Chris Ramsay was in hot water recently, when a tutorial video he uploaded featured a trick created by another magician without credit or permission. While he’s since deleted the offending video, apologized for the oversight, and has decided to stop doing magic tutorial videos at all, it’s re-opened discussion on an important debate: are YouTube magic tutorials good for the community, or are they giving away everyone’s secrets?
Mahdi Gilbert recently weighed in on the controversy in his email newsletter:
I am generally against [sharing secrets on YouTube]. I feel like it’s prostituting the art of magic in order to get views. I understand the appeal, I understand the efficiency, I get it. People love magic and they want to know the secret, so it make sense that if you want to get a lot of people to watch something you perform a trick and then promise to reveal the secret. This is nothing new in magic. Some people used to sell magic shows that came in two parts. The first part was the show and then they had to pay for the second show in which the secrets were revealed. It was a great business model. A lot of people bought tickets. However, artistically it’s bankrupt. Just because something is effective doesn’t mean that it’s worth using.
So what’s the solution? People want to learn magic, and YouTube can be an excellent tool for broadening the audience for anyone with some cards, a decent video, and the resolve to learn something to become a magician. But there’s a responsibility for the magician to make sure they aren’t revealing too many secrets to anyone who can click a link or, heaven forbid, reveal someone else’s secrets.
For Mahdi, the solution is to teach everything around the act of magic, but not the secret itself. He’s posted a few videos recently that attempt to do just that. Like this one, where he teaches how to shuffle from hand to hand (without any hands):
Or this one, where he teaches how to perform a ribbon spread with a deck of cards:
Mahdi’s email continues:
I believe it is possible to make tutorials in a way that does not reveal secrets online. Do a cursory search and you will find that many of the most popular tutorials related to playing cards do not have to do with magic. You can easily teach card manipulations & classic or original card flourishes without becoming an expose artist. Instead of revealing long guarded magic secrets you can easily teach useful skills that anyone who handles cards would love to learn And let’s be real here, those tutorials that you guys are making on top changes, palms, false deals and false shuffles, what percentage of your viewers are actually going to pursue learning it and becoming good at it? Probably very, very low because it’s extremely hard to master those techniques and if they were serious enough to pursue it they would most likely be seeking professional sources (in many great books & videos produced by the world’s greatest masters of sleight of hand technique).
He closes with rather sobering take:
Magic on the internet is mostly depressing. Fake audiences, fake magic, fake magicians, fake everything. We don’t need to stoop low in order to make it through to the end, to achieve or goals or anything else.
How do you feel about magic tutorials on YouTube? Are they helping the magic community grow or are they needlessly exposing secrets to a larger audience?