Inspection- It’s Magic

I sat down at my computer this morning pondering what I would use for this week’s column. Back when I first revived Inspection on the net in the late 90s; after a few years post the last hard copy, I thought I’d start writing like mad in case I ran out of ideas.

Silly me. Now I keep stumbling over the never animated corpses of unused Inspection columns everywhere: in my bookkeeping books for my business, my creative journals where I work on concepts, on napkins, back of book covers and deep within my computer guarded by gremlins. They seem to delight in messing up; or losing, what I know I had nailed to some great rhetorical wall when I last pressed “save.”

It’s magic.

Magic relates to politics, religion, philosophy and anything we do as humans: especially how we relate to each other.

For instance; we all know that the magician uses trap doors, secret compartments, sleight of hand, intentional distraction… anything to make his audience go, “Wow!” He, or she, is also a storyteller: and that is far more important than whatever device or method used.

Yet we too often focus in on “how” rather than “why.”

Jesus performed “miracles.” Does it really matter if he knew where the rocks were, or if he had many fish and loaves in some unseen trap door? Many theists would say, “Yes.” That makes me cringe because they are like some of the more childish members of my audience I have had to slip, slide and leap over with on the spot alterations of my own script. And it makes me sad because on a rare occasion the “child” is an adult who should know not behave in that manner.

I often say to my clients that I rarely have a problem with children. It’s adults who can be a big pain in their too tightly tied babushkas. Some days I wonder how their brains don’t squeeze out of their ears.

Let’s stray away from magic for a moment to make my point. On a rare occasion; when I bring out one of my puppet friends, there’s some boy; rarely a girl, who before the puppet says anything starts yelling out, “That’s just a puppet, that’s just a puppet…”

In my magic segment the same kind of character will yell out how they think I did it. 99.9% of the time they are wrong. And teachers will usually talk to them. The times they don’t make me wonder why those kinds of teachers don’t just quit and go make chocolate covered ants for a living, because they don’t seem to care for, or want to pay attention to, what they’re supposed to be doing.

I wonder. Would these same children when they watch TV yell out, “That’s not an image, it’s just a bunch of dots!” They must be real fun at a movie. But I suspect they suspend disbelief in both cases.

So why does a live performance incur this behavior?

Easy. Just like adults who don’t get it, they think that all this is about is simply an intent to deceive others. They’re missing the point: entertainment… and the lesson being taught; the story being told.

If we passed this attitude on to life we would be deceived less. For instance when I moved South in the late 70s my wife and I stayed in a motel room in Kentucky: just south of Cinci. I woke up early; as I often do, and turned on the tube. There was one of these healing preachers working a deaf person over on stage. Facing her he said…

“I will heeeeeeaaaaallll you. Repeat after me: ‘praise the Lord.'”

(She looked puzzled.”)

“Praise the Lord.”

(Still puzzled… so he spoke slowly: accentuating each lip movement with care.)

“Praise… the… Lord.”

With a glimmer of understanding she asked, “Praise the Lord?”

He turned away from her so she couldn’t see his lips and said to his flock…

“Praise the Lord, she’s hhheeeaaallleed!!!”

She was rushed off stage by stagehands.

Now an idiot could see what happened here, but as a performer I was angered by just how bad he was.

Back away.

Reconsider.

If we all admitted that what we are watching is a performance and stopped screaming out, “That’s just_____,” maybe we wouldn’t be fooled as much, and fleeced less? Just enjoy. This guy was really, really bad: an unintended comedian. They can be more funny than a barrel of Robin Williams’. And, oh, how his message suffered. But remember; if the performance is good that doesn’t necessarily mean the message is. Here’s why we should view such things mostly on a performance level…

Adolph Hitler was a great performance artist, for those who like that over the top: pure histrionics, style. I don’t. But the actual content of his message was pure horror. Appreciating talent doesn’t mean we totally dismantle our critical faculties. We just don’t let them spoil the show either.

And if we remembered “it’s a performance,” maybe there would be less comet followers…

…less Kool Aid drinkers…

…less foam at the mouth, goosestepping, potential pilots for planes headed towards buildings…

What is the difference between magic and miracles? Believers assume magic is a trick, and miracles are real: from God. Of course, as my faith healer example proves, the difference may not be much of a difference at all.

If Jesus knew where the rocks were, would that make the parables less important; the lessons he taught null and void? If he knew that Lazarus was simply sleeping but he had been treated as if he had died, would using that knowledge to save him from inevitable death from starvation make raising Lazarus less of a good deed?

Content should never be treated as a third or fourth thought to method or means. It certainly shouldn’t be treated as if it doesn’t exist.

But why am I not surprised in these days of deus ex machina-based entertainment where bigger and more bangs are too often treated as content, that actual content is tossed in the corporate wood-word chipper like an unwanted child? That even our children are yelling out…

“That’s just a puppet! That’s just a puppet! That’s just a puppet! That’s just…”

And why aren’t these children also yelling at the latest Bruce Willis-like bigger bang movie…

“That’s just a model! That’s been faked! That’s just a blue screen!”

From my perspective, none of this is any more real than…

“You’re hheeeaaaaallled!”

Why are our children acting like this?

Probably because we’re not providing enough good examples for them to follow.

It’s Magic

by Dave Allen, Tim Bays (as performed by PP&M)

He cut her in half
With a shiny steel saw
He put her all back together
And I was in awe

As rabbits and doves and bandanas appeared
And he pulled a quarter right out of my ear
I turned to my dad, I said, ‘How’d he do it?’
And dad, he just smiled, he said, ‘There’s nothing to it.”

It’s magic and you don’t want to know
Just how it’s done, it would ruin the show
You’ve just got to believe
‘Cause believing is what makes it happen
Oh it’s nothing but magic

Now I fell in love the first time in 8th grade
And I started shaving the very next day
Just walking her home made me light on my feet
And I promised her things you just wouldn’t believe
And when I asked my dad why girls had that effect
He said, ‘Go ask your mom, I ain’t figured it yet’

It’s magic and you don’t want to know
Just how it’s done, it would ruin the show
You’ve just got to believe
‘Cause believing is what makes it happen
Oh it’s nothing but magic

Well the years have been hard, the years have been kind
These last years have taken both parents of mine
Some things you can’t change with a wave of your hand
So many things I still don’t understand
But, in a hospital gown, standing next to my wife
I’m watching this miracle come into life

It’s magic and you don’t want to know
Just how it’s done, it would ruin the show
You’ve just got to believe
‘Cause believing is what makes it happen
Oh it’s nothing but magic and you don’t want to know
Just how it’s done, it would ruin the show
You’ve just got to believe
‘Cause believing is what makes it happen

-30-

Inspection is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 30 years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks and into the unseen cracks and crevasses that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.

Copyright 2009
Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
All Rights Reserved