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Penn & Teller

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Penn & Teller are scam artists. That is what we do. One of our biggest scams was snaking our way into "Visiting Scholar" positions at the M.I.T. Media Lab. This means about once a year we go to the Media Lab and make jokes in a classroom. It also means that we get 10% off at the M.I.T. swag stores, cool membership cards, and, according to Negroponte, we could also use the M.I.T. swimming pool. Sometimes you get lucky.

We had just finished our "lecture" when a guy ran up with a picture of Marilyn Monroe. I'm not a big Ms. Monroe fan. If you're passing out dead pop icons, I'll take a threesome with Momma Cass and Karen Carpenter over Marilyn--even singing "Happy Birthday" nude--but, it sure was a boss picture. It was a big picture of Marilyn Monroe, made up of little pictures of Marilyn Monroe. You know what it was-- it was like the, you know, pictures in this book. Way boss.

Well, the guy with the picture was Rob Silvers, and he and Mike Hawley were inventing digital image tricks. They wanted us to pose for a picture so they could play around with all these little Penn & Teller pictures they'd copped. No problem. That's the kind of thing us M.I.T. Visiting Scholar guys do in a heartbeat.

I knew I had to own one of these pictures, but I didn't want Marilyn Monroe and I sure as hell didn't want a picture of me and, well, Teller's cute, but I see him enough. What would I want in my home? Luckily, the muses were on my shoulder and I knew immediately what the little pictures had to be: They had to be pornographic. I wanted a gazillion pornographic images, making up a big image. Rob said this would be "trivial" (that's the way these guys talk), since the Net is full of porno images. (And, if letters to my senator help, it'll stay that way.) After all, bits are bits, right?

Now, what was the big picture?

I suggested a flag, but that was stupid-- it's just stripes and stuff, right? Then someone got another idea. Avery good idea. A delightful and shocking idea. Wow. An image that would be perfect for my parlor. It seemed great. It would be my own little Vegas Sistine Chapel. But Rob didn't think it was right to use school resources to create the image. He thought he might be reprimanded. He didn't feel good about it. Artistic freedom can be a risky proposition when there's funding involved. I asked him what it would cost to do it using just my money, and I wrote a check. And that, gentle reader, is how I became the first person to commission one of these works.

You want to see how good my personally-funded-no-public-or-university-or-corporate-money image came out? Huh? Well, look on the next page. See? No picture. That's how good it came out. It came out so sexy, so blasphemous and so powerful that . . . they couldn't print it in the book. (You might notice I'm not even describing it very clearly.)

So if you want to see, well, you know, the picture, the one he made using only my money-- you'll have to come to my crib in Las Vegas. And as for the commission check I wrote? Well, they tore it up in exchange for me writing this.

Penn Jillette
Las Vegas, Nevada
January, 1997


Look back: tomorrow is behind.
The stained-glass stains are shades of black and white.
Load inspiration, shift into Rewind,
switch on the mains and watch the candles light.

Hock what's gone. See how much you win!
the tv slot machine pays silver dimes.
There's vinyl on the cow instead of skin.
My laptop shot out fourteen perfect rhymes.

Geeks find the way. Through glasses thick
as telescopes they see around the corner
behind the future to the past-- a trick
envied by popes and sneered at by the scorner.

We make of microchips an old mosaic.
Light writes. Muse speaks. The process is archaic.