Some reflections on the David Blaine phenomena.

Here is an article that I wrote many moons ago about David Blaine for Magic New Zealand. I actually got some hate mail because I was so positive about Blaine, and his magic. Well, I still love his specials and thought that his full evening theater show was the best I have ever seen.

I was very skeptical about the potential merits of David Blaine when his first television special was being promoted. The fact that Spike Lee was being brought in to edit the promo did nothing to impress me. I did videotape the special though. In point of fact, there wasn’t too much in his special that did impress me. However, after a few moments though I arrived at the conclusion that I wasn’t the intended demographic for the show. Not only was I the wrong age but even worse than that I was a magician. Ah, there is the rub. One thing I did realize instantly was that the special was a very cool concept and a definite breakthrough in television magic. It was a hip extension of what was then a relatively new concept ‘reality programming.’ A form of television I have resolutely hated since it appeared on the scene.

The lack of excitement I felt about the magic Blaine performed didn’t stop me from being highly intrigued by his persona and a curiously low key approach to doing sensational things. It was like a correction in the market. I felt instinctively (and still do) that he had come up with something innovative and fresh that would do nothing but good for the image of magic. The impact that Blaine’s special had on his actual intended demographic audience was astounding though. It was what every non-magician wanted to talk about. He instantly became a topic of conversation across the country. While this didn’t totally surprise me I was amazed at how quickly he made his mark.

What did surprise me, however, was the way that the magic world not only failed to embrace him but moved in such a unified manner to denounce and express their disapproval of him. Maybe they just didn’t get the fact that his demographic didn’t include them. Maybe it was because he made many magicians, even some very prominent ones, look old fashioned and irrelevant. Even Billy McComb who seldom had an unkind word to say about anyone who performed magic used to describe Blaine as some sort of stunt man who had bought a copy of ‘The Royal Road To Card Magic.’

Possibly the major factor in the division between the magic world and Blaine’s true demographic was the fact that he dared to hint at something truly mysterious and possibly unexplainable in his feats and stunts. For a community that still finds it acceptable to use a magic wand when they need to conceal items during the ‘Cups and Balls,’ I find this rather strange. What is our goal as magicians? It isn’t just to fool but to supply a sense of mystery. I know the standard enlightened response is to say; “We are supposed to entertain.” However, there is a heck of a lot of magic being performed that not only doesn’t entertain but which only just manages to fool. No, I think there is truly a need to allow a little mystery into our art and we can’t leave it all to Jeff and Eugene.

If you don’t want to do it yourself then step aside and watch as someone else does. What we shouldn’t do is stand on the sidelines with a knowing smirk and say; “Of course, he’s a fake.” We are ALL fakes: that is the nature of what we do. Worst of all let’s not descend to dismissing something new because it excites the imagination of the non-magician, magic can’t move forward by standing still. Let’s be happy when someone finds a way to create something new under the magical sun. All of the close-up performers who now feature ‘Street Magic’ are moving into new territory due to David Blaine. Rather than look for negatives we should be trying to analyze the things he did that were right.

~ by Nick Lewin on May 20, 2017.

One Response to “Some reflections on the David Blaine phenomena.”

  1. Thanks Nick for your Blaine reflections. What I always thought David Blaine excelled at was capturing his audiences’ over-the-top reactions. Blaine’s target demographic not only wants to believe in magic, but are influenced by his spectators’ exaggerated amazement. When asked what they thought of David Blaine’s magic, they remember and recollect his spectators’ over-the-top reactions which infuses their response…. “It was amazing!”

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