Magic is Dead, Give me Attention
So here’s the thing. I absolutely LOVE attention. I also HATE asking for attention. This past weekend I’ve processed those last two statements on a much deeper level than I have previously. Sometimes you need to rediscover an insight multiple times to really get it.
The most recent batch of introspection was prompted by the book “Magic is Dead” by Ian Frisch. Spoiler, I’m a semi-professional close up magician and have a vested interest in many things magic. Ian was describing Chris Ramsay, the quintessential young-blood social media based cool kid magician. A quote:
[...] Ramsay’s style has since evolved into a more high-end street-wear, hypebeast-esque aesthetic: A Bathing Ape jacket, Supreme cap and hoodie, adidas by Pharrell Williams NMD sneakers, etc.
I don’t even know what A Bathing Ape jacket looks like, nor why the “A” is capitalized, but my gut reaction is revulsion. I know just enough about Supreme and “hypebeast”s to know that I don’t like them. But why? Why do I spit venom when I hear about new performers on social media trying to “make magic cool again”?
Long story short, I LOVE attention, and I HATE asking for it. This has been the case since middle school. The hating to ask part comes with an attitude of “Fuck you, I’m not going to beg for you to give me something”. So I had a chip on my shoulder in regards to asking for people’s attention, and like any good chip, it needed a rationalized narrative to justify its existence. “People who need other people to pay attention to them are weak”, “Wow hazard, you’re such a strong rugged individual for not needing other people’s attention”
Notice the switch from “I don’t like asking for attention” to “I don’t need attention”. It’s subtle. Sure took me 8+ years to notice.
As you may have guessed, I didn’t magically stop wanting/needing attention from people in middle school. I just learned a new strategy to meet the need. The strategy was the personality that I began to develop in middle school and high school, that of the unflappable competent marauder. I always played calm and collected, I worked hard to get good at the tasks at hand (my primary social group was my boy scout troop, so this meant getting good at outdoorsing, leadership, and planning), and casually leveraging my more impressive abilities (I didn’t do parkour back then, but I could still climb most things and do dive rolls off of pavilion roof tops).
I become the sort of person who when you find out they also know how to juggle you go, “Of course Hazard knows how to juggle!” (actual interaction).
When I got into magic, tI worked this angle on a whole new level. Now I had a skill set where I could blow peoples minds and setup scenarios where of course we’re all now going to watch Hazard do a magic trick, because they’re so god damn cool!
Did I ever mention that I love attention? But really, in a non snarky, non self deprecating way, I love attention. Having people laughing and smiling and shouting with me at the center is such a yummy experience. A++, would recommend.
So my implicit approach to magic (and all relationships) was this: casually be as awesome as possible so that people are compelled to give me their attention, that way I don’t have to ask for it.
A “detour” into thanking people
Here’s an implicit model of thanks and appreciation I see people using: If someone goes out of their way to help you, or wasn’t expected to help you in the first place, thank them more. If it was easy for someone to help you, or it was expected of them, thank them less.
The counter to this would be telling you “don’t take people for granted”. This phrase always felt a bit odd to me. I’m not allowed to take anything for granted? Do I need to thank the strangers I passed on the way to this coffee shop because the didn’t try to kill me? Seems a little much.
Here’s a new framing: In the first model, one uses thanks and appreciation as a marker of social debt. If something happened such that “I owe you one” (small or big), then I mark it with a “thanks man”. [Ignores for now that some people also seem to thank and appreciate as needed to make people do stuff for them]
The nugget of gold that I see in “don’t take people for granted” is “let people know when they’ve helped you out”. People want to be effectual, and it’s a nice little boost to know that something you did actually helped someone. Because of how common the”thanks as debt marker” mentality is (“make sure you thank the neighbors for the extra dessert they let you have, they are very nice people and didn’t have to give you that”) I think defenders of “granted” get roped into using the language of debt, thus leading to claims like “You owe everybody everything”.
So there are two separate questions. When do you owe someone something, and when should you thank or appreciate them?
Owing is a huge beast on its own. There’s a whole host of hidden sub questions. How should I personally treat people? When should I feel obligated to help someone? When should I be socially held accountable for helping someone? Complex stuff, not the topic of this post.
Effects on the personal
Two things are extra hard if you hate to ask for attention. It’s hard to show appreciation, and it’s hard to ask for things.
Me trying to compel people to want to be around me instead of making explicit bids for friendship was a way of protecting myself from feeling like I owed anyone. “You’re not doing me a favor by hanging out with me, because I’m so shiny you can’t not hang out with me.” And then, oh oops, this leads to rarely showing appreciation. Now, remember that I’m not asking people for stuff all the time. The failure mode here is not “I’m always doing all this stuff for you and you never appreciate it!”. It’s a bit more subtle.
(paraphrased quote someone has said to me)
Yeah, you’re cool and all but I don’t know why you hang out with me. I mean it doesn’t seem like you get much out of it. It doesn’t feel like I could actually matter that much to you.”
Also notice the lovely way this can be more extreme if a friend has low self esteem (which may or may not be a factor that makes someone more likely to be compelled to a shiny person(?)).
So yeah, not showing people appreciation ain’t cool.
Not asking for things, that’s more of a me problem. “Good things come to those who ask” and all that.
Zooming back to show biz and performance. Recall, my approach with magic was be so good that people were compelled to give me their attention, and rarely if ever make explicit bids for attention. If you keep scaling this attitude up, you roughly get “Fuck you, I’m awesome. Come see my show if you want to have a good time, it’s your loss if you don’t.” There are some important things that this frame gets right.
If you as a performer feel destroyed every time someone doesn’t like your show, or when the theater isn’t booked solid, you’re in for a world of hurt. It’s also likely you will have a hard time developing your own style. If you’re terrified of being disliked, you face huge pressure to play it safe and stick to the known. A certain about of “Fuck you, I’m awesome” is needed to be yourself. How much of it is needed? Hard to say.
Second point, people need a reason why they should be watching you as opposed to the millions of other options they have. People want to see stuff they are going to enjoy, and if you don’t at least say, “Yes, my show is in fact good and you will enjoy it” lots of people will just move onto something else.
Those are the good parts, now here’s the poison in it. “Fuck you, I’m awesome” is a frame that asserts that you, the audience, don’t matter. Your attention/time/money most not matter if I don’t care if you come to my show.
No, I’m not saying that every performer tell their fans they care about them. You might not care about your fans, you might not even know them. But I do want to explore what it would be like to both give incredible performances that people love and enjoy, while also explicitly appreciating the good thing we have with and letting them know they are doing a good thing for me.
“Can I get this to go please?”
What if you, whenever people did good stuff for you, you let them know they had a positive effect on you? You might have to come up with a unique way of saying it if you want to make explicit that you aren’t saying “I owe you”. We’ll leave that as an exercise to the reader.