Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Episode VI: Spooning

Friday morning began with a lecture by Uri Geller.

Uri Geller: in the words of Vice President Biden, this was “a big fucking deal."

Despite his reluctance to associate with magicians, Geller has been an influence on magic for five decades.

When I was becoming interested in magic I knew only an handful of names and his was one of them. I would watch Doug Henning and Mark Wilson on American TV and “Magic Tom” Auburn on our local channels and I would read about Geller.

He came to North America in the early 1970's at precisely the right time. There was a boom in interest in all things paranormal and, as a result, his talents were eagerly received. Each deformed spoon or key, each restarted clock seemed to demonstrate that despite all of the upheaval of war and social and economic unrest, it was within our capacity to control our environment.

It should be noted that this was also the time of Rod Serling's “Night Gallery,” “Ghost Story” with Sebastian Cabot and a host of other TV shows with paranormal themes like “The Sixth Sense” and “The Night Stalker.”

I'm not sure that I ever fully bought into the notion of Geller's unique abilities. I had read enough about Houdini's campaign against fraudulent spiritualists to be convinced that Geller was doing sneaky business and was very good at it.

But while bunking down in Camp Skeptic, I was nonetheless impressed by his powers of self-promotion. Believe him or not, it was hard not to know about him and the abilities he claimed.

And two generations later, it was possible to still see his impact on the magicians gathered in Orlando for Genii's 75th Anniversary Birthday Bash.

In a number of comments made from the stage it was clear that some performers were uncomfortable sharing the program with Geller. And in the lobby, there were conference attendees lined up two and three deep to have their picture taken with him.

Needless to say, there were very few empty seats at his morning lecture.

It is not overstating it to say that Geller played his audience masterfully. At least indirectly, through the power of his mind, he was able to transform the room from a group who had the previous day snickered at comments about spoon bending to one that gave him a standing ovation and he did it all without exposing his methods.

That in itself is a great trick.

Instead of lecturing about effects and methods, Geller told his life story with the same kind of optimism and good humor with which earnest and sincere people on television convince you that you can lose weight without exercise, or earn vast profits without risking any money.

After years of hearing magicians complain about his refusal to acknowledge that his effects are the product of skill and technique rather than paranormal abilities, Geller's response is that he doesn't have to respond. He demonstrated through a series of examples that the only thing that matters to him is, in essence, that they spell his name right. (It's pronounced “Ooo-ree” and not “U-ree.”) At one point he said that he didn't bother to read the articles written about him, he just measured the number of column-inches.

And so now he travels the world selling versions of a competition show the goal of which is to ostensibly name his rightful successor. He has reinvented himself as the Simon Cowell of “mystifiers.”

Despite all the too-clever remarks and the manufactured animus between him and magicians, it is too easy to dismiss him as a footnote. He did something significant in the history of magic. He built an original act and sold it to the world. He made his reputation on deforming flatware and the general public knows his name. These are all feats to which magicians of every stripe aspire.

Regardless of what magicians may think, there is much to learn from Geller about building a career and continuing to stay relevant in the eyes of the public. He's done it, is doing it and should be celebrated for that.

That's what I think..., or maybe that's just what he wants me to think. 


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