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City of Magic: Aesthetic Value in the Los Angeles Magic Scene

Creative Commons 'BY-NC-ND' version 4.0 license

In the vast Los Angeles entertainment complex, magic is often deemed one of the lowest forms of performance art, unworthy of respect or critical evaluation. In response to mainstream aesthetic evaluations that routinely devalue magical performance, Los Angeles magicians engage in a variety of strategies designed to re-legitimize the world of magic. Chief among these strategies is the construction of a competing aesthetic value system, one that allows magicians to reject mainstream assumptions about magic’s artlessness and instead reassert magic as a form of genuine artistic expression. However, this new aesthetic system comes with its own brand of hierarchization, one that aligns the concept of “good magic” with the white, heteromasculine subject. Because of this, female magicians and magicians of color can often find it difficult to penetrate the upper echelons of the magic community. By exploring the roots and consequences of magic’s devaluation, this dissertation uses participant observation and in-depth interviews to interrogate the ways in which Los Angeles magicians navigate the aesthetic value systems that undergird magical performance. In this way, we can investigate the broader impact that aesthetic devaluation has had on how magicians are debased, derided, and disregarded within the modern entertainment machine—not just by laymen, but by each other.

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