In comedy it's the subtle art of starting a joke going in one direction, or even making a complete joke, but then going in a completely different direction with the punchline or second joke. For example, in an Mr. Bean skit he goes through all this crazy stuff to pack his junk into a tiny suitcase and finally manages to do it. Then he sees he's forgotten like a sock or something. So he pulls out a bigger suitcase and puts the smaller suitcase in the bigger one with the sock. Wait, that's not right.

Misdirection is used used by conjurers, illusionists, and magicians, to make you look at a particular object or point to distract you from the secret manoeuvre they are performing.

For example, in a card trick with the magician on stage, when he/she wants to palm a card, they will be in the middle of some patter and will suddenly look at a member of the audience and say "Remember this card," while holding up a card.
At that point, everyone in the audience is looking at either the card being held up or the victim in the audience. They are misdirected so that the magician can do whatever he/she wants with the other hand (palm a card, rearrange the pack, turn a card over, etc.).

In the performance of magic, there are many types of misdirection, both subtle and gross (as Shakespeare might put it). The worst types of misdirection are those in which the audience is fully aware of being misdirected.

For instance, a magician may be performing some type of routine involving a small rubber ball. Setting the ball in the table, he then takes out a helicopter toy and pulls the cord, sending a flying wheel over the audience’s heads. When they look back, instead of a small rubber ball, there is now a bowling ball on the table.

This type of misdirection is not misdirection at all, but an insult to the intelligence of the spectators, and the audience likewise resents it. In order for misdirection to be effective, the audience should not only be unaware of the misdirection, but should not even suspect it.

Of all the ways to do this, there is none better than simply allowing the audience members to follow their own psychological tendencies. As a small example, let’s say a performer has a coin in his right hand, which he places in his left. The magician then picks up a pencil with his right hand and hands it to one of the spectators, but turns his hand palm-up to do so. At this point, the audience can see inside the palm of his hand and that there is no coin there. The spectator takes the pencil, and at the magician’s request, waves it over the hand that holds the coin. The performer then opens his hand to reveal it is empty.

Has the performer misdirected his audience, or has the audience misdirected itself? After seeing the right hand empty, the audience will accept that the coin is in the left hand, but the magician never had to say so or otherwise pull the audience’s attention there. The audience has done it to themselves. When they see the right hand empty, they automatically assume that the coin is in the other hand, but this is an assumption that takes place below the level of usual thought. Later, when the left hand is shown to be empty, the audience has nowhere to turn to reconstruct the events, because their own method of thinking has taken them to this point, and the magician has apparently done nothing at all.

So, in this case, it can be argued that the performer misdirected the audience, or it can be said that the performer merely built a set of circumstances that caused the audience to think wrongly at some point. Later, when the conclusion flies in the face of their knowledge of the situation, you have some sense of magic.

This example of the coin in the hand is a trite one, but some magicians have learned to carry this to the level of an art, and can create circumstances that increasingly cause the audience to think along certain lines, and later, when the conclusion of the performance is reached, the event so strongly contradicts what the spectators know that it simply cannot be regarded as a mere puzzle. It is instead an apparent dramatic defiance of the way they view the world itself.

Seeing misdirection in this way, one has to wonder if misdirection is simply falsely directing the audience’s attention, or is it actually a direction of the audience’s very thinking itself?

Mis`di*rec"tion (?), n.


The act of directing wrongly, or the state of being so directed.

2. Law

An error of a judge in charging the jury on a matter of law.

Mozley & W.


© Webster 1913.

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