First, a quote:

Here he comes, boogie-dy, boogie-dy
There he goes, boogie-dy, boogie-dy
And he ain’t wearin’ no clothes

Oh yes, they call him the streak
Fastest thing on two feet
He’s just as proud as he can be
Of his anatomy
He’s gonna give us a peek
Oh yes, they call him the streak
He likes to show off his physique
If there’s an audience to be found
He’ll be streakin’ around
Invitin’ public critique…

–Ray Stevens, The Streak

In keeping with the spirit of this post, Here’s a YouTube clip providing the original — superior — version of the song, accompanied with a video that is…pure entertainment. Brilliant:

1974 was a bizarre year for several reasons. Patricia Hearst is kidnapped; Phillip K. Dick has his wisdom teeth extracted and, upon answering the door for a delivery of painkillers, sees a pendant around the neck of the delivery woman and begins seeing visions (to be fair, though, that’s not the weird part); The Brady Bunch is canceled (“Marcia, Marcia, Marcia”); ABBA, Waterloo; the Darwin Beer Can Regatta (honestly, now, do you even need to click the link?); and one name: Ronald DeFeo, Jr..

Certainly one of the more culturally bizarre was the practice of streaking. According to Wikipedia:

Streaking is the non-sexual act of taking off one’s clothes and running naked through a public place.

When you are aged three and younger, that’s considered fairly normal behavior. After that, apparently, the rules change significantly and materially.

(Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but not everything is beautiful.)

As bizarre as streaking might have been viewed — and, frankly, it did not disturb me all that much given the fact that the only streakers I personally viewed were of the fairer sex (a fine example of the fairer sex) — it served a purpose: to draw attention to the streaker. That’s it. You can go home now.

Through the intervening years, young people have attempted and implemented various cultural devices by which they might draw undue attention to themselves. Maybe it’s just me, but streaking trumps a blue mohawk every day and twice on Sunday, especially if the streaker is a redheaded chick. (Again, maybe that’s just me.)

But the point, really, is attention. Since a tree falling in a forest with no one there to hear it clearly makes no noise, winking in the dark doesn’t accomplish a whole lot more; you have to have an audience.

Enter YouTube.

YouTube can be to magicians with a video camera, what a Super Bowl halftime commercial is to advertisers — a guaranteed audience (only a lot less expensive.)

YouTube also can be to magic and mentalism what Allen Funt was to people who unwittingly do stupid things. And to just as frighteningly large an audience. On demand.

YouTube further supports the notion that Johannes probably had the last laugh.

YouTube, like the Internet and, specifically the Worldwide Web on which YouTube relies, is a conduit for information. Put a search box on the conduit and you have a double-edged sword. Allow anyone with the ability to upload a video and you have one example after another of someone falling on their own double-edged sword over and over and over and…

(The pen may be mightier than the sword, but it’s not nearly as much fun watching someone falling on his own pen as the other thing.)

Anything wrong with that? If the InnernetWeb can’t amuse, why bother paying $80 a month for 10MB download speed?

In the larger picture of things, yes, there can be something wrong with that. Magic and mentalism is not easy to do. It’s even harder to do well. Doing it great? Few do. By default, YouTube falls in line to prove Theodore Sturgeon correct. Hey, it’s not just a good idea, it’s the law, man.

The good Mr. Sturgeon’s corollary states:

“The existence of immense quantities of trash in science fiction is admitted and it is regrettable; but it is no more unnatural than the existence of trash anywhere.”

True. But that doesn’t ameliorate the wounds, now does it? That’s not much better than “misery loves company” (although this version is far superior.)

While Joseph Juran may have cared about the law, he was also a principled man. He thought enough of Vilfredo Pareto’s observation that 80% of income in Italy went to 20% of the population, that he named the Pareto Principle after Pareto. The Pareto Principle is known worldwide, though under the more familiar “80-20 Principle” — 80% of the results come from 20% of the effort. (Helpdesk people will tell you 80% of the calls come from 20% of the customers, but that’s another blog post for another day.)

Combine Sturgeon’s Law with the Pareto Principle and we can safely suggest that 80% of the people searching for magic on the Internet will find the 20% of videos most easily displayed on YouTube to represent the 90% of crap they fully expect it to look like to begin with. Further, it might be safe to state that 20% of the good videos represent 80% of the views they may never get while people are viewing the other 90% of the crap you find on YouTube.

Or something like that.

Is there a solution? Hmmm. I’m not so sure there’s even a problem. Allow me, please, to explain.

There are some in the world of magic and mentalism who hold the position that, to perform any piece publicly in a less than a well constructed, fully practiced manner injures magic in the same way the culturally popular death of a thousand cuts can. If that were true, magic would have died a hundred years ago. (Here is where the obligatory and fully appropriate link to Max Maven’s Protocols of the Elders of Magic should appear. But let’s not throw a rock at that bee’s nest, shall we?)

Another faction suggests that we “old guys” are loathe to throw away our buggy whips (not to mention the buggies) in favor of embracing more modern transportation. To that I can only say you’ve never had to walk back and forth to to school, uphill, both ways, in the snow. So don’t pour me a glass of water and tell me it’s raining.

Yet another faction suggests YouTube is The Next Step in successful marketing. (But, marketing what? Who cares! “Two million views is two million views Mr. I had To Ride My Dinosaur To School.”)

In his book, Engineering Persuasion, Richard Bandler and John La Valle make the point:

When you look at the selling process, we like to start from the end. Many sales training programs start with the beginning of the process. After all, when you know where you’re going, it’s much easier to get there. Then you run the process backwards for yourself so you know what steps you take to get there.

Start with the end in mind. In other words, “what’s the goal?”

What’s the goal of a magician posting a video to YouTube? If it is merely to feed an ego, then not much more thought needs to be considered. If the goal is loftier than that, it may be a good idea to clone another aspect of David Blaine’s success: get a director. Or at least someone who can tell you the truth without you going on a digital rampage posting paragraph after paragraph explaining why your reviewer doesn’t know his nostril from a hole in the ground.

Just a suggestion. But what do I know? I have to feed my dinosaur now.

2 thoughts on “Don’t look, Ethel.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *