Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Magic By Misdirection

Why was Michael Jackson’s court case covered so closely? Because it’s as good a way as any to distract you from substantive issues. As some say, “Go back to sleep people. Your government is in control.” This essay explains precepts of magic in an attempt to explain how media affects our perception.

In today’s free-market economy, newspapers have become advertising delivery mechanisms and ethnic media profit through the divisions they perpetuate. Mass media is misdirecting the focus of civilization. By understanding how magic works, we may better understand media’s influence on our perception.

Magic is not a thing or a physical act, but a state of mind that approaches the sublime but is more aptly referred to as phantasmagorical. Magic occurs at the intersection of a performer and an audience. There is intentionality to the perception. A stone that looks like an eagle is not magic, regardless of whether or not it is carved to represent the physical traits of an eagle. A sculpture maybe a catalyst to an altered state of mind, but I am reticent to call a sculpture magical. Some panoramas feel almost magical to me, but real magic is dynamic and ephemeral. Magic is the process of engineering an experience where reality emerges as it cannot be, and yet the audience is compelled to set aside their disbelief and flow with the experience as long as it lasts.

Creating an illusion entails tweaking our visual prejudices. We drop a coin, and it falls. We know this to be true; we have seen the force of gravity pull objects to Earth since before we had words to articulate the phenomena. What most non-perceptual psychologists DON’T recognize is the extent that our mind projects our expectations, our visual prejudices, onto our sight.

The Theater of The Mind

If a magician creates the physical gesture of dropping a coin from one hand to another, yet palms the coin so it doesn’t actually fall into the second hand, most minds will see the coin fall. The term for this sight projection is sight retention. A normal mind will literally “see” the coin fall. This specific visual hallucination is called a projection, our mind projects its expectation of reality onto our sight. The magician makes note of the triggers that cause these visual breaks from reality and assembles a presentation that often includes a series of these triggers, often strung together through a narrative known as patter. A person who engineers a magical frame of mind, phantasmagoria, for an audience may or may not be a performer on a stage. If the person who engineered a magical experience is not the actor presenting the feats, they are the puppet-master of the experience, where the magician is a marionette, performing in the puppet-master’s phantasmagorical production. Clock makers of the 17th Century created automatons, mechanical men whose gears and riggings could be activated to perform the tricks of magicians. These clock makers were not magicians; they were the puppet-masters of their metal figurines that could perform magic, even in the absence of their creators.

Managing Perceptions

Creating magic requires the recognition of stages within stages, seeing micro-stages within macro-stages. The macro-stage is the physical place the audience encounters the magic. A magician may perform on a traditional proscenium stage, in a parlor, at a dinner table or on a street corner—whatever location the magician interacts with their audience becomes the macro-stage. The micro-stages emerge as the audience shifts their attention. David Copperfield regularly performs coin tricks in front of audiences in excess of 2,000. How? He manages the micro-stages, the focus of his audience. By focusing his own attention, with all his body, on a silver dollar, he can command the attention of 2,000 sets of eyes, whose minds enjoy the representation of a miracle as he makes the coin vanish. Copperfield directs the focus of his audience. Site retention won’t work unless the audience’s mind is engaged. The mind must not only see the cues that trigger the mental projections, but the mind must be so immersed in its focus that the mind accepts the magician’s cues as real. The creation of these cues, the intentional use of projection triggers, is the keystone to invoking illusion.

Misdirection is the magician’s ability to secretly do one thing by directing the audience’s attention on something else. Direction is the root of misdirection. Managing the micro-stages of an audiences focus is at the heart of misdirection—movement hides movement. When the puppet-master doesn’t want the audience to see the magician load the dove in a scarf, he choreographs the magician-puppet to “steal” the dove-load during another movement. Sound impossible? Harry Blackstone used to have an elephant walked on stage, up-stage-left, while he commanded attention down-stage-right. When Blackstone gestured up-stage-left, the audience was amazed to suddenly see an elephant.Why Call Mass Media Magic?

When I use the word magic, I’m not speaking about supernatural powers. In this manifesto, magic is the act of facilitating a phantasmagorical experience, the acceptance of a world where natural laws do not apply, presented as though the magical act is a “normal” reality. There is a difference between being fooled and being entertained by a magician. Being fooled simply leaves the audience feeling duped, but a magician engages the audience and makes it okay for the audience members to live inside the illusion. The role of the magician is to enchant the audience, to facilitate their willing suspension of disbelief, allowing the audience to flow with the magical presentation, and blinding them from seeing the mechanics of how things are really working. If the role of the magician is to enchant the audience, to facilitate their willing suspension of disbelief, then I hold that mass media is the greatest magician of all time. Mass media focuses our attention on the sensational, blinding our perception from what supports the reported phenomena. Marketing drives mass media. The primary role of media is to market reality, to present our reality as normal.

World media is a magic show.

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