Sexuality in Magic and The Picture I’ll Never Look At Again
Ever have one of those moments where your perception of something changes so drastically that you will never be able to see it the same way again? Yes, you have, whether you realize it or not. A simple example would be if you were to try and go back in your mind to a time before you knew that 1+1=2. There was such a time, but once you learned about numbers and math your fundamental perception changed so completely that you simply can’t imagine going back anymore. You can’t unlearn what you have learned.
Take a look at this picture at the beginning here because I’m going to come back to that perception later on.
Art, really of any kind, will touch on some pretty powerful themes in order to be “art.” Every real artist I know or have read about seems to share that perspective.
Sex and sexuality are very definitely powerful themes to touch on.
My apprentice and I have discussed this on any number of occasions. We’ve considered the idea that magic is sexist or that certain effects in magic may be more masculine and some may be more feminine. We covered the idea that even certain props might be more “masculine” or more “feminine.”
The most obvious, of course, is the magic wand, a very definitely phallic symbol. And in fact, from a historical perspective that is precisely what it is; phallic. Especially when one realizes that it descends from ancient ritual practices in the hands of “wise women” and “priestesses” and was often used in acts of “sexual magic” such as a way to test virginity. (1)
A perhaps less obvious example would be the cups used in The Cups and Balls. However the cup or chalice is recognized in ancient cultures to be representative of the womb.
In modern magic there are many presentations which essentially “victimize” women. Pretty much any “Sawing” illusion for example. Or really any illusion where a woman is seen as a manipulated focus of the magician’s power. But the same focus might be considered sensual more than exploitative.
I give you, as an example, one of my all time favorite David Copperfield illusions.
You decide, is it sensual, is it manipulative, is it something else? (Feel free to respond in the comments below.) I will say that my reasons for calling this one of my favorites is not because of the “sexuality/sensuality” aspects of it, but rather the technological aspect, ie the use of water to provide a kind of “framework” for how the levitation is accomplished. For me it is a visually stunning example and perhaps in that respect does qualify it as “sensual.”
But there are examples out there which take things way to far. The below clip is not for young viewers. It does contain nudity and a certain amount of crudity.
(I apologize but this video doesn’t embed here as it’s not from YouTube. This will open another window instead. Stripper Girl Magic Trick.)
I find this example to be overtly terrible. But necessary to the point I’m working my way up to. (Again, feel free to leave comments below.)
While it seems easy to find examples of sex and sexuality badly portrayed or addressed, examples of a more positive nature seem to be fewer and further between. I am not opposed to the use of sex and sexuality in my art. Let me make that perfectly clear.
As long as that use is done with the kind of respect I think the topic deserves. And I will go even further and say that while I do not like the above video of the female magician, it is entirely possible that she sees this performance as some kind of ironic statement on sex and sexuality. If she does I’m not clear on what it might be, but it is possible.
Regardless she clearly feels perfectly comfortable with her performance.
Now, admittedly “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar” (thank you Dr. Freud) and a wand is just a stick and a cup is just a cup. In fact that’s true most of the time for most magicians in my experience. Certainly it was true some twenty years ago when I took the above picture.
That picture was taken by the same photographer who took the pictures at my wedding. It was studio time that we got as part of the package. The arrangement of the cups and balls on the table in front of me is the final arrangement in the routine that I do. I have always looked at it as a nice display, well balanced, well arranged. And for twenty years it has remained just that and nothing more to me.
Today I can no longer see it that way.
A person who had also been seeing this picture for roughly twenty years, and who had been seeing it that same way all along, had a sudden change in perspective triggered by some errant thought.
So now take a look at that picture again with the filter (or lack of filter?) that the concepts of sex and sexuality bring to mind. Do you see it? If you don’t I envy you.
But for me, I’ll never see that picture the same way again. At first I was deeply annoyed by that, but now I’m just philosophical about it. Clearly it sparked this post considering just the surface of what is ultimately a very interesting topic. There is a lot to be dug up in the midst of this mental minefield of art and sex.
1 – The Magician’s Wand: A History of Mystical Rods of Power, Joe Lantiere