There are two cheap life-and-death publicity stunts planned for this weekend, and they’re both causing a ruckus. I know that by mentioning the parties involved, I’m just giving them more free publicity, but there’s a point to be made.
One involves a Florida band, Hell On Earth, which claims a terminally ill man will commit suicide during their show on Saturday night, to bring attention to the right-to-die movement. The authorities are freaking out over this possibility, and got a judge to order a temporary injunction banning the group from doing their show within St. Petersburg city limits. The owner of the theater where they were originally booked has said they can’t perform there, as has another venue they tried to book. The band says they have a new location and a select audience picked out, and the show will go on. The leader of the band says it won’t be physician-assisted suicide, since there won’t be a physician present. The patient will do it himself, because he wants to make sure the band doesn’t go to prison.
I support physician-assisted suicide, and detest what happened to Jack Kevorkian, because we all have a right to die with dignity. Too many people endure horrendous pain in the last days, weeks, months of their lives, and none of us has the right to tell them when they may throw in the towel on that suffering.
That said, this stunt is a horrible idea. Real live death is not entertainment, and should never be cloaked as such. Spokespeople for the right-to-die movement agree, and while they agree with the band’s position on the larger issue, they have rightly condemned this event.
The other stunt involves British magician Derren Brown, who plans to play Russian Roulette live on TV. With a gun pointed at his own head, he’ll pull the trigger on a .348 Smith & Wesson until he “psychologically senses” that the next chamber is the one with the bullet in it. Then he’ll point it harmlessly away from his body and fire the bullet.
Again, the authorities are freaking out, demanding that, if they can’t stop the show, that it at least be run on a delay so no viewers will see him blow his head off on live television. Here’s the part they’re missing: IT’S A TRICK!
Brown is an illusionist. I’ve never heard of him, and have no idea what his reputation inside the magic industry is, but he has certainly come up with a much more clever way to get attention than by suspending himself over a river in a Plexiglas box.
But, again, this is a trick. You remember magic tricks, don’t you? The cups and balls, the lady sawed in half, the self-restoring rope. They’re about misdirection, science, and deception. David Copperfield didn’t really walk through the Great Wall of China. Lance Burton doesn’t really make fighter jets disappear. Saddam Hussein didn’t have weapons of mass destruction. It’s all a trick!
I’ve seen Penn & Teller perform the double bullet catch to close their stage show several times, and I’ve never failed to be stunned. With help from audience volunteers, and with neither Penn nor Teller ever leaving his side of the stage, they fire .357 Magnums through panes of glass and at each other’s mouths, where they “catch” them. It’s the most stunning illusion I’ve ever seen in person, and they perform it brilliantly. I have absolutely no idea how they do it (and I don’t want to!), but I do know it’s a trick.
So what’s the difference between what Derren Brown or Penn & Teller do and what Hell On Earth says it will do? It’s the difference between artifice and reality. In the former, they’re playing with your imagination. In the latter, they’re putting on the stage version of a snuff film.
I can see the mortifying pun in the headline now: “In Concert, This Band Kills!”