“Even as he fought to discredit the spiritualists, Houdini battled professional peers who were working to duplicate his signature tricks. Many feats such as the Handcuff, Milk Can, and Water Torture Cell Escapes were copied and publicized by other magicians over Houdini’s objections. To ward off the imitators, he published books revealing some of his methods and credited himself with originating certain performances.” – Houdini: Art and Magic
This past weekend, I had a good friend in town visiting and we decided to check out the Houdini: Art and Magic exhibit at the Jewish Museum. It closed yesterday, Sunday March 27th, and I’m so glad that we went to see this exhibit!
I am not a magician. I’ve never been in love with magic, but I do respect the art of magic and it’s symbolism. I do love watching movies and reading books about magic, too. Maybe I’m wrong about not loving magic. I should phrase this as, I love being surprised by magic and falling for magic, but I don’t ever need to know the tricks behind magic. Much like a small girl at Disney World, I’d much rather be swept up in the moment of awe and surprise that magic provides, than get down to the details of how things work, or maybe appear to work.
The presence of magic is something that can not be compared to any other art out there. A magician is the art. How a magician goes about developing, performing, interacting and ultimately outwitting the audience is something that we could study forever. I don’t mean study their methods or tricks, I mean study their art. It takes great persuasion and communication to be a magician and these are two skills that not everyone has that, nor will know.
As I walked around the wonderful exhibit full of art created by artists inspired by Mr. Houdini along side artifacts, videos, photos, and books, I realized that Mr. Harry Houdini was not just a master artist, he was a social media genius. Houdini was way ahead of his time! It finally all clicked when I read the quote stated in the very opening of this posting. As a matter of fact, I was struck so hard by lighting, that I pulled out a pen and a spare sheet of paper (that’s how I roll, not to mention photography was not allowed) and wrote down word for word what was on the display.
All along the exhibit there was language about how he invited photographers and news reporters to his performances to document his feats. As video came out, he invited people from that media outlet to his shows as well. As a matter of fact, he often times conducted the performances in front of a news office to generate the news himself. People could attend and watch with their own eyes, or readers of that newspaper would have a first hand account in the next day’s paper. Genius!
Then, when people started duplicating his tricks, he turned to sharing his knowledge with the public. As stated in the quote, not just to credit himself with the creation of the trick, but to offer a bit of his mystery to the public and his fans. What social media guru doesn’t do this on a day-to-day basis? How many times have I read that in order to retain fans, you need to offer something in return, maybe something free. Almost all the bloggers I know do this–they offer free business tips or e-booklets with just enough information that you’re hooked and hungry for more. Well, friends, I love you, but Houdini did it first. Not to mention his whole image was based on mystery and yet, here he was inviting you into and giving you a little bit of his mystery. Genius!
Finally, in all of this, he created a following. Houdini is immortalized. To this day, magicians (even fake ones like David Blaine) follow in his footsteps. Google celebrated his birthday with a Google Doodle (which was awesome!) and the internet scooped it up like moths to flames. The fact remains he did and owned all of what he did. He found his niche, tested its limitations, constantly challenged not just himself, but his craft and artistry and blazed a trail that left (and still does) many in his shadow. 2011 marks the 85 years since he died and yet, everyone knows about Houdini. He is notorious. He is magic. He is/was (unbeknownst to those in the 20s ahead of the curve) the genius behind social media.
I’m so glad I saw this exhibit. Honestly this exhibit made me very curious. I’m excited to see what else I can learn and unearth about Houdini’s skills and maybe bring to the social media development I have going on for S2 Stationery and Design. I think maybe a few others out in the internet world might benefit from doing the same thing.
Like so many others, I am inspired by Houdini! Poof!