“The more you look, the less you see.” – Alexander Herrmann (1844-1896)
Magic is an art form and a hobby that’s close to my heart. While I do perform close-up magic (check out my interview with Get it Girl! on LA TV), my long-time passion lies with magic history. Specifically, womyn in magic as I discuss here in an LA Weekly feature. But when most people think of magicians, it usually looks like this guy here:
And that image has been stuck in our public psyche ever since. It’s always some guy with a goatee sawing a rabbit in half or pulling a woman out of a hat.
…Wait, did that come out right?
While studying at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), my research focused on women and their representation in magic (you can only saw someone in half, dismember them, or light them on fire so many times over the years before people start asking questions) as well as ethnic minorities and the representation of race in American magic shows.
Two briefings I’ve written on the subjects are available for free below.
Ever find yourself wondering, “Why is it always a woman who gets sawn in half?” In Conjuring the Modern Woman: Women and Their Representation in the Golden Age of Magic, we take a look at four contemporary women magicians and magicians’ assistants whose fates are decided or upended by the rigid, patriarchal society they navigated through their professions.
In magic, people of color have typically occupied niches of exoticism, whether through the famous Indian Rope Trick or Chinese Linking Rings. However, even as magic entered its golden age in the nineteenth century, entertainers of diverse ethnicities often treaded a fine line between acceptance and social disapproval. Analyzing the sociological overtones of the period, Sim Sala Bim: the Racialization of Magic in Early Twentieth Century America acknowledges that the imitation of a race was indulged for entertainment’s sake, but still enforced oppressive stereotypes and Western supremacy.