Today, I listened to the Penn Jillette podcast from a few days ago and, not surprisingly, the show's main topic was David Blaine. Hosting a radio show is actually Penn's side job; he normally works as a magician, doing mostly up-close card tricks. His guest on the show was Criss Angel ("Mindfreak"), also a magician with skills similar to Blaine and Jillette.
If you haven't heard (which seems impossible considering how much media coverage the event got), David Blaine performed a new stunt last week, staying submerged inside a "human aquarium" for a week before attempting to hold his breath underwater for a world-record time of nine minutes. ABC covered this heavily-touted event for a whopping 2 hours (yes, the actual feat involved holding his breath for nine minutes, and ABC devoted 2 hours to the coverage), and seemingly every newspaper across the nation featured Blaine on the front page. However, was it really all worth it? Penn Jillette brought up a good point in the show when questioning, Is David Blaine a real magician?
Think about it. What does a magician do? A magician is one who posses "distinctive qualities that produce unaccountable or baffling effects." David Blaine did nothing baffling by staying underwater for a week. Sure, he did something that seems extremely difficult to do. Maybe he's extraordinary or skillful, but he's certainly not a magician by definition. Had Blaine been in shackles during the week and managed to escape (similar to Harry Houdini's Chinese Water Torture Cell), I'd likely be thinking different. That surely would be magical. Simply staying in water, and even attempting to hold his breath for nine minutes requires guts, but it does not require the use of magic. I saw a man on HBO's Real Sports the other day named Lewis Gordon Pugh who swims in the Antarctic Ocean in nothing but a Speedo. He obviously isn't a magician, and in the same way, neither is David Blaine.
If his "drowned alive" stunt isn't enough, what about Blaine's last hugely publicized stunt - his stay in a box suspended in the air in London for 44 days. He lived without food and without water for that entire time. My response to that "stunt" - so what? Last time I checked, children in Africa live with minimal food or water everyday for long periods of time. I know for a fact that that definitely isn't magical at all.
However, Blaine is great at getting attention, so rather than being a true magician he acts more like a general entertainer. In my eyes, comparing David Blaine to a skilled magician is like comparing Ben Affleck to William H. Macy. Macy is clearly the better actor (and if you don't agree, you need to start watching some real movies), but Ben Affleck consistently gets paid more for his acting. The reason is because Ben Affleck is a better entertainer overall - he's good looking, talkative, and young. Macy is the opposite of all those things, and sometimes, that means more than being nominated for an Oscar.
Simply put, performing a stunt like being "drowned alive" may get you attention, but as Penn Jillette, Criss Angel, and others have shown, it will not get you recognized by the peers in your profession. In the end, what really means more?