What it means to be "The Best"

Tonight I have tickets to a magic show which is not only strange, but strange for very strange reasons. I'm going to see the Wonders & Miracles Grand Illusion Show at the Isabel Bader Theatre in Downtown Toronto. 

Toronto being one of the magic capitals of the world so a new show being presented for one night only by a young performer is not that strange. What is so striking about the show is what it claims for itself. 

The show actually started out even stranger. Earlier versions of their promotional materials promised "magic from Copperfield's team" — a phrase which reeks of of marketing doublespeak — although that particular line on the poster vanished, presumably after a member of "Copperfield's team" took notice, replaced by the delightfully vague "world-class magic inventions with Las Vegas level production."  But that is beside the point. 

The show now claims to be "The Biggest Grand Illusion Show In Toronto!" [emphasis in the original] 

Perhaps, in my thirties, I am becoming so old and curmudgeonly that I expect these magicians in their early twenties to have done their homework. It's forgivable that they are unaware that Toronto had extended runs of Doug Henning's Spellbound, David Ben's The Conjuror, that James Randi speaks fondly in interviews of coming to Toronto to see Blackstone, or that the Sony Centre has hosted some guy named David Copperfield (where have I heard that name before?). Perhaps these aren't so much alternative facts as a convenient case of selective amnesia for the purposes of advertising.

But even without being annoyed with a disregard for those pesky things called facts, it speaks to a larger problem. Most magicians that I know of have something in their promotional material which states — with greater or lesser subtlety — that they are the greatest in their field. David Ben once related a self-deprecating remark used by his mentor, Ross Bertram: "I'm the number two magician. [Why?] Because everyone else seems to be number one." And while I do know a few people that I think can justifiably claim to be the foremost in their field without having to add too many circles to the Venn diagram, it doesn't explain how 80%* of performers can claim to be some version of the best, greatest, foremost, most amazing, etc. 

Perhaps it's the sheer amount of advertising we are exposed to. Gradually we numb to it all and so the superlatives need to level up or we won't take notice.

As discouraging as this is, it's worse to consider that the customer base for this type of entertainment buys into it. Imagine a parent in Brampton planning their child's birthday and believing that the "best" magician in Canada is coming to their party for $150 without a hint of cognitive dissonance. If that's the case, no wonder freelancers of all sorts are finding it difficult to get paid decent fees when the "world's finest" are just a Google search away.

I've tried to build a career free from hyperbole. Part of what has helped me to do that has been the privilege of spending time with those I do consider to be the best. It's a well documented fact that over 50% of drivers consider themselves to be above average... a mathematical impossibility. Robert Trivers, in The Folly of Fools, talked about the advantages self-deception can bring. If you really do believe, deep down inside that you are the undiscovered Champion of the Universe, then that confidence comes across and may give you an edge in that job interview. You can, perversely, actually benefit from being just the right amount of delusional.  

*Not based on a random sample.