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Everything Wrong with the Online Magic Community
Beneath the lights, glitter and awe – lies an unsightly atmosphere of conflict.
There is a seedy underbelly to the performance art of magic. Beneath the lights, glitter and awe – lies an unsightly atmosphere of conflict.
As the audience smiles, unaware of the drama, a network of hobbyists, amateurs, and pros all fight against each other online.
In the attention economy, these magicians are all rich. They have the ability to command attention… and they aren’t afraid to use it.
When the stage is swapped for social media, they shame people’s performances, their efforts, their creations and especially, their mistakes.
You’re either flawless, or you’re the enemy.
Disclaimer: These opinions are my own and don’t reflect the opinions of any other person, company or legal entity. If you leave this article angry, or think I’m shaming any one individual, then I know you haven’t taken the time to read it all. I first wrote this 2 years ago. I’ve shared drafts privately with other magicians who have begged me to share it, calling me a whistleblower, because we all know it’s happening in magic, but nobody has actually said it… Until now.
Why is it so toxic?
My main theory on the toxicity that the magic community experiences is their close proximity to the competition.
How many plumbers have 5,000 plumber friends on their social media?
How many mechanics ask other mechanics to ‘share their post’?
The answer is probably zero or as close to zero as you could possibly get.
Magicians, on the other hand, have their entire lives soaked in this competition, their followers and their follower’s followers are all, for the most part, into magic too.
This is like corralling all of the alpha males of thousands of lion prides together, into one area. There will be fighting.
Unfortunately, a differing opinion or style isn’t given equal respect or space. People that disagree, disagree strongly in both aggressive and passive-aggressive announcements.
Social media hasn’t helped this, it has only escalated the rate of infection, as it gives access to a global network of magic lovers. The purists hate the gimmick guys, the close-ups hate the stage guys and so on.
There are too many tribes and not enough land to co-exist, so the fighting begins — over even the most trivial of points.
“But why?” — says anyone normal
Hateful sentiments get more likes, more shares and more retweets. In this ‘attention economy’ people jump on the bandwagon to be part of something popular, to elevate themselves by demeaning others for their opposing opinions or shortcomings.
Like Inception, the deeper and more specific you go down into any subject, the more polarising the opinions. The stronger it becomes.
Magic is a dream within a dream, a niche within a niche — and the negative effects of this are swift, harsh and often unnecessary.
Too many inflated egos
Imagine you’re the most interesting person in a room… in every room. People fawn over you and strangers want to be you.
You have a talent that they can’t scientifically comprehend, so your status is immediately elevated.
Imagine what that does to a person’s ego. To always have every stranger telling you how amazing you are. Your hobby becomes your identity.
You’re no longer just a person, you’re that magician. The person with impossible powers.
The trouble is, some magicians believe it. They become enveloped in their own hype. They wear their superiority like a second skin.
Emporer and stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius hired a servant to keep him humble. The servant followed him around and whispered in his ear “you’re just a man”, every time Aurelius received a compliment.
It’s a great way to realise the insignificance of most arguments and to keep runaway egos in check.
The David & Goliath Effect
Everyone in the village showed up to watch David fight Goliath.
He had attention even before winning because he had the foresight to punch up… To take on the giant.
Unfortunately, this same tactic is perpetuated within magic.
Terrible reviews from non-buyers of products, all day long.
People on forums giving seemingly informed opinions on something they don’t actually own.
Competing creators slamming their peers on an effect that is similar to their own.
Magicians being abhorrent about products that aren’t for them. (e.g. Pro’s complaining about a beginner magic kit… It’s like me complaining about a child’s happy meal toy. It’s just not for me.)
Desperate YouTubers making ‘rant’ videos just for likes and subscribers.
It’s all for attention. And the fastest, proven way to get it, is to pick a fight with a giant.
Small-time creators pretend to ‘take on’ the establishment, only to pitch you their own Patreon. Or their own products.
They act as if commerce is not equal and their way of paying their rent is somehow soaked in morality? Give me a f**king break.
Business is business. Anyone who makes money from magic is looking to make money from magic. Fact. It doesn’t mean we don’t also love it.
Big or small, we’re all just doing it so we don’t have to go and drive for Amazon instead.
It’s a privilege to be able to use our passion to put a roof over our heads. It’s a privilege that people choose to buy into an idea we’ve had… But they forget it.
Regardless of people who say they’re all about the art, our goal is always the same. It’s why their ‘art’ also comes with a price tag. Otherwise, it would be free.
There is no David in magic. There is no Goliath. There is no superior entity… And there is no victim.
People’s desire to create comes from the wrong place
Magic companies have a huge part to play in this. They’ve made ‘creating magic’ look sexy.
It used to be that people would get into magic to perform. But in the last 2 decades, the idea of being a creator has taken centre stage.
Trailers shot in an exotic location, or people buying Tesla’s from their trick sales has fueled a mass exodus away from performing.
Like rats leaving a sinking ship, more people join magic to create than to actually perform.
They’ve traded the idea of taking their niche skills into an open market, for using their niche skills in an even smaller niche.
They’re selling to the sellers now. It’s probably not the best business model.
The hot tub analogy
When I see more than 2 people in a 10-person hot tub at the gym, I choose not to enter the hot tub. I don’t want to feel crowded.
However, this proliferation of creators in magic is like being the 11th person in a 10-person hot tub. It can’t help but cause tension.
A magician’s desire to show how smart they are
We’ve all seen the comments:
“Thanks for the tutorial.”
“It’s not a miracle, it’s called Extreme **** 2.0 and you can buy the secret online. Not all the bills are real.”
Telling a magician that you know what secret they’re using is like telling a Chef you know they used chicken in the ‘chicken soup’.
“Thank you, Captain obvious.”
However, it still remains that magicians feel compelled to spoil a secret, or ‘out’ a fellow performer’s gimmick on a public platform.
It comes from a place of insecurity. A place of envy.
I don’t tell my neighbour to correct their parking or shame them because I think mine is better. I just park my car and live my life.
Because your job is to elevate yourself by building yourself up… Not by tearing others down.
The magic industry copies without consequence
The wild wild west of mimicry is rife within magic.
Companies will copy other companies marketing campaigns, their strategies and even their product line.
If a smoke machine does well, they’ll make their own.
If a gaff deck does well, they’ll steal some of the gaffs and put them in their own gaff deck.
If a popular trick comes out, they’ll rush their own version out and pretend you ‘screwed them over’ or somehow copied it to capitalise on sales.
Independent creators are guilty of the same.
Independent creation faces the mob
The opposite can also be true. There seems to be no middle ground between outrage and silence.
In some cases, people who create in a vacuum can have their entire reputation ruined, or be called a thief for an honest case of ‘independent creation’.
In the magic court of public opinion, you can be guilty of ‘stealing’ something you’ve never seen before.
I view it like this:
“The infinite monkey theorem states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type any given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare.”
We are all an infinite number of monkeys, with an infinite supply of props — and at some point, we’ll reinvent each other’s magic effects.
It’s not theft… and it’s not a lack of crediting.
Creating has become so popular, that it’s become impossible to have bulletproof crediting.
Especially as people are self-producing, or hiding their originality behind a membership paywall.
There is no resource for ‘everything’ — but some magicians are quick to judge.
In magic, reputation means more than character
Do you ever wonder why bullies have friends?
It’s because those friends keep their enemies close. They believe that if they support the bully, they’ll never be in the firing line.
I’ve seen these cliques and fans in action before.
If you cross, offend or p*ss off the wrong person, their army will descend upon you. It becomes death by 1,000 cuts.
Regardless of intention, if you’re on the opposing side, you’re going down. Because people like who they like, and they assume that their ‘person’ is impervious to malpractice.
Think about it like this…
24-year old Elvis began pursuing his wife, Priscilla, when she was just 14. Yet he’s still the King of Rock ’n’ Roll.
It’s because it doesn’t matter what you’ve actually done — if people like your art, or like you, they’ll defend you to the death and destroy anyone who opposes you.
“There’s a lot of hero worship within magic.” — my friend Jake.
What people want to believe is more powerful than what is true… and I’ve seen good people in magic get flamed — and bad people rise above those ashes.
Businesses train their own critics
Think about a guitar tutor. One day that tutor will have nothing left to teach their student. If they’re encouraging enough, their student will surpass even their ability.
Put into simpler terms, there’s a reason we leave school at a certain age. We’re not in school indefinitely.
There’s always more to learn, but there is a saturation point for proficiency.
The same can be said for magic.
You don’t need to learn everything that ever could be learned. You just need to learn enough… But what happens when you’ve learned enough?
In nature, the young buck wants to kill its elder. It’s not personal. It’s for survival in a competitive environment.
The same can be said for magic.
How do we ever fix it?
All these things I’ve mentioned above, contribute to a toxic, competitive environment within magic. Some of which I’ve been guilty of myself, in the past. But I’d love people to learn from my mistakes/experiences.
No one person can change the course of the industry.
And it’s not just this industry that it affects.
Bitcoin maximalists hate ‘sh*t coin’ holders in the crypto space.
Purist watch collectors hate quartz movement sellers.
In every niche is an assumed hierarchy or pretentious attitude towards beginners or the otherwise informed.
It’s tribalism. Plain and simple.
If Twitter or politics has shown us anything — it’s that multiple opinions can be concocted from a single fact.
There should be no sides to ‘truth’, but human connectivity has excelled faster than our ability to adapt to it... So we fight anyway.
You’re at war with different tribes, especially within magic.
These online critics, meme accounts and avatars are hidden and void of responsibility. They exist in the ether as faceless screen names & fickle Facebook friends.
You can’t win a war against a ghost, and you can’t change a community that doesn’t want to be changed.
But what if it actually did want to change?
Part 2 Coming Soon.
In Part 2 we cover:
Why do I stand against this?
What experience do I have to call this out?
Real-world examples of this culture.
Why the titans of magic, that we look up to, are absent from this online community?
Your reaction to Part 1.
My thoughts on potential solutions to fix these problems.