YouTube and Learning Magic, is it so bad?

Growing up the internet wasn’t on anyone’s radar that I knew until I was maybe 13, up until then if you wanted to know something you read a book or asked someone. However with the age of on demand we now have no need to either pick up a book or even entertain the idea of asking someone for advice.

This is not me going on a long winded tirade against technology and the social in-activeness of my fellow human, this is my way of heading into a conversation regarding learning, specifically learning magic.

At some point in the distant past I saw Paul Daniels on the TV on a Saturday evening performing various illusions alongside Debbie Mcghee and remember being amazed at how things disappeared and came back together. I don’t remember ever wanting to be Paul Daniels but I do remember thinking I LOVE MAGIC.

I grew up watching whatever magic was on TV through the 80’s and early 90’s, which in all honest wasn’t a lot outside of the usual Saturday night variety shows. However all that changed when a show called ‘Breaking the Magicians Code’ came along. I don’t remember when it was, if I had to guess I’d say mid 90’s, but from the first time I saw this masked magician I was hooked. It was cool looking in its abandoned warehouse, it had the cool voice over from some guy I think might have been in the X-Files, and it had cool background music that built some real suspense. So it felt like an all round cool show, but the killer bit? It told you how the tricks were done!

This was incredible, this guy was breaking the code for real! Nobody had ever done this (that I knew of) and whats more it felt like Paul Daniels and the magic establishment were going to lose their minds!

Whatever the feeling in the magic world, things were about to get a lot cooler or a lot worse depending on who you were.

A quick Google of when the first magic trick was performed will give you the answer of somewhere between 50-300AD by a group of magicians going by the name The Acetabularii. This group specialised in the cups and balls but used rocks and vinegar cups (I guess sponge wasn’t around back then).

Now fast forward to 2018 and the world looks a lot different, that goes for magic too. Go to YouTube and search for ‘magic tricks’, you’ll find pages upon pages of videos revealing magic tricks and tutorials on a variety of sleight of hand work. This is where the debate gets interesting.

So here’s the question, if this is the first known magic trick, how did it grow into the conjuring world we know today?

Well logic says that people shared knowledge, skills and ideas. People performed in-front of audiences and entertained the masses for hundreds of years. Within those audiences there were always people that wanted more than just to be entertained, they wanted to learn and understand how these seemingly impossible feats of wizardry worked.

This learning and teaching has continued through the years since The Acetabularii first showed someone how to push that rock through that cup all the way until today. In today’s world teaching now uses the ever increasing format of video, be it YouTube, magic websites or online seminars and lectures (in fairness a lot of these are still hosted on YouTube).

But there is an unrest bubbling under the surface of the magic community, firstly as to whether the secrets of magic should be told to anyone with a computer and internet connection free of charge, and secondly who regulates the quality.

Looking at the first point of tutorials being so readily available, and taking account that this is merely an opinion and not a summary of a wider collection of thoughts, the answer would be yes, why not have people teach magic? From the first cups and balls routine to the latest Sankey tutorial, magic exists because people want to learn and people want to teach.

Today’s format of making videos to teach people is merely the most modern, efficient and entertaining way of people learning something new. Whether its magic, how to cook a roast dinner or how to paint like Jackson Pollack, the more people teaching and learning the better we all get. I know some of you may be thinking, but it’s not fair that its free when people are trying to make a living. I’m not going to say those people are wrong however I firmly believe that the deluge of tutorials (I agree not always well done) are forcing magicians to be ever more creative with new ideas and techniques. Is that such a bad thing?

We need to accept that improvements come from wanting to be better, being pushed to produce more, having to find the next level or the next gear that puts us above the average person. I loved watching Linford Christie when I was a kid, the guy was the fastest person on earth over 100 metres. But Usain Bolt pushed himself to be better than Linford Christie and all the other sprinters after him because he wanted to be the best, he wanted to find that next level. At some point we’ll see someone that is better than Bolt, maybe not for many decades but we will because things improve.

The same goes for quality, sure the majority of videos on YouTube are a poor version of something created years before but their being watched because their free, their free because things have moved on from whats being taught, and there are a huge variety of illusions that have surpassed what you can find for free. But in 10 years time who’s to say someone watching a poor quality video of a turnover pass isn’t going to come up with something infinity better  just because they wanted to improve on the tutorials they started out watching.

So the point I’m trying to make is it doesn’t matter who’s making tutorials, why their making them or how their making them. If you don’t like them, do something better, improve on what you don’t like and use them to improve yourself.

Technology is both the worst of our culture and the best of it, but we’re barely scratching the surface. So go out and embrace it, make a statement, create something amazing, and let those looking for a way into magic use YouTube as a starting point just as a lot of us watched Paul Daniels on Saturday nights before going to buy a book telling us how to perform magic.

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