John Walker's Electronic House

Very Many Words On The End Of Derren Brown

by on Oct.04, 2009, under Television

Derren Brown’s The Events comes to an end, and without the much-predicted redaction of his stupid and ignorance-promoting claims in previous episodes. There’s thoughts on the series over all below.

But first Friday’s idiocyfest. Derren Brown was going to beat a roulette wheel. Well, let’s just point out a few things before we get started:

– Any casino in the world would be delighted to be identified and filmed because the publicity and advertising would be superb.

– You can’t make a man give you money and then make him forget he did.

– You can’t guess the speed for a roulette ball and predict where it will fall more accurately than a computer.

– You can’t predict where a ball will land after bouncing off many walls in the first seconds of its being thrown.

– You can’t use triangulation of three fixed objects to calculate the speed of a car.

– You can’t guarantee that a man will not notice that he’s £5,000 short in the bank, and therefore you couldn’t set the trick up the way he claimed to.

So Derren claims that he stole £5,000 from an unwitting stranger, on a programme that begins saying there’s no actors or stooges used. (Which rather raises the question: what is a stooge? As Brown said when he met dear Ben last week on film, he volunteered to be on the show. Are volunteers stooges?) He did this by somehow hypnotising him in about three seconds and then instructing him to visit his bank, withdraw the money, then hand it over. Then erases this from the man’s brain. Because apparently Derren Brown is an evil wizard from space, and we’re supposed to just accept this – surely the most extraordinary feat in the whole episode – as something that just happens every day. He’ll now gamble that money “live” (for some reason he can’t talk directly to Ben when he’s in the casino – which seems strange since it would go some way to proving it wasn’t pre-recorded footage and somewhat undermining the purpose of a live event), and potentially win Ben £180,000.

Once again the episode was a mixture of various nice-enough tricks that had nothing whatsoever to do with the final effect, and Brown bullshitting his face off. Oh, apart from one trick – the ball in the squash court. Where he achieved something equally as impressive as the roulette trick – somehow predicting the path of a spherical object being thrown by someone else by making impossible calculations in split seconds and knowing where on the floor it will come to rest – and threw this away midway through the show as a minor step on the way to his final plan. Which was an odd choice.

But of course he doesn’t manage the final trick! What a way to end the series, eh? The man doesn’t win £180,000, and Brown ends his series on a fail. Except of course nothing of the sort happens.

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A Few Words About Derren Brown About Remote Viewing

by on Sep.26, 2009, under The Rest

I realise I’m wasting energy dissecting the third episode of Derren Brown’s The Events to any great depth.

They show a close up of this woman’s eyes and ask people to draw a shape, and then the letter “O” draw itself on the screen as a slowly appearing circle, etc etc. And then, astonishingly, Brown even instructs people who drew concentric circles to text in, as if after doing this people texting this is some sort of useful evidence.

Once again Brown muddles half truths and glimmers of things we’ve experienced with ludicrous over-played nonsense. So we’re expected to believe he can make a man fall asleep and then steal a TV by drinking his tea at the same time, while insultingly claiming the remarkable, verified ability of some blind people to use echolocation to be in any way related. Of course, most of it, were it not in a programme in which the presenter psychotically flipflopped back and forth between declaring his disbelief in psychic powers and announcing things are happening because of psychic powers, would have been fantastic magic tricks. Here it all feels like part of the propaganda that contributes to his crazed misinformation campaign.

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Too Many Words On Derren Brown & Crippling The Nation

by on Sep.18, 2009, under Television

A number of people suggested to me after the disgraceful embarrassment of Derren Brown’s lottery Event that this may be part of his building up to something. That he may have gone in this direction for a reason, with the intention of a big reveal at the end of the series.

I wasn’t convinced. His act has always consisted of performing regular magic tricks with the current vogue of mentalism patter over the top. His act has always been about the grand misdirection of stating his effects are achieved through suggestion, hypnotism, and other baloney, while quietly palming the card. He has always implied that there’s something scientifically verifiable about all manner of woo-woo bullshit, while proclaiming his wishes to denounce woo-woo bullshit. This hypocrisy just seemed to reach a new, grotesque depth with the lottery episode, promoting utter rubbish like automatic writing, and talking complete and utter nonsense about statistics.

But then this week’s episode, so stark-ravingly stupefying, has gone some way toward convincing me that these optimistic people might be right. Because at one point this evening Brown uttered the words, “the energy”.

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Far Too Many Words On Derren Brown & The Lottery

by on Sep.12, 2009, under Television

I know, I know, I witter on about Derren Brown far too much. And I’m going to repeat myself here. But I feel as though I’m circling around the plughole into which I’ll finally plop down with exactly what I want to say about the man.

I’ve gone on before (but a long time ago) about the difference between a magician tricking you, and lying to you. But to quickly reiterate: Magicians aren’t telling the truth, clearly. If I tell you I’ve written a prediction in an envelope, or that I’m producing a ball from your ear, I’m tricking you. It’s not true. But you know that. You know that I’m not psychic, hopefully you don’t believe that anyone is psychic. In fact, the very worst outcome imaginable would be for my trick to legitimise the conmen and charlatans who will steal your money. So instead we enter into this contract. You know I’m not going to tell you the truth, and you’re going to be okay with that. However, this opens an interesting door. How big a lie can I tell?

Say my trick is to know the word someone in the audience is thinking of. If I tell you that I’m not using a stooge in the audience, and I’m using a stooge in the audience, is that okay? The effect is very impressive if I can appear to somehow know the word an unwitting audience member is thinking of. It’s rather extraordinarily less impressive if I can know the word my friend and I agreed on before the show. So we seem to have a rule in this contract that says that while I’ll deceive you, trick you, I won’t openly lie to you about the conditions of the trick.

Now, clearly magicians do. Lazy, tedious magicians do this all the time. But I think most people agree that if they learn this is how a magician achieves his effects – says he doesn’t use camera tricks but does use camera tricks – they lose all interest in them. So we have this muddled set of rules. They’re impossible to pin down, but crudely it’s, 1) the audience agrees to be deceived, and 2) the magician agrees to not tell specific sorts of lies.

Derren Brown has made his career out of exploiting the ambiguity of this. He spins these patters about influencing people’s minds, conditioning, and suggestion. It’s all patter to disguise doing what I think is a perfectly ordinary magic trick. Which is fine, whatever, who cares? It’s a neat way of achieving a great effect.

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Derren Brown: System

by on Feb.05, 2008, under Rants, Television

Ooh, three of my favourite things combined: bemoaning Derren Brown, tricksy mathematics, and slagging off homeopathy!

I hadn’t even heard that Derren Brown had a new show, until Tim IMd me to let me know it was great. I read the summary – Derren Brown reveals he has a system for winning horse races, and proves it – and sighed. Same old trick from him – do a crappy magic trick and dress it up as paranormal powers, while saying how he doesn’t believe in paranormal powers. I bemoaned to Tim that it would just be a trick, wah wah. Tim clearly smiles to himself, and lets me know that might be the point of the programme.

(You can get hold of it via Channel 4’s abysmal 4oD service. Assume I’m going to ruin any surprises below.)

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Rum Doings Episode 53

by on Dec.09, 2010, under Rum Doings, The Rest

In episode 53 of Rum Doings we don’t discuss whether it’s time to give up on the panda.

We begin with an attempt to understand our favourite worst drink, Stroh. Then Nick gets concerned about how very, very old he is, and John is finally recognised Mozart. We discuss John’s meeting Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam, whether Derren Brown has got his name wrong, and how John is the cause of all of Rum Doings’ naughtiness.

There’s talk of Enid Blyton, today’s vote about student tuition fees and my battling with Bath MP Don Foster, Lib Dem bingo, and bad documentaries about Calvin & Hobbes. Then via the topic of WikiLeaks, we end up with what will likely be understood to be a particularly controversial conversation about rape. Just so you know.

Tweet it, Facebook it, as strangers on Formspring about it. And please really do. I’d like to see a spike in our listener numbers. And writing a review on iTunes brings us more attention.

If you want to email us, you can do that here. If you want to be a “fan” of ours on Facebook, which apparently people still do, you can do that here.

To get this episode directly, right click and save here. To subscribe to Rum Doings click here, or you can find it in iTunes here.

Or you can listen to it right here!

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Twitter, The Daily Mail, And The Liberal Voices

by on Oct.16, 2009, under The Rest

Today’s explosive reaction to the Daily Mail’s crude and ignorant article about the death of Stephen Gately has once again demonstrated the extraordinary effect of Twitter and Facebook. An effect that will increasingly merit consideration.

Jan Moir’s spiteful piece (originally titled, “Why there was nothing ‘natural’ about Stephen Gately’s death”) combined that niggling thought that I would contend all must have had on hearing the news of the pop singer’s early death, “But surely something dodgy must have gone on for a 33 year old to just die?” with a second, insidiously unpleasant personal prejudice of hers, “I’ve never trusted those gays. And what they get up to.” An opinion that, of course, is speaking directly to the audience of the newspaper. The Daily Mail has, for the 114 years it’s existed, never been exactly offering a liberal slant on the news. It’s famously the paper that supported Hitler long after it began to seem perhaps a little inappropriate, and hasn’t really improved its attitudes since. The central thought to Moir’s piece, “I always knew those gays were up to no good, and look, it’s got another one of them killed,” addresses the potential homophobia in the paper’s readership. (Astonishingly his death manages to confirm to her that gay marriage is a sham, unlike the near 100% success rate enjoyed by heterosexual marriage.) She then takes this to a new depth by going on to heavily imply (well, even state) that there’s been a cover-up of the real reasons behind his death, and that those real reasons are bound to be something to do with penises and bottoms. (I’m not going to go through the piece picking it apart – that’s already been done splendidly by Charlie Brooker.)

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The Phenomenon of Phenomenon

by on Nov.02, 2007, under Television

A Brief History of Rubbish Magic

It’s funny how magic has come full circle. After the naivity of the 70s and 80s, the 90s saw us get all cynical and want to know how it was done. As Paul Daniels fell from grace, and Penn & Teller rose to popularity, it was, appropriately enough, the illusion of being told how tricks were done that appealed to us. P&T really gave nothing away, but everyone giggled with the pleasure that they thought they might be. This then went to the next stage, and “magic’s greatest secrets” were revealed. The only room for primetime magic was ruining it. And you’d think, if anything, we’d have gained some sort of maturity from this.

Of course then everyone went a bit Derren Brown. (I continue to think Brown is a fantastic magician, and I still wish he’d stop using deceit to achieve his excellent effects. While he has thankfully abandoned pretending there’s any reality to NLP, he still maintains nonsense about hypnotising and still lied about not using stooges. I’m also really pleased that his act has gone toward disproving hoaxes, but I wish he would take an honest position like James Randi’s to do this from.) We started believing all over again, because the patter changed. In America, this took the form of Criss Angel – an incredibly carefully crafted persona that taps into every zeitgeist theme imaginable for winning over a decent chunk of the cable audience. Oscillating between emo and goth, on Mindfreak he freshened up American magic while simultaneously making it unwatchable to anyone over the age of 15.

The Old School

So it’s with a confused face that I discovered NBC’s new Phenomenon wasn’t further post-millennial illusions given primetime space by a confident network executive, but the most dated, tired old routines dressed up as some form American Idol style show. But it gets weirder/worse: the audience aren’t asked to vote on who is the best magician – in fact the word “magician” only appears once in the episode, with the presenter practically trying to shout over it – but who “amazes you the most”. We’re being asked to believe in these acts. Oh, and of course, MAGICIAN Uri Geller is a judge.

But so is Criss Angel, which didn’t strike me as such great news at first. The ponciest opening credits imaginable have Angel prancing around in the desert, floppy shouldered and shouting disaffected muted cries, along with MAGICIAN Uri Geller staring at the camera looking really rather cross. And having tried to watch Mindfreak in the past, Angel always came across as a self-important moron. Which makes me pleasantly surprised to find out he’s a properly decent guy, who promised Randi he’d tell the truth on the live show.

Two episodes have aired now, and I’ll admit I started writing this after the first and was then distracted by a bee. And it’s got a whole lot more interesting. So I’ll say what I was going to say, and then get onto the FIGHT!


Angel stayed true to his word, and scoffed at those who tried to pass off really poor tricks as Real Life Magic. Remember, this is a programme that refuses to use the word “trick” or “magician” (probably because MAGICIAN Uri Geller’s head would start spinning around like a mad top), so after a particularly pisspoor performance where a man claimed he could cause people to feel like they were being touched when they weren’t, through mystical mind power, Angel responded by naming both the trick, and the man who invented it, and added that it was a rather average demonstration of it. This was hilarious, and if the show wasn’t live, would surely have been cut. But then even better, Geller gets his turn where he praises the performance, and states that the man was proof that there really are mystical brain powers at his behest. After Angel has named both the trick, and the trick creator.

Of course, things don’t go so entertainingly when someone does a trick Angel has bought and performed as well. After a particularly dreadful rendition of the Russian Roulette trick Derren Brown made very famous – this time done with weedy nail guns, one loaded, five not – Angel can’t immediately point out how poor it was, and how it was a simple trick, because it’s something he’d done on his own show with ludicrous over-hyping. So instead he praised NBC for being brave enough to air the trick (admittedly, Channel 4 did have to jump through all sorts of hoops to show the Brown trick, including filming it outside the UK), and then pointed out that he did it better on his own show, but added that therefore he understood the risks that were involved. i.e. none at all, but he couldn’t say that without making his own pomp look a little silly.

And so there’s a problem. Angel, being a particularly pompous and overproduced performer, is rather stuck with his own exaggerated claims in his past, and doesn’t want to diminish his own effects. So if someone were to reproduce his walking on water, or disappearing in the desert on the show (I’m not sure how either would be managed on the stage, but you know), he won’t be groaning and saying, “That’s easy – any idiot can do that trick”. Meanwhile, MAGICIAN Geller will be furiously masturbating in excitement because someone else claimed to have powers while doing shitty parlour tricks, just like him.

I’m thinking of a number between 3 and 5…

Pathetically, they’re giving MAGICIAN Geller a slot to demonstrate his psychic abilities each week. In the first episode he showed five ESP symbols, picked one (the star, because EVERY TIME HE DOES IT HE PICKS THE STAR) and forced it into our minds with his brainrape. The phonelines opened, the internet voting began, and the viewers let them know during the live show which symbol he’d inserted within them. And guess what – like it always does, because for whatever reason people are more likely to pick the star, it won! By a whopping 1% over the second place circle. 27% to 26%. So damn close. Of course this was claimed as a clear victory, and proof of MAGICIAN Geller’s actual real-life magical powers that he definitely does have. Good grief, in a couple of episodes he’ll be resorting to one of those “and take away the number you first thought of” tricks. Seriously – YOU TAKE AWAY THE NUMBER YOU FIRST THOUGHT OF – OF COURSE IT’S GOING TO LEAD TO THE SAME NUMBER. Sigh.

Fight! Fight! Fight!

So in the second episode, this got a whole lot more interesting. Something Angel had specifically promised Randi was that he’d not allow anyone to claim spiritualism powers on the show, and if they did he’d debunk them immediately. And so, sure enough, there was the most atrocious performance of a sealed envelope trick you’ve ever seen, with the ‘psychic’ in a trance bordering on convulsions, as a pre-recorded video of him narrated what was happening – with remarkable timing. He was channelling the dead spirit of someone-or-other, and it was causing him great pain and effort. And what for? So he could write down the name of an object someone who used to be on The Cosby Show had chosen from a collection of 100, off camera, before the show, and then sealed in a box. Because all spirits are retarded, the writing came out backwards and spelt wrong, but fortunately he just happened to have a mirror set up on stage to show the audience the results. And wouldja believe it? It matched! So he basically did the same trick as pretty much everyone else on the show – picked the number/word/object that was sealed in the envelope/box, but this time with an epileptic fit.

MAGICIAN Geller did his usual half-asleep ramble about how the man convinced him that he had a spirit guide, and that therefore he must be a real psychic too, and not a MAGICIAN who has been debunked and shown to be a fraud on live television numerous times. Then Angel reached into his pocket and pulled out a couple of envelopes, declaring that if either the idiot on stage, or Geller, could name the words written in the envelope, or even allude to them, he’d give them a million dollars of his own money. At which point the performer suddenly recovered from his exhaustion and began calling him a “bigot”. And then tried to punch him, as Angel kept repeating his challenge. Sadly Angel, who is clearly a bit of a twit, started squaring up to the guy, leading to the hilarity of watching former Blue Peter presenter Tim Vincent and Geller break the two of them up before going to commercial. And you can watch it all here:

Hilariously, this is uploaded by someone supporting Callahan (or indeed Callahan himself), claiming at the end to demonstrate Angel’s hypocrisy – which appears to boil down to his presenting his tricks as remarkable feats on his own show. I don’t doubt Angel has gone too far in the wah-wah bullshit in the past, but it’s hardly a defense of a psychic to point out that another magician lied.

It does look a bit staged toward the end, but I’ve got a feeling that it’s not. Something about Vincent’s Alan Partridge-like panic, and the fact that those involved are all puff-chested performers anyway, suggests to me that were they to get into a fight outside a pub over who was looking at whose girlfriend, it would appear just as scripted and set up. But that’s not really important anyway, since the final score goes in favour of the skeptic, fake or not.

So, kudos to Criss Angel, even though he can’t spell his own name.

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by on May.12, 2005, under The Rest

Thank goodness for James Randi.

Yesterday’s brief foray into the world of Uri Geller has set me off again in my tireless campaign to stare in shock at his continued nonsense. Perhaps laughing is unfair, and if his current obsessions get worse, the laughter may become more sympathetic. But meanwhile…

Geller is proof that a desperate public will cling to anything, no matter how ridiculous, in the hope of self-aggrandising fulfilment. (I’m keenly aware that since I’m a Christian, eyebrows will be raised at me for such comments, and perhaps with good reason. Being a Christian skeptic is often awkward, but I maintain that it’s essential. While I believe Christianity to be quite true, I do not therefore necessarily believe the actions and statements made by Christians to be true. I have been present at occasions where Christians have used cold reading techniques, or otherwise flat-out manipulated people to believe things that are clearly untrue, and it upsets me far more than I’m willing to write about today – the torrent of angry, tear-filled swearing and vitriol would melt the screens of monitors. However, to my understanding, Christianity has the opposite effect of being self-aggrandising). Um, yes, Geller. Is it profitable? It’s probably true then.

But that is to forget the extraordinary amount of work he does for charity. Yes, every time Uri puts some loose change in a plastic box, you can be sure you’ll get to hear about it. An interesting thing about his charity page: click on the links to find information about the charities he donates to, and you find yourself on another page of his site telling you about how much money he’s given, rather than about the charity itself. A little odd. But this is very rude of me. He is giving lots of money to charities, and despite the vulgarity of needing to shout about it in every conceivable way, this is to be celebrated. Bravo.

So instead, let’s look at another interest: raising money for himself.

As I’ve linked in the post below, his latest venture is the wonderful Uribike. “Bend it, bag it, bike”. “Bend it”, see? Because after all, Uri Geller is famous for one thing, and one thing alone. His pathetic and unambiguous failures to support various lower league football clubs with his mindpowers go forgotten. The endless failed live experiments on television are not mentioned. The times he’s been caught cheating, perhaps most importantly the time he was caught in Israel with his fraudulent stage show, are blips in history. If Uri can do anything, it’s render cutlery useless. He likes to pretend he’s sick of this label, that it’s the tiresome milstone around his neck. But read any press release he produces and you can be sure to read “spoon bender Uri Geller”. And to give him his credit, he does bend spoons. A lot. You know, by bending them. Have a go – they bend really easily. A quick tip though, it’s best to distract people when you do it, or it looks a bit rubbish. So when your bike bends, who better to promote it than Uri “Is my name on it?” Geller?! Yours for a mere 300UKP.

But forget the bike – another recent venture is far more worth your attention. It’s his project Uri Geller Design. You could have your company’s website designed by his team of creative experts, and have a site that looks as incredible as this.

Design excellence
Web technology pushed to the limits.

Such legends as Roger Moore and Tony Curtis have received the logo-spinning excellence of his creative vision.

But the deal is better than that. No, it is. “We truly believe our customers receive a unique service, because additional to our competitively priced expertise, we will also produce a positive impact on your customers, with the free bonus of associating your company with an established successful name like Geller Design.” That’s right! After paying his company to design your website, you will receive, absolutely free, the bonus of your site having been designed by his company! There can be no doubt about his claim – his customers will receive a truly unique service.

Finally, in this celebration of all things Geller, we come to the number 11.

It’s been a bit of a thing for him for a while now. You see, he kept being drawn to look at clocks when they read “11:11”. I fully assume that he was scientific about this, and was noting down all the times he looked at clocks and they read times other than “11:11” before concluding any significance about this phenomenon. And then, rather unfortunately, when the terrorist attack on the US occurred on the 11th of a month, the proof became impossible to ignore.

This is the result.

Seriously, what's the dealiolio?

It’s kind of freaky, really. Remember the policeman in Dark City, drawing spirals on the walls of his room? But, you know, not right about what’s going on. Highlights of this astonishing presence of the number 11 include (and these are all geniune):

With regard to the horrific bombings in Madrid, did you notice that the date was the 11th? Also if you add the date 1+1+0+3+2+0+0+4 add up to 11! Another interesting thing is that the was 182 days between the landmark date of sept 11 and march 11th, and if you add these together it makes 11

11=3, in binary arithmetic. 3 is the cornerstone of the trinity and also Hinduism.

HELLHEAVEN sounds like eleven phonetically

*World war one = 11 letters,
*World war two = 11 letters
*World war III = 11 letters

Uri Geller born 20, Dec.1946. 1+9+4+6+2+0=22.11+11=22.

Derren Brown = 11 letters

Harry Potter [11 letters]

Encarta World Atlas says that New York City and the World Trade Centre fall exactly on 74 degrees west, 7+4 = 11

I’11 leave it to you to draw your own conc1us1ons, but I think you’11 have to agree that he’s onto something here. The number 11 does appear to occur in existence. Rea11y incredible.

Back to my original comment – James Randi. If you want to learn more about Mr Ge11er, I strongly recommend the book, The Truth About Uri Geller, written by Randi. And his website continues to stand as a beacon of rationale amidst increasing streams of complete nonsense. While it’s relatively unimportant that people are so willing to believe in the extraordinary that they’11 interpret simple card tricks as mental manipulation, it’s far more worrying when certain individuals give people the impression that they can be healed by magic, or even more commonly, spend all their money on it. Also, Randi has found this fantastic website that contains homeopathetic cures for all known ailments. Including this result I generated:

The homeopathic remedy which best matches your symptoms is Psorinum Of your symptoms, it applies to these:

* vision; dancing;
* vision; dancing; before headache; ;

However, it is not relevent to the following. If any of them are central to your case, you should consult the remedy grid (click next again).

* mind; delusions, imaginations, hallucinations, illusions; devils; that everyone is possessed by a devil;
* mind; desires, wants; beat children;

Enjoy entering your favourite elevens into that. In the meaneleven, I’ll eleven eleven, if it’s eleven eleven eleven.

Eleven eleven, eleven.

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by on May.11, 2005, under The Rest

It appears that thanks to Stu’s two links in the last 24 hours, I am the recipient of many of his readers, chums, pals and viewers. Hopefully the level of scorn in the following shall have you feel right at home. But if anyone calls me their ‘correspondent’, I will chop them up.

I really don’t like Derren Brown.

Derren Brown lying, yesterday
Derren Brown lying, yesterday.

And as is always the case when someone finds the passion to dislike something a great deal, it’s because I so want to really like him, and am violently unable.

When he began appearing on TV, I was excited. I love magic, and I love watching it performed well. I can do the odd trick, and I have a fair idea how a few effects are achieved. I find pleasure in either seeing what I know done well, or being mystified by what I don’t. There were similar beginnings with David Blaine – that first Street Magic special showed great promise for the first half. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything unravel as quickly as it did in the second, however. The much-touted levitation was clearly pathetic wire work, with fake reactions cut in. He used the Balducci effect to get some shock/amazement from people on the street, then used those responses with his ludicrous two foot levitation. And the moment you sink so low, you devalue everything you do. Who cares if he guessed the person’s card? He uses camera tricks and editing. As soon as one section is faked, the rest must be assumed to be fake as well. That and the credit to LYING CHEATING MAGICIAN Uri Geller were enough to see him written off as the useless wanker he’s demonstrated himself to be since. (Ooh, you sat inside some ice! You mean like… the Innuit race did for generations? Moron).

Where confusion tends to arise is in the condemnation of deceit within magic. “But surely all magic is deceit”, you observe, sitting back smugly. Unfortunately you’re an idiot and haven’t thought it through. Magic is about a contract. You lay down some rules at the start, make some important promises, and then you deceive within the limitations you’ve left yourself. So if I do a card trick where I ‘guess’ the card you’re thinking of, clearly I’m not really guessing – were that the case I should be taken to laboratories and experimented upon. However, if I’ve told you at the beginning that I’ve not got any stooges behind you telling me the card, and then have a stooge behind you telling me the card, I’ve just lied to you, and achieved nothing. If I cleverly cause you to pick a certain card (A CARD FORCE – one for the precious magicians out there), or ingeniously learn your card through whatever means, I have tricked you. Not lied to you. Yes, it’s a bit ambiguous. I might say I’m reading your mind, or that you are drawn to a particular card by my actions, or whatever. But you know that’s bullshit – that’s all impossible, and you know it. The difference is between lying about what’s possible, and lying about what’s impossible.

Brown started off reasonably well. His first series was a new approach – one that Blaine’s special had created room for in the schedules. A man, wandering the streets, achieving extraordinary effects. But this time, instead of guessing the card they’d picked, he was causing people to forget information, make choices they seemingly had no control over, and influence people’s minds. Mind Control. Except, of course, none of it was. It was just the same old tricks wrapped up in some really nice new patter… for the most part. So when he has the advertising executives design the exact advert for a taxidermist that he had in the sealed envelope, and then showed us the super-subliminal journey the pair had been on to get to the location, we think two things: 1) Wow, he controlled their minds with similar effects used in advertising, how clever; 2) He showed us how he did it – we know the truth. Of course, both are complete bollocks. There’s no reason to believe that he achieved the result in any way different than the manner in which sealed envelope tricks are usually achieved. How many times have wee seen a perfectly accurate prediction located in an envelope and not thought, “Gosh, they must have seen an awful lot of Seven of Hearts on their journey to the studio that day.” But hey, it’s fun to believe in the impossible, and so we allow ourselves that thrill. Whatever. The problem arises when it comes to the effects that rely on lying. Take, for instance, people on the tube forgetting their destination. He babbles on about how things on the tip of your tongue can be lost, and he’s figured out how to achieve this. Rubbish. Clearly he has no such power, or again, laboratories. (This should be the constant mantra when assessing tricks – if it really happened, should he be in universities being studied as a superhuman?). So what is he doing? There’s no card force, no sleight of hand – there’s no real option either than to believe him when he says he has powers of Neuro Linguistic Programming (which slightly unhelpfully doesn’t exist), or that he’s lying and cheating. Troubling.

Then came his specials. Oh dear. Suddenly he seemed to be going the way of Blaine. Beautifully subtle sleights and cunning ideas replaced with big, stupid lies. Just as Blaine did not sit in that box for 40 days (“We have to put the crane up to the box and the curtain around it for… um, and important reason. Now go away.”), Brown did not risk shooting himself with a revolver. Yes, the build up was fun, with all those tricks with the group in some nonsensical pantomime of selecting a volunteer, and certainly the atmopshere of the trick was remarkable – breath held as he pulled the trigger. But he blew it twice. The first time was the ‘incorrect’ empty barrel into the straw bails. You can be sure that if something goes ‘a bit wrong’ in such a trick, but not enough wrong to spoil the result, then the whole thing is a fake. A hint of weakness is supposed to make the whole thing more believeable – this can go wrong! It must be real! But it’s so painfully orchestrated that it just reveals the script. The second thing was NO ONE IS GOING TO RISK SHOOTING THEMSELF IN THE HEAD ON TELEVISION. He deserves credit for having created such an atmosphere for what was, ultimately, the stupidest hour of television since the last Eastenders extended special. And of course it was subsequently revealed as a hoax from start to finish. Fine, again, whatever. But why bother?

This new series, A Trick of the Mind, at first filled me with joy. I’d pretty much written him off on the basis of his continued claims of NLP and mind control in interviews – something else that steps widely over the line between Trick and Lie. Ask someone even as wretched as Paul Daniels whether he has superhuman abilities or is good at magic tricks, and he won’t hesitate before telling you the truth. He won’t say how he does it, but he won’t lie about psycho-babble rubbish. Ask LYING CHEATING MAGICIAN Uri Geller how he achieves his effects, and he will LIE about being a psychic, and ask you to buy one of his magic tents. So, when Derren Brown is asked how he achieves his effects, and he lies about NLP, into which category should he be put? Exactly.

But wait! Suddenly something new has happened.

At the beginning of this new series, Brown annouces, “This programme fuses magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship. I achieve the results you’ll see through a varied mixture of those techniques. At no point are actors or stooges used in this show.”

Magic! At last, the truth. Yes, psychology is certainly used. When doing a basic trick like the rings in the boxes (three gimmicked boxes, three rings, when the punters open the box it’s empty, when opened correctly, a ring is revealed) it’s important for the participant to feel as though they are being manipulated so they don’t think too hard about other possibilities. That’s the misdirection bit. Excellent stuff, and I relaxed and enjoyed. Effects like the staring contest, where people are suddenly and wretchedly afraid to look at him, or people’s willingly handing over their wallets and keys in the street still trouble me greatly. University laboratories. But there were many really nice tricks happening, and a new-found humility in the presentation. Gone were the ridiculous attempts to appear as Mr Serious Face, all intense and brooding. Instead he was aimiable and silly, recognising his own ridiculousness. I became even more relaxed. Sure, he was deceiving me left, right and centre, but at least he wasn’t lying about it so much.

And then Friday’s episode. The entire second half taken up with the most stupid, cruel and pointless trick imaginable. Derren develops a computer game that can cause people to fall asleep when they play. Right. Not a great start – an obviously impossible feat on which to base the whole thing. Then once his hapless victim miraculously fell into a coma induced by Brown’s instructions to “have another two flashes now,” Brown kidnaps him in front of his gormless friends, takes him to an empty building, puts a pretend gun in his hands and has him wake up to find himself attacked by zombies. The man is a bit muddled, and then scared, and then shoots at them, screaming and swearing, rather than the slightly more obvious response expected of someone finding themself surrounded by people in zombie costumes – saying, “Hello, stop being silly.” Then when it all looks too much, Brown rushes in, gives him a coma-inducing cuddle, and then takes him back to the pub, props him up in front of the arcade machine again (this is one of those comas where you can stand up sometimes), and he wakes up (by the magical power of klaxon) and believes it to have all been an intense gaming experience.

Oh, for the love of God.

It’s hard to imagine a more stupid conceit, or how he could have fit in any more flaws into the entire affair.

1) Occasional flashing lights do no induce comas (Yes, high frequency flashing can cause epileptic fits, amongst the epileptic – that has nothing to do with this).
2) People do not fall asleep standing up.
3) If those people were his friends, might they have reacted in the slightest way to
a) His falling asleep
b) Derren Brown appearing in a room with a camera crew
c) Their friend being kidnapped
d) The astonishing cruelty of the trick
4) Klaxons do not remove mystical comas
5) Being given a hug is unlikely to have the same magical effect as the magical computer game
6) People wouldn’t shoot at pretend zombies – they’d wait to see if they were real, as stupid as that might be

And so on.

So that means Brown leaves two options:

a) He defies all known science
b) He is using actors and stooges despite having said he would not

Hmmmm, which could it be?

Which means everything on the programme is now a lie. There’s no reason to ever believe he isn’t using actors. Every impressive effect? Actors. Every celebrity endorsement of a trick? A lie. Why believe otherwise, as he’s clearly shown that the statements at the beginning, the laid down rules, are lies. When he somehow knows the word being thought of, it’s because he arranged it with that guy earlier. You want to believe otherwise? Why? He’s already shown that he has no problems with using actors. Why go to all the effort of achieving a great effect when you can lie to the camera, and have a mate say the word you asked him to. The lazy, stupid conman.

There’s a fine line to walk for magicians. Brown has decided to spend his time on the wrong side of it, and has some rather unpleasant company.


Edit: Oh gosh now, this is embarrassing. I appear to have made a terrible mistake above. It turns out that Uri Geller is not a LYING CHEATING MAGICIAN, but in fact a real, proper psychic. Why this sudden change in conviction? I’ll tell you. It was from reading the validating and absolute proof by Dr. Edgar Mitchell for the 267th time:

“Uri Geller has ability to perform amazing feats of mental wizardry is known the world over…Uri Geller is not a magician. Uri Geller is using capabilities that we all have and can develop with exercise and practice.”
– Dr. Edgar Mitchell,
Apollo 14 Astronaut and sixth man to walk on the moon

I don’t know about you, but I’m not about to doubt the words of the sixth man to walk on the moon. So to apologise to genuine real psychic and not LYING CHEATING MAGICIAN Uri Geller, I would like to help him advertise his latest miraculous gift to the world: The Uribike.

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