DIGITAL DEBATE WEDNESDAYS: Oh ohhh it’s Magic! You Know…

Welcome back to Digital Debate Wednesdays! Every Wednesday, the staff of The Ace of Geeks will get our keyboards ready for a good, old fashioned nerd argument, and you get to hang out with us! Feel free to email us any ideas you might have for future debates, or let us know in the comments! Until then, here’s this weeks topic:

In a recent interview with Birth Movies Death, Kevin Feige answered the burning question of whether Doctor Strange’s magic would actually be magic, or a more advanced science like it was in Thor, with the following quote:

Are you watching the Cosmos series? That’s magic, [the quantum physics]. It’s unbelievable. If somebody knew how to tap into that stuff, what’s the difference between that and magic?

You don’t get into it in Harry Potter, but if a scientist went to Hogwarts he’d find out how some of that stuff is happening! We’re not going to spend a lot of time on that, but there will be some of that. And particularly for a character like Strange, who goes from a man of science to a man of faith and who traverses both worlds. And sometimes there won’t be an answer! Sometimes he’ll want an answer – “How is this happening?!” – and nothing.

This set off a bit of a debate on our page. Should Doctor Strange’s magic actually be magic? Or should it just be advanced quantum thingamajigs? Our staff weighs in:

Malkontent Blizzard: Clarke’s Law is not a “Get out of Canon free” card!

Jarys Maragopoulos: …..what the hell is he even saying?
On one hand, he says magic is quantum physics. OK, but how? Because that isn’t magic, it’s just science you do not understand.

Then he says Strange goes from being a man of science to a man of faith and walks astride those two worlds? That sounds better, but what does that even mean for the movie? I need. Details. This? This is so vague it borders on a waste of time.

When someone says “have you seen Cosmos, that’s magic.: I expect them to be high.

What is frustrating about this is that it is so muddled and empty. What are you trying to tell us???

how-do-they-workJarys Maragopoulos: I am getting upset. The magic and mystery is the entire flavor of DS and, after the whitewashing controversy, perhaps the saving grace of the film. But if KF can’t describe what that flavor will be, I am worried. Very worried.

  • Ellie Collins: Yeah, that’s a huge concern for me too. Thy MIGHT be holding back to surprise people but it largely sounds like they had no clue what to do with DS. What are your opinions on this in relation to our conversation about Wanda and Thor? Do we scrap all MCU magic? Or do we go with that likely since many countries would forbid showing these movies for having magic that we then must accept “It’s totally just craaaaaaazy science! *wink wink*”
  • Jarys Maragopoulos: Countries ban movies with magic in them? A cursory search gave me nothing on that, could you point me in the right direction?
  • Malkontent Blizzard: I know that Turkey and some UK counties still have witchcraft as a possible reason to restrict.
  • Jarys Maragopoulos: When was the last time they did that? Because I have never heard of such a refusal for a movie.
  • Malkontent Blizzard: I’d have to look it up…give me a second.
  • It appears that the last time was right before the ban on magic/ghost films in Shanghai was lifted.
  • Ellie Collins: It’s also more of a cultural rejection than a political one.
  • Jarys Maragopoulos: Considering how much magic is in globally loved Disney movies, such as Frozen, I doubt there is a fear of depicting magic in movies. Certainly not as much fear as there is in casting a Tibetan.
  • Ellie Collins: There’s a difference in Disney princess magic and what can be majorly “witchcraft”. I saw many people in China who, when animated, it’s fine. “Real life” it’s definitely NOT fine. I mean Hong Kong Disneyland refused Haunted Mansion in 04/05 because of their attitudes towards ghosts.

    But again I ask what your opinion is on this in relation to previous magic in MCU. We have to judge them all with the same filter now, and so how do you see it?

  • Jarys Maragopoulos: Star Wars? I mean come on, there are no laws and no rejection of showing magic in live action moves.

    Just a general lack of tact, grace, and skill in doing so. Some movies do well.

  • Ellie Collins: Star Wars doesn’t call it magic. And I’m not saying that’s the reason, just saying the attitudes I’ve seen from living in some cultures that feel that way. But that’s not even the point really. What is your opinion on this alongside the rest of the MCU since they’re all getting the same “explanation”?
  • Jarys Maragopoulos: Well, we have not seen the movie yet and these comments do not clear anything up. It sounds like he is saying “magic is presented as related to quantum physics” which is a very broad statement, used by self proclaimed occultists, poor narratives trying to explain magic in a scientific setting, quantum physicists explaining their belief in the supernatural, or poor narratives that feel magic needs a non mystical means of entry for audiences.
  • Malkontent Blizzard: While I thought the scene in Dark World was charming there’s only so far I can travel that road without nerd rage.
  • Jarys Maragopoulos: And so maaaaaybe there is no magic in the MCU, just a cultural name for different scientifically understood and explainable phenomena and practices. Then again, maybe there is magic and it can be explained to a believer in science through quantum mechanics. Perspective is an important part of most mystical traditions…and any good movie delving into philosophy.

    But I see only one hint that the movie will feature what I think if as real magic: “man of faith” but faith in what?

  • Which scene and what do you mean, Mal?
  • Malkontent Blizzard: When Jane is being healed in Asgard.
    I loved the discussion about the Asgardians only being able to relate to it as magic…but there is so little magic in the MU to begin with that if you keep cutting it out there are fans who can’t see it as home anymore
  • Ellie Collins: Yeah the vagueness is a serious problem. But it’s also the same vagueness we got from Thor. One quote, and one Jane sass. Then with SW a simple “science makes your mutant powers happen”, which had been a thing for a while.

    With such a hollow “explain it away” from each turn it definitely carries the attitude of “this is all magic but we don’t wanna get in trouble.”

  • Jarys Maragopoulos: Lauren, after our last conversation, i did not think I would agree with you so completely. But I do not think it is trouble they fear as much as alienating audiences with overly intellectual exposition.
  • Ellie Collins: That very much too. I think at this point the magic exists for the fans who know its magic, all of it, for the entire MCU. For the potentially alienated crowds it’s *~*~*~*~*~SCIENCE*~*~*~*~*~ because you can call almost any weird things “quantum ____” and people go “ok.”
  • Jarys Maragopoulos: So…here is a thing. From what I have studied in looking at how magic is portrayed in various cultures and in popular media, the biggest hurdle in presenting magic well is “paradigm”. Sure, as you would surmise from the Greek roots of Thaumaturgy” (Wonder-working), magic has a lot to do with wonder, and you can have wonder in science and a scientific paradigm….what makes magic notable in storytelling and amongst its believers and practitioners is that they live in a world with a definitive paradigm; a set of rules and a relative sense of what is real and possible. Magic is a world of possibility, but poorly translated fairie tales have given us the impression that magic is all about wish fulfillment, and that simply is not so. The world of magic differs across cultures, but they all are unique and in that, are uniquely different from the scientific world view. Not because magic is opposed to science, but because science is one of many world views that humans develop.

    What I am trying to say is that science is, from a narrative and sociological perspective, one of many world views that can be told through culture While there is a lot of cross pollination (alchemy led to the culture and practices of chemistry, for instance) these worlds are based on different assumptions. When magical like things happen in scientific settings, as I hold is true in the Thor movies, storytellers have the opportunity to demonstrate that “the rules have changed”, that another world view is at play in how the universe works, or they can try to bridge the magical occurrence with previously believed assumptions, as the Thor movies do with the scientific commentary. This bridging replaces the audience experience of a new set of rules, assuring them that the old rules still…rule. That is why the Thor storylines do not satiate my need for magic, because, if a scientist can understand what is fundamentally going on, the writers did not take enough risks to make the magic “magical”.

    And you have to take risks, because a fantasy setting, like many science fiction ones, has entirely different rules and assumptions that make the magic “work”. Many creators shy away from introducing these new worlds to audiences, but I do not think Strange will appease me unless such a bold step is taken. I agree that they left “is it magic?” Open to interpretation. But that is not magic to me, in the same way that leaving whether a certain character made it into the film open to interpretation is not the same as that character being in the film.

  • Ellie Collins: Except it IS in the film but they refuse to name it. That’s like saying “This gentleman’s name is Logan and he has sharp claws. Is he Wolverine? I meeeeeean some could call him that.”
  • Malkontent Blizzard: Which they only barely got away with in the case of Wanda and Pietro.
  • Ellie Collins: Precisely. They existed but exact makings were skirted.
  • Malkontent Blizzard: Which excises much of the internal conflict that made them mainstays of Engelhardt’s Avengers. If you are looking to service the fans don’t take away the reason why fans were asking for them…(still smarting).
  • Rowan Hansen: So here’s a thing:
    I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the various philosophies behind what magic IS and how magic works/is used… And if you essentially have a system whereby magic is not a thing in and of itself, but rather the description for unusually produced cosmic changes, you can justify something like relating quantum physics to magic. Let’s say there’s your regular framework of physics. Let’s say that framework of physics is more or less part of the base code of reality. That code us made up of unimaginably plentiful quanta, acting as 1s and 0, building if/else, when, etc. If a mage can modify the existing code (fiddling with factors that are described in quantum mechanics), you make magic happen.

    ALTERNATIVELY, there’s a thing in quantum mechanics that states that for every thing that could happen or have happened, there is an alternate reality where it did, or is. If magic is itself a something, it could be described as the ability to reach into that ocean of possible realities and pull out whatever is of use to you. Magic essentially acts as a portal into alternate universes, or else warps existing reality to more closely resemble the desired one. Another fun lesson of quantum physics is that it ties directly into philosophical questions of reality and existence, because quantum uncertainty States that any time you observe or measure something, it changes from its natural state, and therefore you can never know anything in its completely natural form. You can never know or understand everything, but there is still infinite potential to learn. There is Zen there.

Mary Anne Butler: We’ve seen it in Thor, the Marvel magic is highly tied to science. Shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Doesn’t mean I like it, but it fits the MCU as we’ve seen thus far.

Grant Corvin: I find it a little strange (no pun intended), but manageable. The way I see it, they’re probably going to pull off what they did with Scarlet Witch. At the same time, the mysticism is a huge facet to this. In which case… what’s the point? That all being said, I think he just worded it weirdly. It seems like what he means is that some things go beyond comprehension, and DESPITE a more logical explanation for some things, there will be mystical elements that will further shape Strange as a character.

Scott Woodbury: I chalk it up to trying to fit things into the MC movie universe… only so much can go so far.

  • Malkontent Blizzard: If the Canon were being made from whole cloth I’d agree more strongly.

Mike Fatum: You know, I’m not sure I agree with all of the “you couldn’t get away with magic” things, if only because Arrow started as “super grounded” and totally got away with “Yeah, but magic is real, bro” the last few seasons.

Chris Brecheen: Looks like others have already said most of what I was going to. Basically you can do the “this is really advanced science” (as long as you don’t try to explain it out your ass and get everything wrong). Or you can say “it’s maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagic” and leave it at faith and mysticism. But if you try to combine the two the chances are REALLY good that you’re just going to end up getting science wrong.

Raven Knighte: The way I see it, the term “magicks” referred to things that people didn’t understand. Things that were later explained by science, as society evolved. Same with mythologies – not meaning to be offensive here, but deity mythos were olden time ways of explaining cause and effect in nature. So for me, magic and science are interchangeable as far as simple terminology goes. The only difference between the two for me is the level of understanding and education.

  • Rowen Hansen: Fair enough, and considering the description of a computer as a metal Oracle made from crystals and poisoned sand I can definitely agree up to a point, but all the hand-wavey scientific explanation in the world cannot explain how an unassisted, genetically unaltered human being can do magicks unassisted by technology. Even if the effects can be described or explained in scientific terms, the question “but how did they cause that specific thing to happen” cannot be concretely answered without a maguffin of some kind.
    Note: I am referring to things like levitating water out of a bowl and transforming it instantaneously and without ceremony into a fully functional metal barber’s shaver.

Melissa Devlin: It sounds like he’s paid too much attention to new age folks who believe quantum physics explains everything and you can infuse water with feelings through quantum mechanics. (Actual theory, I watched a video on it) I doubt he did a speck of research on magic as most people consider it, and dropped by a store named something like “Dolphin Dreams” littered with decorative crystals and books on homeopathy.

Malkontent Blizzard: We keep talking about Feige but he’s not writing the script for Strange. I forgot who is but I’m interested in what they’ve done with magic before.

  • Mike Fatum: That’s definitely true-Feige could be just doing, in his mind, a necessary PR move here.

Jarys Maragopoulos: Ok, I’m glad we’re talking about magical systems now, because I find them quite related to paradigm. The funny thing is, Strange has never had a concise and clearly defined magical framework. Remember that the Doctor doesn’t warp the fabric of reality, he guards against that, but with enough dramatic tension and effort, he will also cross that benchmark. Other than that, he has had “whatever is necessary” power, as he has changed writers and storyline. It is difficult to make a framework of out of that.

So perhaps the best we can hope for is a concise tone and theme to the magic…and none of that is conveyed in these comments. I guess we wait for the movie to really see. I hope we see what Strange learns to have faith in and how much this magic will be presented as scientifically explainable.

But, to be clear: science can be magic, if presented in enough wonder. That is a flavor you can get with fictional science. Unfortunately “science” as a flavor of Magic tends to wash out the mysticism. And Dr Strange is very much a mystic.


Mike Fatum
Referred to as a God Among Men, the Greatest Man that Ever Lived, and That Dude Over There…No, The Dude with the Long Hair and the Goatee…Yes, That Guy, Mike has grown up being known and loved around his apartment. In addition to being a successful film director and editor, he loves video games, movies, comic books, board games, and his wife and cat. He’s been friends with Jarys for over a decade now, and they started hosting a radio show together on college that became the genesis for the Ace of Geeks Podcast. When he realized he had so many talented friends who could write, the Podcast became an entertainment website, and here we are.

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