By Sara Ruthnum
I saw my first magic show when I was 6 years old at a friend's birthday party. While I was easily fooled at that age, I remember not being impressed by the magicians 'tricks.' Now, twenty-something years later, the only moment of magic I witness is when a new episode of Scandal is uploaded to Netflix. So when I came across Shin Lim, an internet 'sleight of hand artist' (aka magician) with 17.5 Million video views, I wanted to find out how someone practicing an art form I thought was dead, could engage and entertain the easily distracted modern audience. By melding new media, music, and sleight of hand card tricks, Lim, a self taught playing-card fiend, returns simplicity to the spectacle of magic. And if I'm honest, something about his authenticity makes even skeptical 6-year-old me believe in the wonder of magic - at least for a few minutes.
Shin Lim, a stage name derived from his birth name that roughly translates to "seeking excellence," is the reigning world FISM Close Up Card Champion and is on top of the magic game. A self proclaimed, "Sleight of Hand Artist" Lim admits that he is actually not a magician, or a wizard, and has no intention of lying to the audience. He performs carefully choreographed routines rather than pretending to defy the laws of physics. With speed, finesse, and "how'd he do that" mystery, Shin Lim's tricks enchant not only physical audiences, but digital too.
Lim's journey to the top is one that would not have been possible in the days of David Copperfield. Lim is nearly completely self-taught, which is actually pretty rare in the magic community, because his family did not have the means to support his passion for magic. When he was young, all Lim used to learn the fundamental were YouTube tutorials and a deck of playing cards. What sets him apart from many YouTube waters is instead of watching viral cat fails, Lim used the video platform as a pseudo mentor. "YouTube is a wonderful source for self learning. Even though there are many badly made tutorials online, there are good ones too. Having many options to pick from is what gave me the freedom to develop my own opinion," said Lim.
It was Lim's brother that initially peaked his interest in sleight of hand magic by showing him a simple card trick called, "Slip Force." Puzzled by the trick, Lim was simply told to, "go to YouTube and just figure it out." Simple words that sparked his passion. Discovering the trove of tutorials on the internet, some good and some really not so good, Lim dedicated countless hours to practicing sleight of hand card tricks. And although a less traditional method of learning the craft, it was the one that propelled him to mega-success at such a young age. Lim had (and still has) the power to pull from a community of guides, all over the world. "When you have many choices, you can choose, test [and] then decide. With a mentor, you tend to have only one view. With many 'virtual' mentors available on YouTube, one can choose and combine the various techniques and styles presented. YouTube expands our worldview," Lim said.
It's because of YouTube that Lim was able to find himself as a performer much quicker than his peers. He didn't have to wait for a few scheduled hours a week to be taught the fundamental skills of magic, but could tap into the information whenever he wanted. Proof that the internet is not just a distraction machine, Lim serves as a reminder that we don't have to waste hours online taking quizzes about which emoji most represents our personality, but that we can actually learn something. Who would have thought?
Shin Lim now uses YouTube as a platform to showcase his performances to the world. Lim explains, "some videos of my actual live performances are "proof" to disbelieving observers that my 'moves' are not 'photoshopped' performances."
One of Lim's most popular videos on his channel is his recent tribute to Paris after the attacks this past November, "Pray for Paris." Magic isn't the first art form that I would think of as a tribute to the people affected, but, the proof is in the numbers and with 1.17 Million views and over 7,000 likes, the tribute obviously touched people, allowing viewers to feel some magic in a time of tragedy.
Lim explained that magic still has the power to be relevant, "as long as it's presented correctly." Like dancers or actors on a stage, sleight of hand magic uses a simple deck of playing cards as a prop to create art. Really it's the combination of technology and magic allows Lim to be as successful as he is as a modern magician. He suggests that, "technology and knowledge [are] tools. To the ignorant, it is either magic or witchcraft."