Magic is a funny business.
There are some things you would expect magicians to universally agree upon.
- It's wrong to advertise that you've won an award when you haven't.
- It's wrong to copy someone else's act.
- It's wrong to release someone else's trick as your own.
- It's wrong to undercut a fellow magicians fee to get a job.
However, nothing seems to be black and white in this business.
Maybe it's not just magic either. I've been reading up about business ethics and it seems the goal posts are shifted quite regularly and their positions are determined by those who'll get most benefit.
As you, regular reader, are aware, I dared to point out a magician who is claiming to have won awards that don't even exist. The response from one magician, who does jobs for him, was harsh and the accusation of hypocrisy was made towards me.
Why? Because I use the by-line 'Australia's Favourite Magician' and, according to this man, that is just as unethical as claiming a false award. (I do wonder though, as ethics are subjective, if the person claiming the false awards feels he is being ethical?) And if I truly believed his theory that an accusation of hypocrisy automatically negates an otherwise valid point, I'd go to town on this accuser!
Kamal chimed in on the discussion and agreed that not only was I being unethical, but so is every other magician who calls themselves 'Australia's Finest Illusionist', 'Melbourne's Funniest Duo' or any such term.
Even the way winners of actual real awards should bill themselves was debated.
Kamal feels that only 1st place FISM winners can call themselves 'FISM Winners' (Several years ago FISM clarified that only first place winners are entitled to the term 'FISM Champion' and all FISM prize winners amended their billing accordingly) and 2nd and 3rd place winners can only call themselves 'FISM Award Winners' and not 'FISM Winners'. Anyone doing otherwise is, in his opinion, unethical.
A quick google reveals that pretty much all Award Winners are billing themselves as 'FISM Award Winners' anyway. Though in the first accuser's opinion, if you came 2nd or 3rd you didn't win anything - you lost - and as such are not entitled to use the word 'winner' in any context.
COPYING AN ACT
I have often heard the argument that it's okay for a beginner to copy a routine, especially a published routine, because you need to start somewhere. It's a training technique used in other art forms, especially painting, where the student copies the works of the great masters.
So you could say that is a legitimate justification for copying an act.
What about copying a fellow performers signature effect, when you are working in the same market competing for the same gigs?
Bad form, you cry!
Yet the 'business savvy' among us say that it's a good move because, when the client calls up asking for "the magician who cuts the tie", you can say "Yes, that's me. I do that trick!" and the gig is yours.
If you value money more than respect, I suppose you might consider that to be ethical behaviour.
RELEASING A TRICK AS YOUR OWN
This goes on way too much for my liking. I first encountered it up close in 'The Great Re-Pop Re-Poff'.
The majority of magicians simply wouldn't do this. You'd make way too many enemies in the community. But the majority of manufacturers who do it don't care about the magic community. They don't go to conventions. They don't seek respect or admiration. They just want to make a quick and easy buck and in the extremely creative but totally unprotected world of the magic inventor it's like shooting fish in a barrel!
The dodgy manufacturer just looks around at what's hot, reproduces it cheaply without the burden of research and development, and mass markets it - usually killing the original on price too.
Some will try to justify their "new release" saying the idea dates back way before the original creator came up with it... but it's inevitably a poor attempt at sheer, unadulterated justification that most magic scholars will see through instantly.
It's very sad, but no surprise that the 'Magic Fakers' site continues to grow.
Some magicians have set prices, some put their prices up if the gig is in a wealthy suburb, some vary their prices depending on demand (like car parks do on busy days). Everyone has their own price regime and can justify their reasoning.
But when a client is getting quotes and a magician asks "What price did so-and-so ask for? I can do it cheaper." That's generally considered a bad move.
However, especially in the wake of the GFC, those magicians desperate to feed their families might consider it a great business strategy. After all, it is a free market!
Some take it even further and accept ALL jobs, no matter what the fee, then farm out the work to cheaper artists closer to the date keeping the cream of the work for themselves (and charging the cheaper acts commissions too!).
That's not on, you say.
But they say it's a great way to corner the market! After all, that advice comes from a book about business for magicians.
So are there any ethics in magic?
I'm not, despite what some say, putting myself up as an authority here. I'm a magician who has opinions like the rest of you, and I'm willing to state them. I'm also willing to discuss them openly in a reasonable and reasoned manner.
And I like to throw out a lot of questions to try to gauge the feelings out there, like:
* Is this a community of like minded people trying to do the right thing and behave like colleagues to promote the art they love - or is it just another cut-throat business?
* Will people stop calling themselves 'Magician of the Year' based on their creative reinterpretation of the title 'Magic Club Stage Comp Winner'?
* Will, as Kamal might hope, all of 'Australia's #1 Comedy Magicians' drop the byline and simply promote themselves as 'One of Australia's Top Comedy Magicians'? Or is that even too "boastful"?
* Is even a simple byline like 'Australia's Magician of the Mind' unethical because it infers that all of the other mentalists in the country are unworthy of the title?
So many questions, and at least five times as many answers.
One colleague said "I do what my conscience tells me and I sleep well at night." I'm sure most people do.
Some on much more expensive beds than others.