Ugh, so the idea of “cultural appropriation” in magic has popped up recently in a social media group for magicians. Personally I’m against people using props that depict things they don’t know about. A good example is the classic magic production boxes that have a Chinese character on them. At the very least, know what it actually says.
Yes, there is an artistic choice there use them and not know what they say. However your artistic choice says something about you.
Luckily those boxes and wearing Asian robes have mostly fallen out of fashion for younger performers. Right now it’s the older performers who are the ones that are (still) doing it. I try not to judge the past by modern standards, but if you are in modern times still doing things that may have been acceptable in the past, you need to get with the times.
Someone like Ian Adair who I respect as a creator still sells his Fu Ling Yu trick:
That style of imagery doesn’t belong in a modern magic show. I also understand he lives in a different country and what may be acceptable there may be different from where I live. I also understand he probably had a ton of these made 20+ years ago and doesn’t want to throw them away. I wish he would realize that sometimes you have to let go of the past, that trick really can’t be a good seller anymore.
Yesterday in a Facebook group Ray Franklyn posted this trick, which I find the whole presentation hook of the name Fu Ling Yu to be demeaning to Asians (full disclosure, I’m asian). It’s a joke that may have worked in 1945, but not now.
The BIG issue I have is that it’s not an original joke and doesn’t have a point of view. He’s making fun of a group of people for the sole purpose of making fun of them. And he’s put zero thought into why he does it. The Fu Ling Yu joke is older than me. He’s doing it because he saw someone else do it. That’s not art, that’s being lazy. Just because it was socially acceptable to do it 60 years ago doesn’t make it OK now. If he used the Fu Ling Yu joke to illustrate some larger point of view, I probably wouldn’t have an issue with it.
Do I think Ray Franklyn is racist? No, I don’t think that was his intention. Do I think the trick that he choose to do was? Yes
As a creative exercise, I took the same routine and just changed the ethnicity of the magician.
Exact same routine. The only difference is that mine has a point of view and I had to delete my browser history after searching for those images.
Of the two videos on this post: -One is art and has a point of view -One is lazy, demeaning garbage
Please think about what you put out into the world, and if someone calls you on it, don’t just say, “I’ve been doing it that way for years…” Do a little soul searching and think about if what you’re doing hasn’t aged out.