suspension of disbelief

  1. David B

    I accept the title David the LDP :^)

    I see what you’re saying. As an avid rationalist, I might fall under that category of people who can appreciate the technical skill of the performer, or the general puzzle of figuring out what’s going on. Of course, most of the audience won’t be hardcore skeptics, so that might be a limited audience. Your Luke Skywalker image was a good one. When a writer makes a character do something out of, well, character (“He would NEVER eat a plain block of cheese!”), it’s often painfully noticeable and very jarring.

    I remember seeing clips of Penn & Teller or Criss Angel performing a trick, explaining the trick and that there is no such thing as the supernatural, and then just doing it again (or doing a more elaborate trick) to the amazement of all who watch it. It might be easier for them to do it because they’re THE top performers in the world. On the other side, you’ve got Uri Gellar, whose statements about his “powers” led government and university researchers (shame on them — I guess they never heard of “prior plausibility”) to spend millions of dollars looking into psi abilities. I look forward to hearing how far to either side you fall :^)

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