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Derren Brown verdict - The Ex-Communicator

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September 12th, 2009


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06:50 am - Derren Brown verdict
Someone just phoned at 6am Saturday morning - didn't get to the phone on time - number withheld. I was having a lovely dream too. Bummer.

I was going to post about Derren Brown. His explanation of 'how he did it' was bullshit, but I don't hold it against him. I find it kind of morally problematic when he gets together a group of obviously non-too-bright people and tricks them into thinking they have magic powers. H says that's his job description, and they should know better. Probably in the cold light of day they do. But somehow lying to them, in that personal way, feels more naughty than tricking an impersonal TV audience.

I'm not complaining: he's a showman, and he does his stuff. I'm just saying I get a little moral qualm when I see the innocent things saying to the camera 'I never thought I would be able to do it!' That's because you can't. I'm not even making a general point about whether strange things might not happen in real life - it's just in this case, it was a trick.

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Comments:


[User Picture]
From:iainjclark
Date:September 12th, 2009 08:54 am (UTC)
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It's interesting to me that a commited sceptic and atheist like Brown deliberately blurs the line between promoting science and scepticism, and harnessing wish-fulfilment and the paranormal in order to 'sell' his tricks. He talks about it in his book, briefly.

I find it less problematic when he does it to uiltimately expose the wrong-thinking and explains afterwards, rather than here, when he basically uses it to sucker the gullible down a line of bad reasoning and leaves it open.
[User Picture]
From:communicator
Date:September 12th, 2009 09:41 am (UTC)
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He may have explained to them off-camera that it was a put-on, but I don't think he did, because then they could go to the press and tell all. I'm not really complaining but it did give me a bit of a pause for thought.
[User Picture]
From:iainjclark
Date:September 12th, 2009 10:54 am (UTC)
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Yes, me too. His other shows have always had an element of this - one moment sceptical, the next referring to some historical piece of pseudo-science as if it formed a genuine underpinning to his trick. His most recent stage show for example, treated many aspects of mediumship as if they were real for the sake of the show. In his book he talks about "moving into as honest an area as possible, while still retaining the necessary sense of drama and mystique...I clearly frame both live and TV shows as that mixture of psychology and trickery, and concentrate on making them as entertaining as possible while avoiding any direct claims that are untrue. Of course the result is necessarily ambiguous but I hope that's half the fun."

I'm fine with that, but I agree that the audience-magician relationship, (though I'm sure it runs the gamut from sceptical to gullible) is framed differently to the focus group's experience seen here. He did say something vague at the end about the participants understanding what they had done, which I wondered might be code for having tipped them off before the show.
[User Picture]
From:mraltariel
Date:September 12th, 2009 10:55 am (UTC)
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I'm never quite sure about this aspect of it - he does a little too much claiming special powers, and not enough "it is all an illusion", I think. So, ultimately, he doesn't debunk the huge number of genuine charlatans (if you can have such a thing) that seem so popular at the moment.

That said, I quite like the idea of getting 24 people to guess numbers and then "using" that to "work it out". I still haven't seen it, but if they're not allowed to guess the same number, then they've got a very good chance of getting 4-5 of the actual numbers, and then his "method" can plausibly have "worked out" the other one or two.

Someone has done some timings and worked out that he was delayed by about 30 seconds on his "live" feed, BTW. Which is *ages*.

Someone else has done a demo of the split-screen-with-locked-off-cameras-and-fake-camera-shake on YouTube.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/6173569/Derren-Browns-Lottery-trick-is-this-how-he-did-it.html

I think what is annoying about this one is that you don't look at it and think "How did he do that?!" There are instantly a bunch of very simple variations that present themselves, and so how he *actually* did it is a bit of a so-what.
[User Picture]
From:iainjclark
Date:September 12th, 2009 02:05 pm (UTC)
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What I like about Derren, though is that he explicitly states that he has no special powers. Of course, he then goes and blurs everything by pretending (for the sake of convenience) that various bits of quack mysticism may have some truth in them.

I really liked his 'Messiah' special, which was explicitly about debunking various pseudo-science claims in the US.
[User Picture]
From:mraltariel
Date:September 12th, 2009 02:08 pm (UTC)
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Yes; his message wanders about a bit in this regard, depending on the type of show he's doing.

Personally, I do like him, though!
[User Picture]
From:communicator
Date:September 12th, 2009 02:31 pm (UTC)
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So disappointing if he used a split screen and a time delay. I liked his preamble though: 'People are always saying to me: if you are so clever why don't you predict the lottery. I always reply, shut up, we're having sex.'
[User Picture]
From:mraltariel
Date:September 12th, 2009 02:33 pm (UTC)
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It is the lack of a live audience that is disappointing. If you can't do the trick in front of a live audience, then it isn't really a proper trick. IMHO.
[User Picture]
From:iainjclark
Date:September 12th, 2009 03:24 pm (UTC)
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I don't think it was a time delay on the feed - there was simply about 30 seconds after the draw while he scribbled down the numbers himself, before he crossed into the other side of the screen. I have to say, the split screen option is my front-running theory, and yet it's a bit disappointing.

He does say at the very end of the show that if he's ever asked he'll simply say "It was a trick." And it was.
[User Picture]
From:iainjclark
Date:September 12th, 2009 06:18 pm (UTC)
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And here, according to one observer, and in great detail with screen captures, is how Derren did it. Looks convincing to me.

Not an entirely satisfying trick if that's correct - and not just in the sense that no magic trick as as satisfying once explained. It does feel like camera trickery, however cunningly set up and however skilfully sold and executed, leans slightly too much towards cheating. More than that, though, I think the Friday show was too heavily promoted as the real explanation to avoid being a let down. I normally thoroughly enjoy the mischievous sense of misdirection that he employs, but by setting a context that the Friday show would explain things he a) distracted from the genuinely good material that went into the rest of the episode, and b) set a context in which he was bound to disappoint anyone who didn't buy his fake explanation.

However touches like the snowflake (see the bottom of the page) and Derren's careful prevarication in the Friday show do help a little.
[User Picture]
From:mraltariel
Date:September 12th, 2009 06:46 pm (UTC)
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I do like the snowflake a lot, actually. Even if I don't like the trick!

One of the things I like about DB in general is that he often uses absolutely classic stage magic, but dresses it up in such a way that *even if you know how it could be done* you kind of forget. He's distracted you from the trick he's actually doing with his cunning patter.

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