Are you dark... or just a punk?

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Steerpike, May 14, 2008.

  1. #1 Steerpike, May 14, 2008
    Last edited by a moderator: May 14, 2008

    This is a topic I’ve touched on lightly every now and again, and I’ve contemplated writing a lengthier article on it. It’s a subject I take rather seriously. The question is in the title itself. Are you dark… or are you just a punk?

    On the surface that seems like a joke, but I assure you I am deadly serious. In recent years, we’ve had a wave of young guys trying to be dark, mysterious strangers in bad imitation of David Blaine at best, Criss Angel at worst. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the amateur imitating the best when he’s first starting out. And I don’t blame either David or Criss for either of this. What their fans do is completely out of their hands. The problem however is that bad performances are bad for magic.

    What is darkness?

    Dark characters and stories have always had a certain appeal. It’s why Batman is one of the most successful superheroes of all time, ingrained into what has become effectively modern folklore. It’s why the horror movie genre has its own subculture. It’s why the ghost story is one of the oldest formulas for fiction and folk tales, why we romanticize history’s villains, and why we have to endure lousy remakes of Japanese horror movies every month regardless of how badly the studio botched the job last time. Sorry, going off on a tangent.

    The point is there’s something about the dark side (from here on referred to as our Shadow) that appeals to us. There are countless theories as to why this is. Some believe it’s a forbidden fruit principle, others believe it’s an expression of the natural way of entropy, and others believe that we must integrate ourselves with our dark sides to become complete. Whatever the case, we have a fascination with our own personal Shadows, and feel a similar allure toward the Shadow of others.

    The Shadow is comprised of our morally ambiguous or even amoral fantasies and inner demons, our lusts and desires, our secret passions and all that which we prefer to hide from the world at large. All our negative emotions, fears, and grief reside in the Shadow, and they always flit about on the edge of our mind until something causes them to roll out to the surface like an obscuring fog.

    Most people go through their lives denying their Shadows. Our society teaches us that we should be happy all the time, even though such a thing is no more logical or mentally healthy than being sad all the time. We’re taught to suppress our inner demons because they’re a reminder of our flawed nature, rather than seeking healthy catharsis and bringing the demons into the light so they can be objectified and conquered.

    As a result, we become slaves to our Shadows. Perhaps this lack of control is what fuels our curiosity. If only we understood the Shadow better, could we break free of it? I won’t pretend to know the answer. What I can tell you is that no one can escape their Shadow, anymore than they can the literal one that follows us everywhere there is light. It is as much a part of us as anything else.

    In attempting to suppress the Shadow, it often brings itself to the surface in subtle ways, which leads me to another thing I’ve often said to those looking to practice bizarre magic.

    Spooky and Creepy

    Contrary to what some may believe, there is a difference between being spooky and being creepy. In his humorous book, “What Is Goth?”, author Hernando “Voltaire” Aurelius attempts to explain this using somewhat silly, but apt comparisons. Here are a couple from the book.

    Impersonating a vampire is spooky.
    Impersonating a police officer is creepy.

    Putting on whiteface is spooky.
    Putting on blackface is creepy.

    Having 27 skull T-shirts in your closet is spooky.
    Having 27 real skulls hidden in the crawl space under your house is creepy.

    Starting to catch on? Spooky is an explicit, fictitious representation of that which is considered frightening and dangerous. Millions of children dress up as vampires and werewolves every Halloween, but that doesn’t mean any of those children have an actual interest in dying themselves.

    Conversely, creepy is that which hides its darkness behind a veil of the mundane. It is often very real, and very dangerous. Creepy things are only glimpsed in day-to-day life, because they do such a good job at hiding themselves. They try to create the illusion of normalcy when in fact if people knew of their true nature, they would avoid them like the plague.

    To put it simply, punk rocker Michale Graves paints a skull on his face and sings songs about zombies, but is also a registered Republican who has campaigned heavily to have the West Memphis 3 acquitted and also served in the US Marines until an honorable discharge due to an injury to the lower back. He’s what you call spooky. John Wayne Gacy was a contractor and birthday clown who tortured and killed young boys right under his family’s nose. That… is really creepy.

    What makes magic dark?

    So we’ve established what the Shadow is, and the difference between spooky and creepy. Now we move on to what that means for us as magicians. All of this has simply been a background to get to the point at hand: what constitutes a dark magician and differentiates him from some poseur who’s just acting angsty to get attention?

    To understand darkness, you have to get in touch with your own Shadow. You have to accept that there will be times in your life where you experience extreme negative emotions and that you will experience grief. You have to accept that you have fantasies flitting about in your mind that no sane society would condone, and that these are your inner demons reacting to the world around you. You have to accept that your demons are in everyone else as well and that they must be objectified.

    In other words, understanding darkness means taking what lives there, and bringing it into the light so that it can be rendered powerless. This is something you really should do for your own mental health anyway, but it’s also essential to understanding how to make a powerful piece of dark theater.

    I can’t tell you how to deal with your own emotions and your grieving process as its too personal. But inner demons are much easier to deal with as they generally behave the same for everyone. For example, if you’ve ever had a significant other stolen from you, you probably wanted to find the other guy/girl and beat them into a pulp. Everybody feels like that because it’s a natural response. You can’t get away with acting on it of course, but if you just let it play itself out quietly in the theater of your mind it causes no harm. If anything it gives you a chance to learn from the situation.

    Beauty in darkness is achieved when we are able to strike an emotional chord with our audiences by artistically expressing the feeling of grappling with one of these demons.

    Not dark, just a punk…

    Unfortunately, not many people understand just how much work goes into this sort of thing. I’ve said it once before, but it’s worth repeating.

    Some people are mysterious because they don’t tell you anything. Some people are “mysterious” because they don’t know anything.

    There’s nothing dark and mysterious about teen angst, but no angst-filled teen will admit that. In a few short years, they’ll have to come to the reality however that nobody has their act together in high school. Being a loner because you’re confused and frustrated doesn’t make you tormented. Listening to My Chemical Romance does not automatically make you deep and complex. And while your new fashion sense and taste in entertainment might shock your parents, no one in your own generation is all that impressed because they’re going through the same thing.

    No one really cares if you can stop your pulse if you’re only doing it to convince everyone how bleak and metal you are. So the number I named showed up on your arm in marks that look vaguely like dried blood. Am I supposed to be impressed? I don’t care if you can stab a pencil through your face, kid. I don’t have any change, leave me alone!

    A magician who is dark and mysterious makes us feel something. A magician who only shows off and tries to create the illusion of emotional complexity by doing morbid tricks is just a punk.
  2. Now what?

    So now we know how to explore the Shadow and why showing off weird crap to people doesn’t make you mysterious. Where do you go from here? Brainstorming and rehearsal.

    I once heard from a magician who came up with an effect in extremely bad taste and was rather pleased with himself, saying people would wonder if he was like Jeffrey Dahmer. I sat there thinking that if I wasn’t a magician and saw someone do that, I’d wonder how much vodka his parents had been drinking over the last 20-some-odd years. The reason is because the idea lacked any semblance of good taste, pathos, and motivation.

    Shock magic has its place, but there has to be motivation behind it. You can’t just do something gruesome without giving some kind of reasoning behind it, otherwise it’s just gross. The simple truth is that no one will do something unless given an incentive to.

    Pathos is established through an emotional connection. People have to connect and sympathize with a character in the story, even if it’s simply you. If you don’t give them a reason to care about you or who ever you’re talking about, they won’t care about the magic. This is a crucial element missing from many performances and it’s why doing darker magic is so challenging.

    Some people erroneously believe that to be dark you have to show bad taste or no taste. To those people I say that you need to fix your priorities. Watch some John Waters movies to understand bad taste in cinema and how to effectively use it. David Lynch is another good choice. Dario Argento as well. The point is that taste may be subjective to an extent, but there are always lines to be crossed and others that should not be crossed.

    I was told the story of a magician who once did a piece of theater where the final effect involved the revelation of a card run through by a knife… that an unseen assassin planted in the poor magician’s back. The show ended with the audience leaving the performer’s lifeless body laying there on the stage with the blade still sticking out of him.

    Needless to say, no audience members from that particular show booked him again. It was tasteless and disturbing.

    The magician got some council from a friend on theatricality and altered the show for his second performance. This time, at the conclusion of the show his body was dragged off-stage by two assistants and he made his reappearance in the lobby with no trace of any harm on him. He stood there smiling and wishing his guests a good evening as they filed out. Much more successful.

    I know there’s at least one person out there saying, “But Alex, I don’t want to play it safe. I want my shows to be grim and disturbing so I can make people think.” Become a filmmaker then. Let me put it to you this way. Magicians are performers, entertainers. We may scare people sometimes, but the goal is to entertain on some level.

    The Holocaust documentary Night in Fog is one of the most disturbing films ever made. People watch that to be educated, not entertained. Because there’s nothing entertaining about the systematic genocide of innocent people, but there is a strong lesson to be learned.

    You have to establish whether you want to be fantastic enough to be spooky, subtle enough to be creepy, or if you want to do both. Then you have to ask yourself how far is too far? From there you need reference material. A spooky performer might read up on the classic Gothic novels, while a creepy performer might be more into Post-Modernism. Those who want to do both may want to look into H.P. Lovecraft, Clive Barker, Dario Argento, and other creators who walk that line. Lovecraft in particular presented us with a worldview of the dark and horrific or, as Neil Gaiman put it, “an impossibly inhospitable universe.” There’s much to be learned from that.

    What is your character? What is his motivation? Someone who is a lifelong devout student of the weird and mystical would act differently than someone who finds himself swept up into a world they previously didn’t know existed. A scholarly sorcerer would act differently from a shaman with little regard for book smarts.

    All this is important to giving a good performance. A magician must always have some form of answer or understanding of the phenomenon he is manifesting. That creates verisimilitude, or realism if you prefer.

    The Final Chapter

    So we’ve systematically covered everything that needs to be covered. As I always say in these articles, this is merely a springboard for you to do your own work in what is admittedly a very deep and complex topic. I’ve only scratched the surface.

    You’ll want to read up on the works of Eugene Burger, Derren Brown, Max Maven, Rick Maue, Kenton Knepper, Lee Earle, Docc Hilford, Cristian Chelman, Sean Fields and R. Shane.

    Outside of magic, I’ve been listing a lot of other sources in the film and literary world. Artistically speaking, creating beauty in darkness presents a rather unique challenge and requires a strong grounding in the art world as well as having life experience to talk about. Never stop evolving.

    The important thing that I hope to have done here is given you some insight into what differentiates a genuinely spooky/creepy performer from some punk kid who does weird crap to get attention.
  3. I honestly can't believe that anyone would want to act dark. How are you going to wind up at kids parties or formal events when everyone thinks that you worship the devil. All I'm saying is sometimes a more happy interesting look works better.
  4. I'd appreciate it if you would actually read the article and see what I have to say before you get on your soapbox.

    Do that, and then I'll have a response to what you just said here.
  5. Steerpike. I didn't read it here because the same one is on E. please go there and read the post by magicfreak753 it goes into much more detail.
  6. Acting "dark" MIGHT get you a TV show (1 in a million chance). Acting human with get you a real audience and obtainable gigs (1 in 10 chances). Also, I can't think of a single well known "dark" magic act in Vegas. I'm sure there is somewhere... but not like Lance Burton or something :) Just be yourself and be happy :)

  7. #7 Steerpike, May 14, 2008
    Last edited by a moderator: May 14, 2008
    That still doesn't address anything I actually said.

    None of you it seems are paying attention.

    I did not create this thread so a handful of you could tell me what I should be performing. This is specifically geared toward people who have an interest in creating beauty in darkness, and also in helping some people understand one of the elements that differentiates a good performer from a bad one.

    I'm not here to tell you to stop performing birthday magic. It's a fine, legit venue and one you can get a lot of satisfaction out of if you enjoy doing it. But not everyone fits that archetype.

    Did I somehow fail to get my message across, or are you all just that preachy that you can't concieve of anyone being successful by doing something different than you?
  8. I have to go with Steerpike here. He said nothing about "do magic darkly and don't do it happy". All he was addressing was the fact that some people who think they are "Dark" and are just not.

    Personally, my opinion is that if you do work "DarK", make sure you create a charactor that someone will be willing to hang out with when the charactor is not performing magic. (Not you, mind you, your charactor).

    And working dark is fun. You can and will get that "formal gig". I have with being dark. And with children you can do it to some extent, for instance, you make the children the heros of the show.

    What I do, normally, is just come out as myself, but more of a teacher. I show the trick as a normal teacher would (I do a lot of Derren Brown/hypnosis stuff), but there is a touch of dark in my pratter. Just enough for misdirection and a little uneasiness. Sometimes a subtle "dark" is all you need. A feeling of "something is not quite right". :)

    Anyway, I think it's a good article, Steerpike.
  9. I don't think lazydog was telling you what to perform. You can perform any way you want but i see that's not what your post was dealing with.

    I'm not going to comment as i have no interest in "dark" or "creepy/spooky" magic and agree with lazydog. Be yourself and be happy.
  10. That's a hollow sentiment because it has nothing to do with anything I was saying. It would be better if you just didn't say anything to begin with.

    I don't know why I bother sometimes.
  11. I like what OwnerM addressed in the subtle feeling of unease, or mystery.. Could this be real?

    I perform all over the place in all sorts of events - take this weekend, I did a 30th birthday do in the suburbs and then a central London private party attended by big musicians and pornstars! Yesterday I did a corporate event for Samsung. I do all of this with a pretty dark character, but what's important is that there's charm.

    Look at any magician you consider great, of course they'll be an amount of exceptions, but the one thing that generally correlates between all these guys is the element of charm, to always know what to say and how to act, but not in a cocky way, you know?

    Magic is designed to be amazing, the idea of mystery naturally goes hand in hand with this and then the darker element is a fantastic tool to craft style and charm into your performance.

    There's nothing wrong also with being happy and having a laugh and then during certain parts of your performance going deeper within yourself to make the impossible happen. Read some of Kenton's work for some great tips on this very subtle form of suggestion.

  12. I don't mean to be rude, but that's the point....

    What if "be yourself" means being dark? The point of the post is how far do you go from being "dark" to being "creepy" (as the post defines it).

    As I said about myself I do a "normal-guy teacher" kind of persona, but there's a subtly of dark in my pratter, just enough to keep people wondering.

    If I played it completely happy all the time, I would not be able to pull it off.

    The idea of the article isn't to say "be dark", it's to say "if you are dark, make sure you keep it dark and don't get creepy...."
  13. Because your smarter than us and have to educate us dummies when our opinion is wrong of course... I'm kidding (all in fun). If you do dark magic, thats fine... its just not me. If its dark and your just being true to yourself, great! However, there seems to be this trend in young magic, where you have to be creepy or eerie. Heres a perfect example: When I was younger, I used to skate (board) every day. Even went and did some skating in Europe when I was 15. A number of years later, I walked into a local skate park and saw something CRAZY. All the skater kids looked EXACTLY the same. Long shaggy hair, girl jeans, tight v-neck shirts, etc... Now granted when I skated way back when, we had some trends. Baggy pants, chain wallet (which I never had), and DC shoes (also never had). Point is, its gotten to a point in which you have to look the part before you can even start being it. Esse quam videri is a Latin phrase meaning "To be, rather than to seem"... Something I really do suggest everyone to adopt. I like it a lot more than the other choice "fake it till you make it" :)


    ps. I don't do birthday parties.
  14. You're half-right. Creepiness can be done, but it's very difficult to pull off. To do creepy magic requires the utmost sense of tact, restraint, and theatricality.

    That's one of the reasons I went into the consideration of character and how you act when presenting this sort of subject material.

    My message was that creating beauty in darkness is a powerful and wonderful form of art and theater, but it is also one of the most uniquely challenging because it requires restraint, intelligence, and a high degree of self-awareness of one's Shadow. It is not to be taken lightly, and it is not for everybody.

    That's a point I was trying to address. There's a world of difference between being an expert artist in the macabre, and being a typical angsty teen.
  15. I honestly don't have a long enough attention span to read that whole thing.

    Thats nice talk for get to the point.
  16. If you're too lazy to take 5 minutes to read something, you don't deserve the information therein.

    Come back when you have something of value to say.
  17. Guess what?
    Maybe he wasnt talking to you.
  18. I actually enjoyed reading that and understand what you're saying, as well as the way it's written.
  19. You expect to much if you think every post on a forum is going to be intelligent/productive...

    That being said I agree with everything you said and it was a very helpful essay.
  20. #20 Steerpike, May 14, 2008
    Last edited by a moderator: May 14, 2008
    I know. But it gets a burr under my saddle to have someone come in and tell me that they're too bloody lazy to read something. What, do they think they're being funny? Do they think I'm just going to hand them the Cliff's Notes?

Share This Page

{[{ searchResultsCount }]} Results