As the Muhlenberg magic series continues to generate tremendous interest and accolades, a basic question arises: why is magic so important in our lives? Burger points out that magic is a tradition that has stood the test of time. “Theatrical and ceremonial magic have existed throughout the ages,” he says. “Does the human heart cry out for magic? Perhaps it does. It definitely cries out for transcendence, or transformation – and all magic is transformation.” As an example, he cites the current glut of reality television series, many of which feature a “magical” transformation: from fat to thin, ugly to pretty, or single to coupled. Whether we like to admit it or not, Burger says, we often seek such transformations in our daily lives. “No matter how rational we want to tell ourselves we are,” Burger says, “is there much difference between going to a witch for a potion and going to Bloomingdale’s perfume counter?”
Advertising is another common area of our lives touched by magic. Burger notes that many products use the word “magic” in their ads, including car companies. “Buick first had a campaign about the ‘magic of Buick’ and then they used the ‘ghost’ of a famous car designer in their ads. In the magic world, that’s called ‘necromancy’: contacting the dead so they can help you.” Advertisements, he says, make “magical promises”: if you try this product, you’ll have more friends. “Just listen to how many times ’magic’ is mentioned on television every day,” he says. “You might be amazed.”
Burger points to theatrical magic as one of the most empowering varieties of magic. Watching humans transcend the power of life and death and participating in it as a viewer is a heady experience, as proven by millions of people who flock to movies, plays, and other performances every single day. “Magic in its many forms connects with people because it lets you believe that what you think is impossible might just be possible after all,” he says. “The universe ultimately remains a mystery – as the telescope gets better, the universe gets farther away. We’re living in a mystery, and magic reminds us of that.”
Magicians recently have made significant headway on the small screen as well. Television performers from David Blaine to David Copperfield have attracted huge audiences, and “how did they do that” shows are increasingly popular. “Magic performance is a pendulum that’s still on the upswing,” says Burger. “Right now there’s no lack of work for magicians.” But even if magic dies down in pop culture, such as TV programs, it won’t mean that fewer magicians are out there. “There’s always work for good magicians,” he says.
Another reason why magic is important – and one of Burger’s favorite aspects of his craft – is the strong people-to-people relationships it engenders. The best performers hold their audiences spellbound, and the audiences love them for it. During the Theory and Art of Magic program itself, Burger particularly relishes his interaction with Muhlenberg students. “Muhlenberg students approach their studies with much more dedication than the average magic student,” he says. “They put out that extra effort. I always get a great group of kids to work with – they’re really engaged!”
That we need magic in our lives, Burger explains, is proven in part by how easily we’re fooled – ultimately, we want to be fooled. “The truth is we can be in many different states of mind,” he says. “In college, we’re often in an analytic state of mind – which is appropriate. But magic says, ‘take a vacation for five minutes!’ We need that sometimes too.”
As much as he celebrates magic’s acceptance into the halls of academia and welcomes scholarly examinations of the subject, Burger feels we shouldn’t overlook a very basic reason why we all love magic. “One of the best things about magic,” he says with a grin, “is that it’s really fun!”