Do You Believe in Magic?

Long table?  Check.

Saw?  Check.

Beautiful assistant?  Check.

The magicians are going to cut this nice lady in half.  I’m saying she’s nice.  I honestly have no idea.  She smiles a lot, but then that’s part of her job.  The other part is to climb into the box on this table and wait to be bisected.

I’ve seen this trick before.  I think everyone probably has.  And I’m already looking for the telltale signs of how it’s done (Spoilers to follow for those of you who don’t know the trick.).  The table is oddly thick, and, once the massive circular saw blade has finished its work, the magicians just slide the two halves of the box to either side of the table rather than pulling the table completely apart.

Her midsection is actually inside the table below the two halves of the box.  Yippee.

But these magicians are Penn & Teller.  They do things a little differently.  Penn proceeds to show the audience how the trick works.  He flips down the side of the table, and look, there’s her midsection.  The spinning blade, while real, has a safety bolt, which Teller removes and shows us, that prevents it from going below the box where it could actually hurt her.  As they demonstrate.

Um…I don’t think Teller put the safety bolt back in.  That’s not…AUUUGHH!  There’s blood!  So much blood.  And those are intestines.  She’s certainly in half now!  Penn & Teller quickly flee the stage, leaving two gory halves of their assistant/victim behind.

Of course, I know this is an illusion as well, but this time I have no idea how it was done.  Honestly, I’m too shocked and laughing too hard to really even think about it.

I’ve been watching a lot of magic lately.  I’m not sure why, but the TV suddenly has a glut of magic shows.  There’s two with Penn & Teller, Fool Us on The CW and Wizard Wars on Syfy (I still cringe when I have to type that)And The CW also has Masters of Illusion, which has clips of various magicians performing individual tricks.

I never learned any magic tricks myself.  I read a lot about them and about magicians when I was in junior high.  I was particularly interested in Harry Houdini at that point in my life.  When it came to actually learning how to perform tricks, though, I never had the patience or the diligence to stick with it.

Unfortunately, I learned enough to be able to work out the mechanics behind a lot of tricks as their being performed.  This happens to me a lot while watching Masters of Illusion.  The second any kind of large rig gets rolled out onto the stage, I’m looking for the part of it that could possibly hide someone when they “vanish.”

I know too much.  The magic is gone.

And that, Dear Readers, is adulthood in a nutshell.  We grow up and one-by-one the things that used to amaze us either become common place or are revealed to be illusions.  Santa.  The Tooth Fairy.  The Easter Bunny.  All lies.  And then my kids were young, they were lies that I got to perpetuate.  Those lies created work for me! 

(This is what we call a bit of exaggeration from comedic effect, everyone.  I loved sharing those moments with my kids.)

But because of how many magic tricks I do understand, I’m all the more delighted when I see one that completely mystifies me.  Penn & Teller obviously feel the same way, since the entire premise of Fool Us is that they are looking for magicians who perform tricks that Penn & Teller can’t figure out.  It is certainly a lot harder for them to be mystified than me.  They have almost 40 years of actual hands-on experience as magicians.  I’ve read some books.

Aside from magic, my other big interests in junior high were cryptozoology and psychic phenomena.  Yeah, I was a lot of fun.  Actually, now that I think about it, I was on my way to being Fox Mulder.  Instead, though, I learned that none of it was real.  No telekinesis, no telepathy, no Bigfoot, no Loch Ness Monster, and no magic.  The supernatural was fun to read about, but it was not a part of the reality.

Still, I think there’s a basic longing in us for there to be magic in the world.  Or, as the poster in Fox Mulder’s office put it, “I Want To Believe.”  I’m a diehard skeptic, but I do enjoy feeling the flash of wonder when I encounter something I can’t explain.  I don’t need Nessie.  Just a good magician performing at trick that has been thinking, “How did he do that?!?”   

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter