For better or worse, FISM 2012 is over and the deconstruction can really begin--a difficult task considering the fact that all FISMs exist in an alternative reality. I wasn’t there, so my observations have been formed in the elastic space between the membranes, where rational thought is the slave of perspective. Here, historical footnotes carry a disproportionate weight of importance. A new book can warp the public’s awareness of the "art" via verisimilitude, and a location whose charm seems impenetrable to anyone not British the way haggis is unpalatable to anyone not Scottish (although I like haggis) conveys an aura of foreboding.
In this reality, FISM is called the "Olympics of Magic." The comparison is absurd in the extreme. Throughout high school and college I competed in springboard diving. I was a good diver surrounded by greatness simply because I lived in Southern California, the diving capital of the world. Because of this happy accident of location, I often dove with Olympic Gold Medalists, including Air Force Captain Micki King. In the 1968 Olympics she broke her left arm on her second to last dive on the three meter board. She bandaged the break as best she could and completed the competition! The dedication is 24/7, the skill required puts you in the .01 percent class and the courage against pain is an Oxy addict’s nightmare.
In this reality, a win at FISM can bring you fame and fortune. Not really. Great champions like Fred Kaps, Richard Ross and Lance Burton have done more to establish the award then the award ever did to establish them. It’s true that there is an exposure perk that new performers can benefit from, and that makes the competition a worthwhile endeavor, but consider the list of famous magicians who never competed in FISM if you want to fully appreciate the real world impact of the award.
In this reality, FISM is about furthering the cause of magic and ego and politics are never involved.... "I am shocked! shocked to find out that gambling is going on in here!"
In this reality, the Gala shows feature the best that magic can offer. Actually, I have seen several great galas at FISM. One of the best was at the 1988 FISM in Den Hague. Max Maven MC’d a show that magicians still talk about. A strong line-up of talent spent the show in the wings wishing they could have seen the show from the front. But, what made the show great was a chance Richard Ross took on a magician who came from the Soviet Union and arrived too late to compete. Richard saw him work and told Max to put him in the show: Standing O. Now the reports of croneyism and bizarre shock booking imply a greater reliance on the draw of the competition to fill seats, an expedience that gambles with the convention fee.
I once wrote that great acts can make a good convention and good friends can make a great convention. Great magic conventions are the result of good organization and a blessing from the gods. Often an act no one expected, or the making of a new friend, defines the experience. The “Wow” factor fades with the lights, and the smell of poor taste lingers like a newly dead bad cigar.
Conventions are mindless giants that are mostly harmless. In “Fooling Houdini,” Mr. Stone’s need to invent an antagonist worthy of his quixotic quest to sally forth and conquer, complete with a figurative Mambrino helmet forged by the Lord of Lemurs (self-proclaimed), demonstrates the gap between reality and the public perception of magic. I am truly pained by the fact that this farce forced a talent as unique and wonderful as Ricky Jay’s into defending the heritage of magic. My mother, a retired college professor, clipped out Ricky’s review of Mr. Stones book when it was reprinted in a local newspaper. When I visited her she produced the clipping and asked me if I knew the man. I told her I wasn’t familiar with Alex Stone and she quickly interrupted me, “No not him, the reviewer Ricky Jay, what a wonderful writer.” I told her that yes I know Ricky and he is all that and more. The first time I ever saw Ricky perform was on the tape of 1973 FISM in Paris. I was astonished by his performance and that memory lives on in my mind as a real and tangible force that inspires, long after the conventions have merged into a background radiation with no particular identity.