September 25, 2012
"When a person can’t make a living by coming up with new material, that’s when you have to wonder about the system."

The Honor System is a beautiful piece of writing by Esquire's Chris Jones. It's a quasi-profile of the former Raymond Teller, now legally known merely as Teller, also known as, with Penn, one half of one of the world's best-known magician duos. But it's also the story of an industry struggling for survival among the copycats and trolls, as Teller works to sue a man he feels has been ripping off his work. The quote above comes courtesy of “one of the greatest inventors of magic,” oneĀ Jim Steinmeyer, who licenses tricks to magicians throughout the world, which is an idea I had simply never considered before. Sadly, seems like other would-be magicians aren’t too bothered about the provenance of their tricks: Jones reports that while 100 magicians licensed directly from Steinmeyer, another thousand “have bought knockoffs built by a man in Indiana, and a guy in Sicily, and a team of reverse engineers in China.”

Here’s more Steinmeyer:

A great trick, like a great song, should be an inspiration… It should lead you to other things that are also wonderful. That’s what happens in literature, and it happens in music, and it happens in art. But in magic, they don’t do that. They just take it. You would hope that what you do inspires, but instead it just inspires theft.

It’s not exactly heart-warming that the world of magic is undergoing the same drama and trauma that has beset industries from music to journalism. But somehow I found it utterly fascinating, and a glorious profile of a really interesting man, to boot.

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