David Copperfield Wants Congress To Believe In Magic | KUOW News and Information

David Copperfield Wants Congress To Believe In Magic

Jun 10, 2016
Originally published on June 11, 2016 10:58 am

One of the most famous magic tricks of all time would never have been possible without a certain Washington connection.

"When I wanted to make the Statue of Liberty disappear, the Parks Department says, 'We're not really comfortable with you doing that,'" magician David Copperfield recalls with a laugh. "I went to the president and said, 'Would you mind? I want to do this as a lesson in freedom.'"

With a little help from President Ronald Reagan in 1983, Copperfield made the 305-foot, 450,000-pound Statue of Liberty disappear and reappear on live national television.

This week, Copperfield was back in Washington asking for a new favor. He is lobbying Congress to pass a resolution that would recognize magic as "a rare and valuable art form and national treasure."

With all due respect to Hogwarts, it's not that kind of magic.

"We're not talking about the Dark Arts here," said Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., one of just 10 co-sponsors of the resolution. "We're talking about David Copperfield and [Harry] Houdini and others who perform and really inspire others to be creative."

House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, is leading the effort. It helps that his panel decides what gets a vote on the House floor, and what does not.

For Sessions, there's no debate about it. "This is art. Magic is art," Sessions said, dismissing critics of his resolution as haters. "Only those that are detractors have caused the pitching of this the wrong way."

There isn't any notable anti-magic wing of the House, but it certainly has opened Republicans up to ribbing from Democrats.

California's Mark Takano, for example, tweeted that Republicans "believe in magic but not climate change."

Another supporter, Wisconsin Democrat Mark Pocan, acknowledged that some may see this resolution as bad optics.

"Unfortunately, it got introduced at one of the peak periods of congressional inefficiency," he said. "And so I think it was easy to say, 'Oh look, they're going to recognize magic as an art, but we can't pass a budget?' Yeah, that could sound on its face kind of ridiculous."

For Pocan, a former magician, it has been a useful tool to communicate with his constituents. He hosts a regular YouTube series, "Magic Mondays" in which he performs simple tricks and talks about what's happening in Washington. He does magic when he visits schools back in his congressional district, and he hands out pamphlets on how to do magic tricks to kids he meets on the campaign trail.

Nevada Democratic Rep. Dina Titus said she gets why some may think the effort is ridiculous. But, for her, it's good politics. "There are many magicians who live in my district, and many magicians who work in my district," she said. "I represent the heart of Las Vegas."

Titus added that passing the resolution would help legitimize magic, and it could help magicians with issues like intellectual property rights and applications for art-grant funding.

"So while some people might think it's frivolous," Titus said, "in our case, it really is a matter of artists and economics."

Congress has previously passed resolutions recognizing jazz, ballet and country music as art forms, among others.

The Society of American Magicians, the world's oldest magic organization founded in 1902, has been trying to get Congress to recognize magic as an art form since the 1960s.

This latest revived push comes from Wylie, Texas Mayor Eric Hogue, also a former magician. He represents a town in Sessions' congressional district and he's friends with Copperfield, so he helped connect the two.

He hopes the mix of Sessions' political clout and Copperfield's celebrity appeal can make the difference this time.

"There's just not been a big push for it," Hogue said. "There's not been a name that we've been able to go to the Hill, so to speak, and say, 'This is something that really needs to be recognized.'"

According to Forbes, Copperfield is the most successful solo entertainer in history. He's sold more tickets than Madonna, Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley. Copperfield is sometimes referred to as a magician, and other times as an illusionist. NPR asked him which one he liked better.

"Well, you know, this week, I'd like to be called an artist," he mused.

Getting a reluctant Congress to pass this resolution may be one of Copperfield's biggest tricks yet.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Do you believe in magic? A small group of lawmakers do, and they're pushing Congress for a vote to formally recognize magic as an art. Without a rabbit or a hat, NPR congressional reporter Susan Davis dazzles us with this story.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: In 1983, David Copperfield performed one of the most famous magic tricks of all time on live national television.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAVID COPPERFIELD: The Statue of Liberty standing 305 feet high and weighing 450,000 pounds - and I was going to make her disappear.

DAVIS: Copperfield told me that it would never have been possible without one of his fans, President Ronald Reagan.

COPPERFIELD: The Parks Department said we don't - we're not really comfortable with you doing that, so I went to the president. I said, would you mind I hear - I want to do this as a lesson in freedom?

DAVIS: Copperfield was in Washington this week asking for a new favor. He's lobbying Congress to pass a resolution that would recognize magic as, quote, "a rare and valuable art form and national treasure." With all due respect to Hogwarts, it's not that kind of magic. This is Pennsylvania Republican Charlie Dent.

CHARLIE DENT: We're not talking about the dark arts here. We're talking about, you know, David Copperfield and Houdini and others who, you know - who perform and really inspire others to be creative.

DAVIS: Dent is one of just 10 supporters of this resolution by Texas Republican Pete Sessions. He chairs the Rules Committee and helps decide what gets a vote in the House. For Sessions, there's no debate here.

PETE SESSIONS: This is art. Magic is art.

DAVIS: He says anyone opposed to this is just a hater.

SESSIONS: Only those that are detractors have caused this - the pitching of this in the wrong way.

DAVIS: There isn't really an anti-magic wing of the House, but it has opened up Republicans to ribbing from Democrats. California's Mark Takano tweeted that Republicans believe in magic, but not climate change.

But another supporter, Wisconsin Democrat Mark Pocan acknowledged that some may see this resolution as bad optics.

MARK POCAN: You know, unfortunately it got introduced at one of the peak periods of Congressional inefficiency. And so I think it was easy to say, oh, look, you know, they're going to recognize magic as an art, but we can't pass a budget? Yeah, that could sound on its face kind of ridiculous.

DAVIS: For Democrat Dina Titus, this isn't ridiculous. It's good politics. She represents the district in Nevada.

DINA TITUS: There are many magicians who live in my district but also who work in my district. I represent the heart of Las Vegas.

DAVIS: Titus says it could help magicians with things like intellectual property rights and applying for art grant funding.

TITUS: So while some people might think it's frivolous, in our case, it really is a matter of artists and economics.

DAVIS: The Society of American Magicians has been trying to get Congress to recognize magic as an art form since the 1960s. This latest push is driven by Texas Mayor Eric Hogue, a former magician. He represents a town in Sessions' congressional district, and he's friends with Copperfield. So he helped connect the two. He hopes the mix of Sessions' political clout and Copperfield's celebrity appeal can make the difference this time.

ERIC HOGUE: There's not been a name that we've been able to go to the Hill, so to speak, and say this is something that really needs to be recognized.

DAVIS: Copperfield is sometimes referred to as a magician and sometimes as an illusionist. So I asked him which one he liked better.

COPPERFIELD: Well, you know, this week, I'd like to be called an artist.

DAVIS: Getting a reluctant Congress to pass this resolution may be one of Copperfield's biggest tricks yet. Susan Davis, NPR News, the Capitol.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DO YOU BELIEVE IN MAGIC")

THE LOVIN' SPOONFUL: (Singing) Do you believe in magic in a young girl's heart, how the music can free her... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.