Magician’s Magic in the Mass Media: Adapt or Die!

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Magic as a performing art has been an interpersonal medium for ages until close-up magic became illusions and the stage evolved into screens. Dawes and Setterington (1986:71) define an illusion as “a large magic trick”. In essence it is large scale prestidigitation for a mass medium.

Magician’s magic used to rely on split-second timing and tremendous expertise and skills. Is it still the case? Audiovisual communication as a medium has made famous magicians out of David Copperfield, Pen and Teller, David Blane and SA’s Martino and Wolfgang Riebe. How do magicians persuade audience of magic’s realism when Georges Méliès already used special effects on film for magic in 1897? Special effects present itself as convention when Purchase (1988:46) defines it as: “creating an illusion of reality where it is not possible, economical or safe using the real thing”.

This paper investigates how Coleridge’s “willing suspension of disbelief” (in Kleynhans, 1990:6) in an audience member’s perception of an audiovisual production changes from fiction e.g. Superman to a magician levitating in a live television show. What measures do magicians apply in an audiovisual magic show to curb the audience's perception of special effects and camera tricks? Does this mean that magicians have also become audiovisual producers?

This invasion of the mass media into theatre affects the basic survival of magician’s magic as an art form. Can it adapt or will it die?

As a professional magician for 20 years and lecturer in Audiovisual Communication at University of Johannesburg in South Africa for 15 years, I will also be illustrating these concepts by performing and teaching the audience a number of magic tricks.


Keywords: Magic, Audiovisual Communication, Mass Media, Adaptation, Prestidigitation, Persuasion
Stream: Media Arts Practices: Television, Multimedia, Digital, Online and Other New Media
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Phil C Pretorius

Lecturer, School of Communication, University of Johannesburg
Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa

Phil C. Pretorius has been a lecturer in communication, film and television studies in the Department of Communication at the University of Johannesburg since 1997 and graduated in M.A. Audiovisual Communication on the topic: Popular culture and the narrative: The Case of the James Bond: 007 movies at the University of Johannesburg, Republic of South Africa. He is also a professional magician and often uses magic in his lectures and papers. Phil C. Pretorius was awarded the Best Academic Paper by his peers during the 2006 SACOMM (South African Communication Association) National Conference in Stellenbosch South Africa for a paper on Magician's Magic on TV.

Ref: A09P0611