Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Opening Keynote - Penn Jillette

(Wow.  Wow.  This is happening...)


All of us and Penn have one thing in common:  We're liars.  Creative ones.  But liars.

Life does not have a narrative
Life does not have a beginning, middle, and end.

When you pick something to tell a story about, you are a liar.  You want to be an ethical one, but you're still a liar.  You're picking out a section of a bigger picture.

Jugglers and Science

Penn goes on to relate that he wasn't always a magician, but that he started as a juggler...the "piss bottom" of entertainment.  But he also liked he spent Junior High juggling and reading about science. 

When he was 13, he was watching Carson (maybe) and saw the amazing Kreskin doing an experiment.  I'm going to show you how you can learn ESP.  and he had a kit that he was marketing as an experiment (that we would call a game now).  He did a scientific experiment on thought transfer on TV.  World changing!  Mind blowing!

See, Penn's from a defunct factory town in Massachusetts, dad was a prison guard, but his parents supported his interest in science.  They bought Penn the ESP set (piece of shit, according to Penn).  His parents would do the 'kit' with him...ESP cards, pendulums, etc.  But they would sit with him and run experiments with him for weeks, and he was excited that he was doing science at home with his mom and dad.

Then, by a fluke of the Dewey Decimal System, Penn discovered some nearby magic books to the juggling books...and he just happened to pull a book by Dunninger.  Penn was reading the book about how he did tricks, read them, and after about an hour he figured out how to do the to lie.  And it was the one that Kreskin did as a "scientific experiment".  It wasn't mind transference, it wasn't was a lie.  It was a piece of shit based on a a way that can only happen when you're young and have Penn's personality type.

He felt humiliated by it and he wasn't able to say that Kreskin was an SOB.  The way it hit his mind was that adults and scientists lie to people.  And that science is all bullshit...and that performance was bullshit...thus started a downward spiral, academically.  Never again did he get a high mark in science for the rest of school.

As a parent now, he realized how strong the disappointment had to be for his parents.  He felt, as a child, embarrassed for his parents and personally.  He gave up science and went to juggling.

Meet TellerRight before Penn left high school, he met Teller.  A Greek/Latin teacher.  Teller told Penn he was a magician, and Penn immediately said he didn't like it because magicians lie to people.  Teller told him that it was a special kind of were telling them that the lie was not true.

Lying is okay in some ways...if Robert Deniro told you he was a taxi driver, he'd be psychotic. But he did it in an artful way in a little movie called Taxi Driver.  So long as you build the proscenium around the lie, it can be can be can do it for a living. 

Kreskin said "I have powers I didn't know I have" - If you rob a liquor store with a shotgun, the damage you do spreads to the community.  But with lying, you distort the universe.  You specifically gave information you know to be wrong.  so, trying to find a way as a storyteller to not feel bad about yourself is a very difficult thing.  So, what magic has become to Penn is a deep, deep look at how reality can be distorted. 

The Penn and Teller point is that NO ONE should ever leave their theatre believing something is true that THEY know not to be true.  It's the sawing in half principle:  If you see someone being sawed in half and there's no blood and guts, there's no one that believes it really happened.  You know it's a trick.  But P&T don't do the stuff that other more "mentalist" leaning folks do.


A lot of magicians try to use the word illusion...probably because of more syllables.  But this is more a term reserved for artistic interests.  A trick is more intellectually interesting. 

There's two things in magic:  There is the effect and the method.  The effect is what it looks like and the method is how we do it.  There's an effect called the bullet catch...American, but developed by Native Americans. Lead ball with initials on it, shoot at magician, magician catches in teeth.  12 magicians and 4 carnies have died doing this trick. 

P&T researched the ways these folks died (post mortem, anyone?).  Chun Ling Su (Scottish, no less) did a version of it with a gimmicked gun (2 chambers), didn't check his gun, bullet to face...good night.  Relays other stories of other ways magicians "ate it" doing this trick...

So, despite all these dangers...P&T go forward with it.  So, now what?

Once You've Decided to Lie...What's Next?You've decided to lie, you have to determine how.  When they do the bullet catch, they have three layers of security.  It is very, very safe...and Penn is okay saying that.  See, there's other magicians who want you to think that you might see someone drown, get shot, or get run over...and there's this lie that says the depiction of violence in art is a celebration of that violence.  Penn believes that the depiction of violence in art is a celebration of health and life itself.  Penn believes it's really important that anyone going to his show know that in 40 years, no one on their crew has EVER been injured.  And he is proud of that, while other magicians brag about getting close to being hurt.

...and for those who come to his show in the hopes he gets hurt? "Fuck you.  Stay home."

It's really hard to lie to smart people.  If Penn came out here and said he was going to do the bullet catch, we'd all INSTANTLY go "No you're not".  But then Penn goes through an explanation to make you suspend that support that lie.  The gun becomes the magic wand that aids the bullet in disappearing and reappearing in another place.  That's 100% true and that allows people to lie to themselves...because THEN they'll think the bullet truly can be shot across the stage and caught behind human teeth.  A lie is only moral when you inform the recipient it's a story.  Make the person lie to themselves.

And Now For Something Completely Different...and in conclusion...
Penn wraps the keynote with a heartfelt monologue...and fire.  I recorded it all and it was amazing to say the least (will update with the YouTube link as soon as I can).  But he closed with an amazing sentiment that I think we're all too NOT okay with...and that is: It's okay to not know.  It's just like DeGrasse Tyson, Savage, and now he said - Not knowing is an option.  It's a boundary.  And knowing that you don't know can make it even more enjoyable...even more okay.

I honestly could go on and on about how different yet incredibly amazing this keynote was, but I'll summarize with this:  When your audience knows what they're getting and you are up front about it, I believe the learning results are far better than trying to pull some elearning slight of hand.  Perform your act in the proscenium, believe in your craft, and be honest with your students/learners/users...the rest will follow.  I could not love this keynote any more if I tried...Amazing.

No bullshit.

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