Sunday, September 24, 2006

the david blaine story

So, last night at dinner I told the David Blaine story. Before he was doing stunts like hanging himself in a plexiglass box over the Thames and submerging himself in water for more than a week, David Blaine came first to fame by a couple television specials David Blaine: Street Magic and David Blaine: Magic Man. In these, he would walk around cities with a single cameraman and do a magic trick in front of some unprepared person-on-the-street, who would be telauthentically awestruck and amazed. This was just before the rise of "reality television" and after the decline of "Big Magic" on television (e.g., making the Statue of Liberty disappear, levitating across the Grand Canyon, pulling Luxembourg out of a member of the audience's posterior).

Anyway, one holiday I was home having dinner with a few family members, whose specific identities I will not disclose, who had earlier seen the first of these specials and were talking about it. This devolved into an argument that featured them, who had actually seen the show, versus me, who had not. (Note this means that there would have been no argument had I not persisted in my defense of my lonely stance.) The argument was over whether David Blaine was really magic, or was just some sort of "magician." Me--again without having seen the program or ever even having heard of David Blaine before this conversation--insisted repeatedly and confidently that David Blaine was not actually endowed with any sort of genuine magical powers. It was pointed out that it was pretty close-minded and haughty of me to be so insistent about this when I hadn't seen the show and they had. By the end, I felt like about as much of a jackass as I ever have in my life, because of my complete unwillingness to cede even the possibility that I might be incorrect. The most heartbreaking line in the argument was when a certain dearly loved relative of mine said: "I thought maybe he was an angel."

I do think that something about my personality was permanently forged that day in first grade when a substitute teacher showed us the wall map of the United States and asked what the largest state was. The map showed Alaska with one of those not-to-scale inset maps, and so Alaska was smaller than Texas. Everyone else in the class said, "Texas." I said, "Alaska." The substitute teacher traced the boundaries of the states on the map with her finger and said the exercise demonstrated that largest state was, in fact, Texas.

26 comments:

A+ said...

Weirdly enough, I remember that whole "what's the biggest state" thing too, when I was a kid. My experience was different, but irritated me nonetheless.

The thing that pissed me off was, he didn't explain the concept of a not-to-scale map. He just said, "Texas looks bigger, but really it's Alaska." Can you imagine a seven year-old trying to make sense of that? Hmmph.

I'm still trying to figure out how Blaine "levitated," although a lot of the time that I read the secrets of these tricks, part of the answer always seems to be, "and these three people are shills..." which, to me, is like cheating. Even though it's all "cheating." But at least they could drum up a good optical illusion, instead of just, you know, straight-up hiring actors.

Anonymous said...

When I was inducted into the Mu Alpha Theta math club in high school (yeah, go ahead and give me some kind of virtual wedgie), we had a guy do a presentation who was an engineer or mathemetician or something. He taught us how we could unravel the magic of David Copperfield by using trigonometry (or something like that). I don't remember exactly how he figured things out b/c I about fell asleep. So, it will probably make your life more interesting just to go with the whole he-really-is-magic theory.
JJ

Anonymous said...

actually, birdfarm said...

SEP directed me to read this entry, I'm sure, so that I could tell the following story.

When I was a kid I was waaaaaay into astronomy. I had a subscription to a kids' astronomy magazine, I had an astronomy board game (where you had to answer fact questions in order to proceed from one planet to the next), and I had books about the solar system that I had memorized.

So when I was in third grade, and the teacher asked, "can anyone tell me the exact diameter of the earth?" I was all excited. The worksheet we had in front of us said "8000 miles," which was obviously just a round number; I thought she really wanted to know if anyone knew that the exact diameter is 7926 miles.

I was wrong.

Anonymous said...

I still wonder if Michael Jordan was magic.

Anonymous said...

All you kids who were smarter than the teachers always grow up to be lefties.

Why is that?

Anonymous said...

Since we're trolling, here's another hypothesis: people who were smarter than the teacher when they were kids, and still can't shut up about it, are all lefties.

Kieran said...

How sad.

Another useful Alaska-type question is, what is the southernmost state in the U.S.?

A large majority of people get this wrong.

carly said...

I'm a leftie, but I never particularly thought that I was smarter than any of my teachers. I possibly was, but it never really occured to me. Except with my Latin teacher senior year of high school -- who I always felt smarter than, but I accepted the fact that she was my teacher (and deserved to be) because she had more knowledge than me, and when it comes down to learning Latin it's really knowledge, not any other measure of intelligence, that matters.

Anonymous said...

Hawaii

Anonymous said...

7,926 miles isn't exact. it seems equally unlikely to me that the earth would be 8,000 miles in diameter as it would be 7,926.

Captain Crab said...

And as Eric Idle said in that infamous Monty Python episode:

"What about pointed sticks?"

Nothing will really matter a hundred years from now, will it?

jeremy said...

Ang: I think there was something about how Blaine levitated online, but I'm too lazy to hunt for it now.

JJ: Wow. Were you a mathlete, as well? Or just a mathletic supporter?

Birdfarm: Great story!

Anon: Any sufficiently advanced professional basketball player is indistinguishable from Magic.

Kieran: On my first grade map, Alaska was the southernmost state, so that's my answer.

Anon 9:30: The concept of significant digits is presumably lost on you. In any case, if we are talking exactitude, not only would there be the problem where no number of digits is exactly exact, but the Earth is not exactly spherical so does not have a singular diameter. Alternatively, one could just give Birdfarm a break and enjoy the story.

Anonymous said...

"Note this means that there would not have been any argument had I persisted in my defense of my lonely stance."

Jeremy, I had to read this several times because it confused me-- do you mean, "had you NOT persisted"?

lovely story, btw.
Stamie

Kim said...

As a kid growing up in Alaska, I remember the "everything's big in Texas" meme being a source of scorn. (Alaskans has something of a one-sided rivalry with Texas: Alaskans disparaged Texas, while Texans ignored Alaska. Sort of like the relationship between sociologists' and economics, but I digress.)

As more than a few of my teachers pointed out, if you just extended the Yukon River a bit, thereby cutting Alaska in half, Texas would be the *third* largest state.

dorotha said...

Kim: Pecos Bill could whoop Alaska's ass.

dorotha said...

Did I spelll "whoop" right? Is it "wup?" Ah, who cares? Pecos Bill certainly doesn't.

astrid jane said...

Oh!! Oh!! Here's my story...

I visited those old Native American cliff dwellings with AK a few years ago on a visit to Colorado. After telling us about how scarce things like food, water and fuel were in this part of the desert, and how many of the bodies they excavated from the site showed signs of chronic malnutrition, our Park Ranger/tourguide decided to spellbind us all by presenting what he obviously felt was the "ANCIENT MYSTERIES OF THE CLIFF DWELLING INDIANS" part of the tour.

So he went on and on about how the Cliff Dwellers had dug three deep, square pits in the middle of the settlement, and how each pit had built-in benches around a central fire-area. "We know the middle pit was used for religious ceremonies," he intoned "...but to this day, no one knows what the other two were used for."

I raised my hand and asked if they might not have been used as communal cooking areas. The Ranger was agast at my stupidity, laughed rudely, and explained in a totally patronizing manner that "Of COURSE the Cave Dwellers cooked individual family meals in their own small individual living quarters...NOT all together." "We know this because there is also evidence of fire in each living space...heh...Communal kitchens..." he murmered, shaking his head.

I felt stupid and so dropped it...but the more I thought about it the more pissed I got. First of all, way to assume that because cooking and eating individual family meals in own's own living space is the norm NOW, that it must have ALWAYS been like that. Second..it makes no sense that a tiny commmunity living on the verge of starvation (with little access to water and fuel, no less...and what water and fuel there is having to be hauled up or down the side of a goddamn cliff everyday) would persue the markedly less resource-efficient strategy of trying to divide a few rabbit carcasses and handfuls of beans equitably among 15 families and then wasting way more scarce wood and water by building 15 small fires to cook them instead of one or two large ones.

No..no..no, silly me, OF COURSE the Cave Dwellers lived just EXACTLY like modern, American Surburbanites--all retreating to their stone-age "living rooms" to eat separately, and probably watching TVs carved out of granite just like the bleedin' Flintstones.

Yeah, I'm still pissed about that...

TheInternetDog said...

I was six when we elected ourselves a new president in 1980. We had a mock election in our first-grade class the day before the election. The teacher passed out the ballots (btw - they were mimeographed and smelled wonderful) and we could choose between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter.

As I was the only six-year-old in thwe world whose favorite television program was ABC's World News Tonight, I knew damned well that there were more than two people running for president. So I stuck up my hand and asked "Why can't we vote for John Anderson?

"Because he's not running for president." explained Mrs. Ferber.

He won nearly 6 million votes the next day. Not bad for someone who wasn't running.

BTW - I am not a leftie.

dorotha said...

when i was in first grade, we learned about subtraction. the teacher told us that you could never subtract a bigger number from a smaller number. now, i took her at her word because i wasn't THAT precocious, though it did sound a bit fishy. i didn't go home and consult my parents or anything. i was, however, extemely PISSED OFF when, in second grade, i learned about negative numbers. i went back to mrs. gray and complained. also, she wouldn't let me go to the bathroom once, and i threw up on my pencil box. so, i kinda hated her.

Anonymous said...

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, and video footage of a man doing card tricks sure as heck shouldn't be evidence he's a flying angel. You were correct, Jeremy, in holding your ground and should feel only pride, not shame. Refer family members to the laws of physics.

jeremy said...

I appreciate the supportive comment, Anon, but don't you think that one of the things about something being "really magic" is the possibility that it might defy the laws of physics? So I'm not sure how persuasive that would have been -- if anything, if I could be convinced he did something that did violate the laws of physics, then "real magic" would loom large as a hypothesis. (In case there is any ambiguity: I do not believe in any real magic other than Google.)

Gwen said...

I once had an intense argument with a junior-high biology teacher-slash-football-coach about the species of a tree. He insisted it was a maple. I insisted it was an oak. I used the acorns growing on it as evidence, to no avail. He eventually just got mad and said he didn't care what it was. I never really forgave him.

Anonymous said...

you should have just agreed on broadleaf deciduous and called it a day

Anonymous said...

I know you hadn't seen the special, but I think you could have had a good defense for your position simply after hearing your family members describe what occured. It was all just David Blaine doing card tricks, the same card tricks your family members have seen other "fake" magicians perform on stage and at parties. Sure he appeared to levitate, but stage magicians have been doing that to reclining ladies for decades. Forget the laws of physics, I think you could have just pointed out Blaine's doing the same fake, albeit cool, thing other magicians do. What is it that makes him real magic? Is it that he's not wearing a tux?

Anonymous said...

If you google David Blaine levitation you can find an explanation of how he does the levitation trick.

Just bring your laptop to all your family dinners from here on in.

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