Magic is Dead, Give me Attention

(cross posted from my per­sonal per­sonal blog (not to be con­fused with my per­sonal blog)

Back story

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.”

Yikes.

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(?)).

Yikes.

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.

Show Biz

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.