Random Asides

Blaine, you’re not fooling anyone

Anyone with half a brain, that is, which is what David Blaine would have if he really had managed to hold his breath for 17 minutes.

Chalk another one up for the slack-jawed creduloids who eat up everything Oprah feeds them. Sure, he might have been employing freediving techniques to genuinely break the breath-holding record. Or, he might be a highly-trained magician.cat holding breath

You know, magicians, those people who are party to secrets, gadgets and methods which make the seemingly impossible, possible. By, well, cheating. That’s part of the fun, until they try and pass it off as real, that is.

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  1. I loved it when Blane was in that box hanging over the Thames and everyone kept pelting him with garbage. I guess Oprah’s audience was a little more impressed with him.

  2. Ya know, I don’t have a problem with David Blaine. The only slight issue I have is that he doesn’t distance himself from mystical / supernatural explanations for what he does as much as I might like. Otherwise, meh, he does what he does and I do what I do.

    I didn’t see him try to break this record and can’t say whether any trickery was employed or not. However, it really doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility that he MAY have done it. I’ll wait to see if there were any official minders on site, see what the consensus of opinion is, etc, before I pelt him with garbage :-P

  3. I really find David Blaine somewhat annoying and I thought the garbage flinging incident was hilarious.

    But this was a serious attempt at breaking the world record. Remember the physiology behind respiration is pretty well understood and David has trained extensively for this, and other spectacles. The record for free-diving is eight minutes, and that was done without tanked oxygen.

    I believe the record using tanked oxygen, before David’s attempt, was already up to 16 minutes. So I’ll reserve judgement on this rather than dismiss it out of hand.

  4. I just don’t see how this or the box-above-the-Thames stunt is entertainment. Boooring!
    And yes, I prefer my magicians not to pretend they’re doing their “magic” without trickery. That’s one of the reasons I like Penn & Teller and Cris Angel.

  5. Or, he might be a highly-trained magician

    He might be, but he ain’t. He’s a magician, it’s true, but highly trained? This guy’s a hack at best. He’s a media sensation, like MilliVanilli or Menudo. Ricky Jay is a real magician. Jamy Ian Swiss is a real magician (as are others). And oddly, most people have never heard of these guys.

    I wish I could find the link to the radio interview in which Penn Jillette just rips into Blaine for some of his stupid stunts, particularly the whole underwater fiasco.

    /my (highly biased) two cents…

  6. NoAstronomer, don’t freedivers generally use, say, the sea? I believe pressure has an effect which wouldn’t be present in a small tank in a studio. Perhaps someone could confirm this.

    Zoltan, I’d say he’s highly skilled, in that he has made a successful career out of some very pedestrian magic simply by presenting it in an appealing way. I respect him for that (he can levitate you know!) but his increasingly desperate stunts are silly, particularly this sort where it’s easily done with known magic methods.

    Were Guinness Records present at this attempt? That would tell us a lot.

    Whilst I don’t have the knowledge to dispute that under certain conditions, freedivers can hold their breath for a long time, I can’t be anything but highly skeptical that the magician David Blaine, who has done other ‘life-threatening’ stunts which also happen to be possible using magic techniques, has done better than people who have spent lifetimes at their sport.

  7. ETA that first comment, I meant ‘highly-trained’, not ‘skilled’. He’s not a massively skilled magician. He is a superb performer though, and knows exactly what he’s doing to manipulate the viewer and the media.

    Stupid typing for speed.

  8. “Winfrey, whose syndicated show has a worldwide audience of millions, asked him what he was thinking about during the stunt.

    “You,” he told her.”

  9. I used to be entertained by David Blaine when he did his street magic, because he was a decent showman. But lately, I just don’t understand how “I can hold my breath for a real long time, y’all” = “magic” or “illusion”. He’s a Stuntician more than he is a Magician/Illusionist these days. Anyone with some time on their hands can lock themselves in a box for a week. Him putting up with random crap that frequently involves sitting/standing/lying perfectly still for long periods of time doesn’t make for very compelling entertainment. I might as well watch a puddle dry up in the sun.

  10. On a cursory skim of the various news reports of Blaine prior stunts, there seems to be a big difference is how he is perceived…

    The British reports have him as a complete twit (the plastic box and the “hamburger helicopter” were hilarious), while US reports are gushing to the point of nausea.

    Is this due to reporting bias, or is there an actual big difference in how differing countries populations view his stunts?

  11. I was listening to one of the many podcast I subscribe to recently, (I drive several hours a day related to work and prefer to use the time to listen to either science based podcast or humor based.. either way I use the time more constructively that way than just being in traffic), and their was actually a guest… science reporter (?) on it talking about Blaines latest stunt.

    Now… I some context.. I listen to A LOT of podcast, and so sometimes I get them mixed up in my mind, but I think this one was one of the New York Times: Science Times podcast. I also don’t remember if the person interviewed was a science writer or one of the disciplines of scientist, however, I think it was a science writer.

    With that context, it was actually a very interesting report. Basically, the person being interviewed had spent a week or so with Blaine and had observed a fair bit of the lead up to this latest stunt. The interviewee’s take on it was that Blaine was making a legitimate attempt on the world record, (previously at something around 16 minutes using oxygen), and that the training he was undertaking fully supported that idea.

    Additionally, he didn’t refer to Blane as a magician. I seem to remember the interviewee referring Blaine as an ‘endurance artist’ who was very interested in trying to push the bounds of our understanding of what human endurance limits actually are.

    Yes, I know that I’m being terribly vague and as soon as I can find the exact podcast I’ll post its information. I do think, however, that whatever we think of Blane as a person, if he is actually doing some of these stunts instead of just faking them then they ARE actually medically interesting.

    So, I guess that the big question is really.. Is he actually doing these stunts, or is he just faking up a show?

  12. O.k. just to follow up on my earlier post. *sigh* I can’t for the life of me find which podcast it was that I was listening to when I heard the bit about Blane. I’m not even sure anymore that it was the NYT: Science Times podcast, (actually pretty sure it wasn’t… perhaps … bah.. I’m not guessing anymore).

    Anyway, I’ll keep looking when I have a chance, if I find it I’ll post it here.

  13. I’m sure what he does is often difficult, possibly extremely difficult, but simple difficulty doesn’t make things entertaining.
    If anything, it can work the other way. For instance, I’m not a fan of ballet (I don’t see the point [no pun intended]), but when people go on about how *difficult* and *painful* it is, it makes me even less inclined to watch it.

    From a medical point of view, there seems to be a limit to what could be learned from the odd extreme demonstration done by someone unusual without monitoring.
    We’d be likely to learn much more from having someone quietly doing less extreme breath-holding tests while sitting in a lab somewhere.

  14. O.k. here is all I can find at the moment. Odds are someone else can pin down more.

    Here is an article on when he tried, and failed, at this stunt in 2006.


    So, on the defense of his not faking things…. He’s actually been training at this for, potentially, over half a decade, and he appears to have almost died trying it once before. On the side of him faking it… Well, it is Blane. Anyway, that’s it for me.. I will be interested to hear if anyone else actually turns up something one way or another on this guy because I really don’t know anything about him other than what I have picked up in relation to this stunt.

  15. On the ‘almost died trying it before’ thing – that’s classic misdirection. You set up the stunt you actually want to perform, but you add an element which makes it extra hard (in this case getting out of chains). The reason it’s suspicious is because even a cursory amount of research on freediving will tell you that you can’t do it while under duress, e.g. struggling to get out of chains. For someone who has spent years training, you’d think he’d know that.

    So, he’s trying to do TWO ‘difficult’ things at once. Why? Isn’t the breath record enough? Yes, it is. But, it’s such a leap for a showman to suddenly be amazing at holding his breath, so a very sensible (and not new) tactic is to set up a failure first with an additional element that you can then take away for the retry. This softens up the public to the idea that you can do one or the other, so you eliminate one, and suddenly the other one doesn’t look so impossible.

    Fast forward a bit, try again, minus the escaping from chains part, and wow, a success! Now imagine if he hadn’t had the failed attempt first. People would be far, far more skeptical of this achievement.

    Whilst I am reluctant to reveal magic secrets, I think this one is well-known enough for me to mention it vaguely, and it’s important because it tells us a lot about the failed attempt:

    Magicians doing escapology routines are using, amongst other techniques, trick locks. I hope you already know this, but if you don’t, sorry to have spoiled your fun. They can escape at any point in the routine. The struggling is misdirection. Now, why would a magician use real locks, and risk his life, when he could (and does) use trick locks? Similarly, why would a magician train to hold his breath and risk his life on Oprah (yeah, cause her insurance really covers that…), when he could use a – well, I’m not going to reveal any more techniques, but suffice to say, what Blaine appeared to do is not impossible to any magician.

    Like I say, this is my theory. I may be completely wrong, but I’d have to rethink everything I know about magic, promotional stunts, TV and publicity first!

  16. tkingdoll, according to Wikipedia Apnea (ie simply holding your breath) records are usually attempted in a pool setting.

    I doubt Guinness was present or that they would certify anything along these lines due to the inherent risk.

  17. I’d assume that the numbers of top-level freedivers is fairly small, and they’re drawn from a very small fraction of the population which has even thought of trying it.

    Given that, it would almost be expected that records would be likely to be broken as new people try, especially if they try hard.

  18. Sure. You can also learn to pick real locks, but magicians use trick locks instead. Why is that?

  19. I always liked the article that essentially called Blaine a whiney, over-dramatic, low-rent version of Johnny Knoxville.

    Blaine also owes way too much of his career to his early starf****** antics for my liking.

    At least he had the sense to toss off Geller, but much too late.

  20. If these guys didn’t really do dangerous magic, how do you explain the fact that Penn is on his fourth or fifth Teller? Those poor little buggers die like flies.

  21. “NoAstronomer, the record for static apnea is 9 minutes.”

    Set without pre-breathing oxygen. Blaine pre-breathed oxygen before his attempt.

  22. “Were Guinness Records present at this attempt? That would tell us a lot.”


    But were you saying this as a bad thing (as in who cares what the Guinness Records shows)?

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