Deception with Keith Barry aired earlier this week on the Discovery Channel, and one of the most frequent questions I get is, are those really psychological impossibilities, or simple tricks? How does Keith Barry do that? Is Mr. Barry able to, as he claims (and the programs ‘experts’ confirm), reprogram people’s minds and read peoples intimate thoughts using advanced psychological principles?
Absolutely not. Well, maybe a little.
That’s not a very satisfactory answer, but it isn’t a simple question. Let’s pull back the layers a little bit to get to the
bottom of this. First and foremost, who is Keith Barry? He has attempted to re-brand himself as a psychological prodigy, capable of rearranging or “hacking” the minds of perfect strangers, but that’s far from the truth. First and foremost, Keith Barry is a magician. A trickster.
Before this program, he has made a comfortable living openly deceiving people for their entertainment. Like any good magician, he specializes in creating the illusion of having a power or ability that isn’t necessarily there.
Take the concept of magic and the clever tricks involved with it, apply it to the mind, and you have mental magic, also known as mentalism. Mentalism, and art born out of magician’s attempting to imitate psychic feats, is little more than trickery of the mind. Up until recently, the overwhelming majority of mentalism was cleverly applying magical methods to give the illusion of mindreading.
Cue Derren Brown. In the early 2000′s, Derren Brown, a British mentalist, began making waves around Europe by presenting his mental magic with a psychological twist. He incorporated hypnotism and some legitimate psychological ploys with his mentalism to give the illusion of complete psychological control. But even Mr. Brown would start his shows with the disclaimer stating that his “show fuses magic, suggestion, misdirection, psychology and showmanship.” In other words, some psychology is in use, but it’s still just a well-dressed magic act.
Keith Barry, undoubtedly seeing the effectiveness of this presentation style, has tried to emulate that with his Deception program. There are two problems with this approach.
First, he comes across as a less eloquent, less humble and less skilled Derren Brown to anyone that has seen both men in action. In fact, not only is Keith Barry’s delivery similar to Derren Brown, even his choice of material significantly emulates the Brit. To prove that you simply need to watch the following two clips:
Keith Barry mind trick
Derren Brown mind trick
But there is a more troubling point to all of this. Keith Barry, appearing on the Discovery Channel with commentary from experts in the field of psychology, tries to sell his magic as science (or at least the producers of the show do). While maybe 10% of his material may contain legitimate psychological principles, the other 90% is showmanship and chicanery. It’s simply misleading and borderline unethical to make the level of claims that he does.
I would not go as far as to call Keith Barry a fraud, but I would say that assuming that he can implant or read impossible thoughts using only psychology is untrue as well. If anything, Discovery made a poor judgment call selling the show as something scientifically valid, instead of magical entertainment.
How about you, do you think that Keith Barry is a mental marvel or magical miscreant?