The issue of “ethics” in magic is actually quite a humorous topic with a long history. There is a common misconception that has been perpetuated by amateur magicians that secrets are everything in magic. (There was an uproar over the Masked Magician revealing even incorrect methods on national television.) In actuality the secret workings of magic, that amateurs are so scared to lose, are the easiest and generally the only part of the performance equation they understand.
Secrets have been sold by magicians for hundreds of years. From Chris Angel’s cheapo magic set available at drug stores to Houdini’s brother Hardeen selling “real” handcuffs that were never even seen by his famous brother. In fact, Houdini stole Long Tak Sam’s needle act for his stage show and made sure Long Tak never performed it again. Billy Robinson (aka Chung Ling Soo) was selling magician’s tricks of his era to the highly popular American Scientific magazine as well as selling secrets from one top magician to the other. Penn and Teller reveal how tricks works to gain TV audiences. Magicians are the worst people to keep a secret and never have, never will. Audiences want to learn secrets. Amateur magicians want to guard their only knowledge of the ancient art.
As full time magicians, we have learned a few things over our 1,000+ performances. These so-called sacred secrets are nothing more than special effects, like flashing color lights and smoke behind a band. Why isn’t anyone talking about the “real” secrets of magic. Perhaps it’s because these secrets of magic are much more ethereal and not nearly as sexy. The real secrets of magic are the same secrets that all drama and art contains, nothing different, nothing new. The first real secret of magic and probably the most important is… How to make the audience care. How to give them something that has value.
Often we see a shimmer behind a phenomenon and feel we understand it. Can you imagine hearing a concert violinist and thinking you know the secret of their music. (They used a lot of vibrato!) Technique and its application are never the important piece of any endeavor. They are merely the required first steps to create art and touch human emotion.