A lot of magicians are always bitching about ethics in magic. If you do not believe me, spend a few agonizing minutes reading through some of the wastelands of internet forums. Some people want Penn & Teller banned from everything because they "expose" magic secrets. Even more want the head of Valentino on a platter because he sold out and played the role of the Masked Magician. And let us not forget that for some magicians, Mac King is the Antichrist because of the Mac King School of Magic on the World's Greatest Magic television shows.
Although there are many areas of magic where ethics play a role, it seems that there is one type of "unethical behavior" that always gets the most attention, and that is the so-called "exposure" of secrets. There is no doubt that you can always expect a knee-jerk reaction from many magicians in regard to anything that is labeled as exposure. But yet, if the truth be told, when it comes down to what truly damages the art of magic, exposure is probably not even among the top five major problems.
Now do not misinterpret what I am saying because I do not take part in the practice of exposure, but I honestly don't lose any sleep over it either. The reason for this is the fact that nobody can really agree on what exposure truly is, or isn't.
If the definition is as simple as exposing a method to a lay audience, then you better buy miles and miles of rope because you are going to have to string up a ton of guilty magicians. To start out, you can lynch my friend Ian Rowland. After all, he was the reason for this essay in the first place after a small collection of bounty hunter mentalists threatened the shops, clubs, and individuals that booked a joint lecture tour that I had scheduled with him. But you cannot stop with Ian. Go ahead, string up Penn, Teller, Valentino, and Mac King. But once again, you cannot stop with this small group of exposers because there are still tons of these exposing bastards to go after.
Next, you will have to dig up Dai Vernon and string him up as well. After all, he basically created the modern version of Cups and Balls that exposes false transfers, palming, and misdirection. And just think of how much rope you are going to need to hang the people in magic that have followed Vernon's lead. Start with Ricky Jay, Paul Gertner, Michael Ammar, and just about anyone else in the world that has anything to do with the Cups and Balls. Man, you are even going to be forced to lynch some of your own friends if they have ever done the Cups and Balls for any laymen. Hell, you may even have to hang yourself.
But wait, we are already running out of rope and we haven't even scratched the surface. We better go buy a few more thousand miles to make a noose for each one of the card guys that we have to go after. What bastards they are! After all, think of the gambling demonstrations that you have seen where numerous sleights and techniques are exposed. Think about it: second dealing, bottom dealing, false shuffles, false cuts, stacking, culling, and a number of other magician techniques are exposed on a regular basis by these bastards. And we are talking some big name exposers like Darwin Ortiz, Martin Nash, Ricky Jay (there he goes again, we have to hang him twice!), Simon Lovell, Derek Dingle, and so on, and so on, and so on...
And we cannot stop there. What about all of the illusionists that have ever done a "backstage" illusion? Holy hell, that exposes the concept of false bottom props. That proves that Lance Burton is truly evil, but we should have known that already because he is a friend of those bastards Penn & Teller. Save a noose for Burton too, he can hang next to his friends! After all, it must be a conspiracy, call Oliver Stone!
At this point I hope that you realize that all of the people that I have named above (with the exception of Valentino) are individuals that I greatly respect. They are not exposers, they are artists, and they have made very valuable contributions to the art of magic. But the point that I am trying to make is that most (please note that I said "most") of the magicians that go around yelling about exposure are just very naive. Their heart is in the right place, but these exposures really mean nothing. The art of magic is strong. It has survived the Masked Magician (and all the other so-called "exposure"), and nobody has lost any work. And the last I checked, good magicians (please note the emphasis on "good") are still amazing audiences. So my suggestion is to cancel the lynch mob and simply work really hard to make your own magic as good as you possibly can. After all the most prevalent form of exposure is all the lousy magic that is performed by bad magicians, so maybe that is what we all need to focus on for a while.
But like I said, that takes care of most accusations of exposure. But what about the selective accusations that seem to usually come from a small collection of people in world of mentalism? Well, in my opinion, those charges are not usually about protecting the art form. They appear to be coming from self-serving individuals that are hiding certain skeletons in their own closets.
Do not forget, often the goal of this selective lynch mob of mentalists is to make people believe that what they do is real, which is something that they feel is essential. After all, many of the mentalists that constantly (and loudly) voice their opinions about the "exposure" issue are the same ones that also do private readings. You know, these are the "magicians" that scam people out of their money by possibly doing a few tricks, and then maybe a little palm reading so they can tell the "client" what they want to hear about their personal life. And these individuals question the ethics of others?
Long ago I realized that most private readers are merely mentalists that cannot book enough (or in many cases, any) legitimate performances, so they take short cuts to make a buck. They deceive people, but not for the sake of entertainment. And if the truth is told, they rape the art of magic. I would call them whores, but even whores are honest enough to tell you that they are going to screw you. Readers even lie about that.
So I guess ethics only matter to these folks when they can hide their own unethical behavior behind a mask and point their fingers at others. A good example of this is how much effort they put into proclaiming that "exposers" like Ian Rowland are hurting the art of magic. Simply put, readers resort to name-calling and blacklisting to protect their own unethical actions. But the sad thing is, once the label of "exposer" has been applied to someone in magic, people like Ian can be labeled for life. All I can say is that if Senator Joe McCarthy was alive today, he would be very happy with such psychics and readers for they carry on his tradition proudly.
But let me ask a couple of serious questions. When was the last time one of these "holier than thou" readers threatened to pull their products from a legitimate magic shop because Darwin Ortiz was going to lecture there? Or when did they ever threaten to organize a boycott of the shop if an appearance by Mr. Ortiz was not canceled? After all, we have established that card workers that do gambling demonstrations for the general public are exposers. And the collection of methods that they expose would be considered important tools of the close-up worker, and closely guarded secrets of magicians. So where are the threats and the protests?
We all know that such threats and boycotts will never happen when Mr. Ortiz gets booked for a lecture at a magic shop. One reason is that he does not shed light on the scams that private readers run. The other reason is that most readers do not (and most likely, cannot) do riffle stacking, second dealing, bottom dealing, or any of the other things that are "exposed" during a gambling demonstration, which means they are not affected. I guess that proves that it is not really about saving the art of magic from exposure, but instead, it is about some hypocritical people saving themselves from being exposed to be the fakes that they truly are.
But enough is enough, we have already wasted too much time on these private readers that rape our art form for the sake of money. But we still have some other ethical questions in the world of magic to address, so let's move on.
I would like to try a little experiment. Go over to your magic bookshelf (or bookshelves) and take a look around. Do you have any photocopies of lecture notes, books, or booklets? How about your video collection--are there any illegal copies there? Now I do not mean to get personal, but isn't copying published works illegal, and unethical? It sure is, but yet a number of the magicians and mentalists that I have met have illegal copies of printed material or videos in their collection. In fact, some even go as far as selling them to customers. I should know, because a friend of mine (acting on my behalf) purchased an illegal copy of my first book from a guy in California. He was selling them on eBay, and after I received word about what he was doing, I had a friend bid on one of his auctions. And when the book showed up, sure enough, it was an illegal copy. When I contacted the seller about it, he did the only thing he could do--he started selling the copies under a different user name.
Then there was well known East Coast bizarrist that bought my book from me, and then he proceeded to circulate it to a list of magicians for copying. Accompanying the book was a note that praised not only the material, but also the print quality because it stood up to fourth generation copying before it really fell off badly. Wasn't that nice of him to say? I should have used his quote for the back of the book. So much for all magicians being brothers.
But you know what? We have talked about people that rape our art form for the sake of money. We have talked about the theft of books and videos. And yet, we still haven't even gotten to the biggest group of unethical magicians. If you haven't guessed, that group is made up of all the people that steal from other performers. We can start with the simple example of, "Hey, that's a good line, I'm going to use it." Then we can move on to include those that steal complete routines, scripts, characters, acts, and so on, and so on.
Simply put, if you see something in a lecture, or if you buy the rights to an effect or a routine, it is ethical to use it. But if you simply see another performer do something, or you hear something in their act, it is not yours to use. That is stealing, and it is unethical. And yet, this happens every single day in magic, but you do not see any boycotts being organized over any of it.
I think by now I have made my point. The discussion of ethics is much more involved than most magicians care to believe. Simply put, many magicians live in glass houses, so maybe they should just put their stones away. Magic is a wonderful art form, and I have met a number of really great magicians from coast to coast. And along the way, the most important thing that I have learned is that we should all do our best to truly respect the art of magic, for it is bigger and more important than any one individual, or any group of individuals. Do not rape our art form, do not abuse it, but instead, honor it, and please do not take more from it than you are prepared to give back.