The Bolsonaro Effect, by Hardscrabble Farmer

You get tired of being the “mark” for other people’s scams. From Hardscrabble Farmer at

Over the weekend my son and I decided to take a break and watch a couple of episodes of a show called The Carbonaro Effect. It features a young magician that pulls a Candid Camera style set of tricks on unsuspecting people using magic as it’s hook. If you haven’t seen him before it’s fairly entertaining in a fashion the first couple of times, but as we watched it became evident that what he was doing wasn’t very popular with the people he was fooling.

During the show there are numerous pop-ups that appear on the screen explaining how he came up with the trick, the way the crew were involved, how the staging was placed, etc. At the end of each trick he reveals to the unsuspecting mark that he has just tricked them and gives them a big hug letting them know it was all in good fun, like Allen Funt used to do with his high trust audiences in the 1960’s. After one of these tricks concluded there was a pop-up that said “most people will try to walk away after the trick and the crew has to re-direct them back into the shot.”

Of course they do. They storm off not because they’ve been fooled by a magician, but rather they’ve been gaslighted by conman, using their trust as the fulcrum, turning them into a sucker. In several of the sketches the chumps questioned their own sanity thinking that they were losing their minds because what they were seeing was stark contradiction to what they were being led to believe.

In traditional magic shows the audience expects to be fooled, it’s part of the understanding going in. They look for the ‘trick’ with intensity and if they can’t spot the misdirection it demonstrates the mastery of the magician and they are thrilled by his sleight of hand. In a situation where they are being intentionally fooled from the get-go by someone who portrays themselves as professional in whatever field he has chosen for the bit, that agreement is null and void. They are simply the butt of the joke, they’ve been conned, rather than entertained.

A long time ago I was working at a comedy club as the opener for a magician named Jeff Hobson who was one of the best close-up illusionists I have ever seen. He was also extremely funny and each night he closed his show with a trick that involved using a basket full of fruit and an audience member he’d brought up on stage.

The trick required that the person he’d chosen would watch his illusion up close as he made fruit ‘disappear’, yet it was revealed to the entire audience that what he was actually doing was throwing the fruit over the shoulder of the mark while concealing the sound of it hitting the floor by stomping his foot. It was funny, it always worked, the audience loved it yet in every single show it turned the mark into a very angry customer.

The club had me hand out free passes to the person Hobson had brought onstage after each show and in virtually ever instance they would decline, often bitterly with some very choice words for being made a fool of rather than having enjoyed the experience. I remember telling Hobson about that and how he brushed it off saying that it was worth the price to lose one member of the audience in order to win over the rest of them on the last night of the run I pulled a trick on him by fastening a safety pin to the bottom of the white napkin that concealed the fruit, knowing that he would whip it off with a flourish at the same time he was about to start the trick on the unsuspecting audience member.

It was a late show on Saturday and the club had a few local comics hanging out in the back of the room watching when he tossed the entire basket held together by that safety pin across the room. We broke out in laughter and he quickly recovered- he discovered the safety pin, removed it and looking right at me held it up and said “Prick,” and the show went on. He was pretty ticked off afterwards but the guys in the back of the room loved the way it had blown back on him.

Brazil has a new President today, a former paratrooper- who doesn’t love these guys, amirite?- with a decidedly reactionary bent. He has been very candid about his plans for the opposition should he take power and with a very clear mandate I think he may well do exactly what he has promised.

Brazil has been a train wreck of a country under a series of deeply corrupt administrations and on Sunday the voters delivered exactly what democracies promise as long as they allow the population the right to vote and that is blowback. The MSM has been wringing their hands all day long over the democratically elected President of Brazil, suggesting that his win is illegitimate despite what two thirds of the Brazilian voters think. This is the Bolsonaro Effect.

Here’s the thing. You can lie to people only so long before they tire of it. You can rob them and engage in every form of corruption and perfidy as long as you do not make them the butt of your joke, but once that trust between the people and the institutions that govern them are broken, they will walk away- at best- and at worst they will choose the most vocal opponent of their tormentors. What takes place in Brazil after today is a referendum not on what Bolsonaro has promised for the future, but on what his opponents have done to the people in the past.

No one knows how things will play out next week in the midterm elections, but the tricks that used to work are looking pretty threadbare and there is a rising tide of disquiet among the proles. The old misdirections and orchestrated scare tactics seem to have an ever decreasing effect on the populace and the explanations no longer seem to satisfy as they once did.

One response to “The Bolsonaro Effect, by Hardscrabble Farmer

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