Frank Seltzer, passed away Sunday, Dec. 19 2021, after a brief illness.
Frank enjoyed a long career in broadcast journalism, which began as a desk assistant at NBC News while attending American University in Washington, D.C. After graduating in 1972, Frank’s career blossomed as he covered world events as a writer, correspondent, reporter, anchorman and producer for various broadcast news outlets, including Voice of America; NBC local affiliates in Columbus, Ohio, and Corpus Christi, Texas; CNN and ABC News. He eventually settled in Dallas, Texas, and in 1986 established Singing Pig Productions, offering communications consultant services to clients. Frank’s journalistic style hearkened back to an earlier age—he relentlessly pursued facts and presented the news confidently and fairly, with a slightly sardonic twist that often brought a clever touch of humor to his reporting.
While Frank pursued a career in journalism, perhaps his first love was magic. Frank was a skilled magician who was a member of The Society of American Magicians, The International Brotherhood of Magicians, and Los Angeles’ famous The Magic Castle. He also served as president of the Dallas Magic Club and The Texas Association of Magicians in 2017.
“Magicians imagine something impossible and then figure out how to do it, or to appear to do it,” write Paul J. Silvia and colleagues. Magicians elicit a wide range of feelings from audiences, such as awe, joy, or even fear. In this work, the researchers sought to better understand negative feelings and attitudes toward magic.
They looked at three possible areas, including constructs associated with curiosity, wonder and awe; tolerance of uncertainty and dogmatism; and interpersonal dominance. People who are high in openness to experience tend to be more curious, more likely to experience emotions relating to awe and wonder, and find themselves emotionally moved more easily. Thus, individual differences associated with curiosity and wonder could influence how someone feels about magic.
People who are lower in tolerance to uncertainty are more prone to experiencing distress in situations that create uncertainty. As well, highly dogmatic (i.e., mentally rigid) people tend to have a black-and-white worldview. Thus, magic could be irritating to people who are higher in these traits.
Further, magicians deceive their audiences, sometimes seeming to defy “the laws of nature.” Thus, individuals who score higher in interpersonal dominance may be more likely to “get boorish, hostile, and pushy when they feel they are being manipulated or made to look foolish, or when their desire to be let in on the secret method goes unsatisfied.”
The researchers recruited four samples of adults, for a total of 1,599 participants. Samples 1, 3, and 4 included English-speaking adults while Sample 2 recruited Polish-speaking adults.
Participants completed the Loathing of Legerdemain scale which assessed their emotional attitude toward magic (e.g., “I find magic tricks annoying”). To assess Big Five personality traits (i.e., neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness), Sample 1 participants completed a 30-item questionnaire, while Sample 2 participants completed a 50-item inventory (in Polish). Participants also indicated their age and sex.
Awe-proneness and curiosity was measured in Sample 3 participants using items capturing chills (e.g., getting goosebumps), absorption (e.g., experiencing awe and wonder), and feeling touched, as well as items that assessed people’s tendency to seek or embrace novelty, variety and growth. Sample 4 participants responded to scales that assessed need for certainty and structure (e.g., order, routine), dogmatism, and interpersonal dominance (e.g., intimidating others) and perceived social status (e.g., being admired/respected by others). Sample 2 participants completed a measure on the dark triad (i.e., Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy).
Relatedly, Sample 3 participants responded to measures on the dark tetrad, “which includes a fourth factor of sadism” as well as the light triad, which assesses for faith in humanity, humanism, and Kantianism.
So, who hates magic?
Those who held more negative attitudes toward magic scored lower in openness to experience; they were also less prone to get “absorbed” or feel immersed, experience awe, or lose track of time. Further, individuals who were more dogmatic or intolerant of uncertainty were more likely to dislike magic.
Lastly, numerous disagreeable traits were associated with disliking magic. People lower in agreeableness (e.g., uncooperative, socially cold), higher in psychopathy (e.g., impulsive, unempathetic) and interpersonal dominance were more likely to hate magic.
Interestingly, people higher in sadism had more favorable attitudes toward magic. The authors speculate, “It’s possible that the interpersonal manipulation component of magic—deceiving others and then withholding from them something they are dying to know—has a certain sadistic appeal. It is also possible that sadists enjoy the moments in a magic show where an audience volunteer is surprised or confused. Or perhaps, when they say they like magic, they are referring to a subset of magic, the genre of ‘torture illusions’ that include Sawing a Woman in Half, the Head Chopper, Zig Zag Lady, the Assistant’s Revenge, and various escapes from dangerous situations.”
And while the authors had no predictions regarding sex differences, they found that women had more negative attitudes toward magic compared to men.
One limitation to these findings is that the samples were recruited from Western cultures, where magic is a popular form of entertainment. Societies in which stage magic is uncommon, or in highly religious communities where magic is taboo, people may report widely different attitudes toward magic. Thus, these results may not generalize to other cultures, and are most relevant to populations where stage magic is an accepted artform.
The origin of the word Abracadabra is mysterious. What we do know is Abracadabra held a lauded position in the ancient medical world as an incantation. Roman sage Serenus Sammonicus from the the 2nd century AD wrote in his Liber Medicinalis that their ancestors used the magical incantation to fight off Malaria. It’s use is described as follows:
On a piece of parchment, write the so-called ‘abracadabra’ several times, repeating it on the line below; but take off the end, so that gradually individual letters, which you will take away each time, are missing from the word. Continue until the (last) letter makes the apex of a cone.
Could each line have represented a day of healing… each successive day a little less? The exact intent however is lost to time. The Abracadabra incantation was thought to cure diseases, fever, and other problems by siphoning toxins out of the person and expelling them through that bottom “A”.
So think about that.. the word Abracadabra meant so much to our ancestors that they wore it around their necks for almost 2000 years to ward off booger bears. The magical amulet remained in vogue through the dark ages (500-1000), the black plague (1346–53), the Renaissance (1500’s) and well into the Victorian era. Somewhere in the early 1900’s Abracadabra transitioned from medicine man to magician and became associated with the stage magic we know today.