Saturday, April 18, 2015
If you're looking for a review of the travelling Penn & Teller magic show, you're probably in the wrong place. What you're more likely to find here is just me being a big kiss ass toward the dynamic duo. It's not really fair for me to ask if I liked the show. That's like asking if I like ice cream. Or steak. Or bacon. You see: I've been a fan since my late teens (and I'm an old fart). But I never knew how much of a fan I was back then... I just knew their humor and style appealed to me.
What I came to discover -- and hope to impart here -- is that their magic matters. Oh, sure, it is a silly show full of all sorts of chuckles, lies and trickery. But it is more than that as well. It is true art. And it's art with a purpose.
To really understand their impact, you'd have to understand the town I grew up in. When I was a child, it was a sleepy little town fully entrenched and ruled by Baptists. And I mean seriously ruled. It was "made safe" by continuing alcohol prohibition well up until 2013. I remember the religious leaders up in arms protesting -- successfully I might add -- to keep the heretic ideas in Monty Python's "Life of Brian" out of the cinema. I remember city ordinances that shuttered dangerous pornography like Playboy magazine and kept it safely outside the city walls. And all I could think at the time was how bassackwards the town was and how much I wanted to escape it.
And escape I did. Roughly about the same time I first saw P&T's blood and cockroach infested appearances on Letterman -- I also was dabbling in that evil that we know of as Rock and Roll. In particular: Rush -- which also had quite an influence on my young mind. I found their intriguing ideas on art, self interest and philosophy really melded with my own forming opinions. When I found a one-liner in their liner notes: "with acknowledgement to the genius of Ayn Rand"... I dug through bookshelves and started reading.
It was probably about 10 years ago I realized that Penn & Teller were outspoken libertarians and atheists -- well, one of them was outspoken anyway. I stumbled upon their Bullshit! series and was hooked immediately. And it was just a little more than a year ago that Ellie May pulled out her phone with Penn's podcast loaded and said "Spork: you've GOT to listen to this." Just like that, I became a member of Penn's congregation.
So why do silly magic tricks matter? They matter because I saw a room full of old Baptist geezers listen while Penn trivializes religious thought -- and they laughed and applauded. They matter because many of these same people patiently waited 45 minutes for a 10 second photo op with them, grinning with insane childish joy. You can tell the magic tricks matter when you hear a stranger in the crowd say "I really don't like their world view, but MAN that part with the Constitution was powerful!"
They matter because men can express their love of individual rights and their distaste for religion all wrapped in laughter and wonder. A group that's usually thought of as lunatic fringe is the star attraction for 2 whole hours.
And maybe most of all it matters because they somehow symbolize that the backwards town where I felt oddly out of place seems to have grown up -- just a little.