Penn & Teller: Fool Us

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I thought ITV’s Fool Us was a great format for a magic show, and a much better concept than BBC’s magicians, on the whole so far it has been a solid show with some fantastic performers and magic. I have always liked Penn & Teller, and I have never had a problem with their exposure before. After watching the second episode, Penn & Tellers agenda was made more clear, and it’s one that I really can’t agree with – selective exposure. They expose in detail anything being performed as psychological in nature (Richard Bellars, Jon Allen), they tip toe around card effect explanations with magician lingo (Michael Vincent & hints toward possible methods of Ben Earl & Graham Jolley) and for the Illusions (High Jinx & James Moore) Teller draws the working of how illusions are done on a piece of paper that is only shown to the performer, for confirmation that they are so clever in knowing how an old illusion works.

Bit unfair isn’t it?

A strange case of a witch hunt in the name of ‘Moral Superiority’.

I like Illusions, but lets be fair, there is very little technical skill in bought illusions, and whilst the illusions so far have been executed well with solid showmanship and presentation, there was nothing impressive or anything that we haven’t seen before, but it did give the show a sense of variety. Penn & Teller are obviously fans of illusions, and have performed many, and you can understand if they exposed the secret of these illusions they would have also given away the method of a huge percentage of illusions. But surely, exposing mind reading (the last believable art form in magic) as nothing more than hogwash presentation is just as bad?

I don’t know the full details of the contract, but if you know the risks beforehand, I think it is fair game for Penn & Teller to expose you, but just because they don’t like presentations that are not honest (as opposed to the walking narrative they much prefer) is it not fair to selectively expose the ‘mind readers’. Richard Bellars made a bad material choice, fact. I think the average magician could come to the explanation of his chosen effect, never mind seasoned pros, and I thought that P&T’s explanation was almost rationalised at the time as presenting that effect to challenge to fool them; was a pure insult. Richard Bellars comes across as a nice guy, and I speculate he just wanted some air time, much like other contestants, rather than actually believing they can fool them. Ali Cook said he didn’t think he would fool them, but he had something they would have never seen before. However, after seeing them knock down Jon Allen and the first part of Graham Jolley’s act for these reasons, it was apparent they really did not like any notion of magic presented as mind reading or psychological.

Penn & Teller have always had a great gimmick to their show, they show you something that shocks or dumbfounds you and usually with not much presentation other than a walking narrative, then they reveal the effect –which is perfect for them, as usually the explanation is more impressive and entertaining than the actual trick. For most mind readers, the effect is secondary, it is the showmanship and stage craft that make the effect, and it’s all the window dressing that makes it impressive and impossible, without it, a full show would get terribly inane.

If there was total honesty in magic performance, there would be no magic. Penn and Teller may aspire to be honest in their performance (which is okay for them since they expose their material anyway) but they should not try to police honesty in others acts, simply because they do not agree with lying in magic, which is as ridiculous as it sounds. Why such a big fuss about claiming you are doing things for for real, when you are not? Which is how the majority of magic works. Take for example a simple card change: “The card has changed” the magician explains, well factually, no the card hasn’t changed — you’ve changed the card, or more specifically, you’ve replaced the card with another, the original card has not changed, it still exists, it is just not where it once was. “I want you to choose a card” usually means I want you to take the card I am forcing on you, thus the spectator having a huge choice of….one card. Artistic freedom gives us the ability to blur the lines between fact and fiction, and I see no moral ethic issues when the audience clearly knows what you are doing is entertainment. Penn & Teller, please stop trying to sabotage a performance on the ground that you don’t agree its right to claim people can to read minds or influence people — in the name of entertainment, not in the name of the con, medium or psychic.

I’ll be going through some of their videos, checking for honesty in their performances. Just to see if they really do practise what they preach, because its too easy to sit on a pedestal and claim superiority, and I feel like being pedantic on this matter.

I’m looking forward to seeing to how the rest of the series turns out, and good luck to my friends appearing on the show.

Coming soon we have an interview with one of the contestants with inside thoughts…watch this space.


[message type=”custom” width=”100%” start_color=”#d9d6d6″ end_color=”#FFFFFF” border=”#BBBBBB” color=”#333333″]Side note: If you perform the card effect that Graham Jolley performed, I have an interesting magic hotline presentation angle on it (rather than the jokers ‘naming the positions’). Since over four million people in the UK saw this effect on TV, I’ve decided to retire it from my repertoire for a while. Please see here:[/message]

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