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Take Up Your Penn

Dreamed 2015/12/18 by John Wallace

Last night I had a dream that wasn't like my usual dreams. Since the beginning of the year I've been recording my dreams, but I almost always put off putting them into words, resulting in details being lost. But I knew I immediately had to take notes last night when I had the following dream.

Some background: Penn Jillette is my favorite illusionist. Large-than-life in more ways than one (that is to say, two), Penn is a smug behemoth whose act has a unique concept. His persona isn't a mysterious trickster like Criss Angel or a wondrous battler of entropy and the humdrum laws of physics like David Copperfield. In his act, Penn is what every magician is: a brilliant liar. He makes it clear that his tricks are just that, but his audience still gets fooled anyway.

This dream seems to have been inspired by one trick in particular, shown on Penn & Teller: Fool Us, in which he blindfolds an audience member and pretends to throw knives at her, cueing Teller to stab the cabinet behind her. Then Penn 'reveals' 'powerful' 'electromagnets' in the cabinet, and blindfolds the audience member and lets her throw knives at him - actually one reused knife suspended by a wire from a fishing pole held by an assistant - while Teller continues secretly stabbing. The first knife hits its mark, the second ends up between Penn's legs, and the third is represented by a half-knife, a plastic pool of blood and a squirty ketchup bottle.

The dream features this 'the audience is in on it' format. Penn is doing a live webcast of an event with a bunch of celebrities--Jack Black, actor/musician/comedian/oversized kid, may have been among them. Just as in the above act, Penn can be seen moving about unbeknownst to his victims - at one point skilfully climbing across the back of a small truck sideways, his back to the truck, without using his hands - and he is in constant contact with the chatroom accompanying the webcast, taking suggestions of pranks to pull, essentially altering reality as the celebrities know it. Penn explains that since the celebrities aren't expecting to be tricked, small mistakes, such as the object that falls from beneath the truck at one point, won't really clue them in to what's going on.

This is where the dream gets abstract. The suggestions get crazy, and things, rather than becoming a trick-gone-wrong, GO crazy. The stars, the actual literal stars in the sky, appear to somehow get meddled with. At one point my brain decides to portray the chaos as a watercolor painting of palm trees, the background painted in orangey sunset colors. Suggestions stop taking effect. In the chatroom, joking theories are made as to the point of loss of control--perhaps the third or fourth complete rewrite of reality, or the 'screeching of the stars', as it is called.

The event ends with Penn driving away in the aforementioned truck, and the whole chatroom realizing at the same time that all the celebrities were in on the whole thing and that the joke was really on THEM. Zoom out to reveal this is being shown on a television set. A sound clip of someone angry about being tricked is played; Penn responds with snark. I, the dreamer observing all this, did not see this ending coming, even during the dream, and when I woke up, I was amazed. Penn had fooled me from inside my own head!


This second bit of explanation might be a spoiler, so I'll put it here at the end: this dream was probably also inspired by another magic trick that may have recently come to mind, possibly the previous day--a Siegfried and Roy trick showing one of their old tricks from the early days of their act from behind, showing how it worked, but which then turned into an actual trick of its own.

---John Wallace


For me, the most intriguing thing about dreams of this type (and they are a type! Compare He Has Repented in the 19th century or Shoot The Mirror! in the 20th) is how the dream-scriptwriter (or improviser?) can pull it off without the dream-experiencer catching on--no crosstalk, no leakage? Weird indeed--if they really are the very same brain, as Western psychology has assured us so firmly.

If not, all bets are off.

---Chris Wayan

LISTS AND LINKS: blindness, illusion, delusion - tricksters and dream humor - puns - the stage - magic and magicians - TV and the Web - astronomy meets showbiz again, in Lunch with the Stars - the ego fooled by the dream-illusionist: Shoot The Mirror! & He Has Repented - a Siegfried & Roy dream: Tiger Podium

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