… and I hella love how he leverages Penn & Teller’s familiarity with classic versions of the matrix in order to fool them.
I’ve seen several recorded performances of this trick, and watched it live at least once—and yet this is the first time it dawned on me that there is no trick to this trick. (i.e., I’d bet that if you take just a moment to think about this—even if you’ve never touched a nail gun before—you can think of at least two totally different ways to modify a stock nail gun or fabricate a fako, and once you accept that the nail fun is gaffed, then there isn’t a memory trick at all, just some patter).
In fact, there’s a degree to which this trick is about the trick’s tricklessness, if you catch my meaning: It’s about delivery and panache and the fascination that comes with the risk of grievous bodily harm. It is an amped up, thoroughly Modern America version of Barnum’s wonderful(!), stupendous(!!!), incomparable(!!!) Egress.
BONUS: Penn & Teller’s greatest of misdirections—They get you caught up on the idea of being live and doing camera tricks, thus distracting you from the obvious explanation revealed at the end—AND THE FACT THAT THEY DO USE CAMERA TRICKS!!!
…on stage, in front of several thousand people. He slips it off the left wrist of the assistant standing to his right (our left) at the 1:40 min mark. You can even see him pocket it. I love this, because it never plays into the trick (which is, itself, an incredibly rudimentary one; I did a version of this when I was 10 and got my first magic kit for Non-Denominational Gift Giving Holiday Season. I’m pretty shocked this made it on.) In many ways, it’s the greatest grift of all time: Dude does a frenetic rendition of a less-than-mediocre effect (even his patter is a decade old, and sorta stock) in order to create a grand misdirection so he can steal a junk-jewelry watch. It’s one for the ages.
OK, at first blush, this seems like nothing more than a mildly sexist—but still basically harmless—”invisible touches” routine: Magician has a volunteer stand with her eyes closed as she pays super-duper sensitive attention to any physical contact she might perceive. He then steps well away—way, way too far to have any direct or indirect (e.g., creating a draft, blowing on her, tickling her with threads) contact. As witnesses watch (confirming that Magician never makes contact), he is able to make the subject believe she’s been touched (in this case, that her boobs have been squeezed)—simply by the power of his psychical abilities!
(Here’s another vid of the same dude. Note that he puts in our heads the notion of an unambiguous boob squeeze, but that his volunteers consistently describe a tap high on the chest. That gap—between his implication that he’s honking their boobs contrasted to the women’s implication that this is more of a light tap—is the tell.)
Yes, this dude is a creep, and his impinging on women’s time and space and totally leveraging huge cultural forces that oblige them to smile through bullshit like this.
But it’s still basically harmless, right? I mean, he isn’t actually touching their boobs while they are defenseless and non-consenting, right? It’s just a trick.
Accept for the thing is, he is for real and with his actual physical flesh-and-blood hands, touching these women’s breasts without their prior consent, and only getting away with it because he’s manipulating the situation owing to an information (and thus power) imbalance. And, in a move that’s both cheap from a magic performance perspective and indicative of a guilty conscious on the part of an assailant, he mostly cuts from the video the part where he does the touching.
Because he is indeed a fucking creep of the first degree.
Psychokinetic Touches Background
Back in the mid-1990s a guy named Steve Shaw was selling an effect called “Psychokinetic Touches.” Shaw himself is a really, really interesting guy (as is the pre-Internet—and even current—market in cheaply printed pro-grade performance techniques like these). Shaw he designed Penn & Teller’s famous bullet catch, although I myself first got wind of him in the 1980s, when I was a kid and he was a teen working with James Randi to fool some ESP researchers; Shaw caught my imagination then because of how straightforward and cunning his techniques were.
None of that is really germane, accept for the fact that if you maybe spend some time googling “Steve Shaw” and “Psychokinetic Touches”, you’ll dig up a blurry PDF of the old comb-bound booklet explaining his technique (which is marked by the straightforward cunning of Shaw’s work). If you do so, you’ll note that in the introduction to that work Shaw explains his inspiration: a routine from the early 1900s that is the totally obvious inspiration for the YouTube creepers stunt.
I.e., not only is dude a creepy perv, but he’s also an unoriginal creepy perv. *sighs*
(I myself got acquainted with Shaw’s PK Touches after seeing this bit on Penn & Teller’s Fool Us, which is basically 100% textbook Shaw, and an overall better effect and performance.)
At any rate, here’s an overview of Shaw’s “Psychokinetic Touches” routine:
The performer selects a volunteer from the audience, and explains that blah-blah psychic blah-blah ghosts blah-blah From Beyond—and for that reason, he is able to physically touch a receptive individual with nothing more than his mind. He then makes some gestures to “clear the volunteer’s aura” (or whatever) and steps far away. Now, standing much too far away to conceivably physical reach the volunteer, and in full view of an audience (who can be surrounding the pair on all sides), the performer makes his cooky touch-touch gestures—and low and behold!, the astonished volunteer can confirm that she has been touched(!!!)
I won’t spoil the whole thing, but SPOILER ALERT!!! : Dude is not a psychic or ghost wrangler or whatever. Here’s the basic schtick: The performer gives his little spiel, then has the volunteer close her eyes. At this stage he explains a few more things—reminding her to be “psychically receptive” and super attentive to even the lightest contact. He shuts up, does his little “aura cleansing,” and steps away to do his mambo-jahambo magical passes and psychic touching, singling out certain parts of the body (the right shoulder, the left elbow—whatever). N.B. Everything he’s done since advising her to be super attentive and receptive has happened in absolute silence. The next time he speaks is to ask “Have you felt any contact?” He than has her indicate where that contact was on her body. Lo and behold, she reports being touched in all the right places. OMFG! How did he do it?! And here comes the spoiler:
HE TOUCHED HER DURING THE “AURA CLEANING.”
From the audience’s perspective, this isn’t part of the trick yet, so they are not being super diligent; he has an easy pass to brush her gently. But remember, he’s fallen silent and the volunteer’s eyes are closed: She has no frame of reference for what’s going on, and thus from her perspective everything from when he stops talking on is part of the trick. Her perceptions are temporally out-of-synch with the audiences’, and they have no easy way to rectify that, even after the fact.
Here is a more benign version of PK Touches, and the tell is more obvious. Watch carefully at 1:55: when the performer waves his left hand in front of her face, he surreptitiously taps the back of her left shoulder with his right hand. This is largely obscured owing to how he’s positioned the volunteer relative to the audience and cameras—blocking Shaw suggests in his PK Touches. The waving-arms misdirect is also straight out of Shaw’s PK Touch. (Peter Boie uses Shaw’s exact stage business at 3:13 in the Penn & Teller video I linked up above.) Once you know what to look for, it’s pretty easy to spot the Creep-o-Perv Magician moving into the “magic passes”(/secret boobie poke) portion of his routine around the 0:34 mark in the video embedded above, when he squares up the girl’s shoulders.
Bad Touches and Bad Jokes
And I’m gonna come correct right here: I don’t know what annoys me more: A skeevy dude using a decades-old store-bought routine to non-consensually poke girls’ in the bust, or the fact that he has so little respect for his craft that he resorts to cheap “camera tricks” to pull it off.
Naw, I take it back: What annoys me most is using a third-rate performance of a first-rate effect to make a jokey pantomime of sexual assault in order to cover up the actual sexual assault you just perpetrated, ’cause it so clearly gets to the heart of what enrages me about the “Lighten up; it’s just a joke!” attitude toward minimizing the crazy-making reality of microagressions: The problem isn’t the stupid joke, but the very real assaults the jokes conceal.
Hey-hey, all my Best Belovéd:
Just a quick heads-up that Chapter 8 of my novella Expiration Date is now available free online (as are the discussion questions, the Ann Arbor District Library Summer Games points and badges—all that).
This chapter brings us a chemical event, a reunion, a revelation, Bram’s magic chopstick (of limited utility), and something mysterious high in the sky. Come grab your copy of Chapter 8 now!
And please spread the word: If you know someone who might dig this, drop them a link. Thx!