The Not So Beautiful Game Step 2: In Which a Good Stiff Motivational Speech Might Be in Order
I continue reading Neil Strauss’ The Game. Step 2 is Approach and Open. Are you ready? Are you ready for this? Are you hanging on the edge of your seat?
In this section, we abandon our frame narrative for some point in the past When it All Began (TM). Our intrepid narrator Style attends a workshop from renowned (?) pick up artist Mystery. Mystery’s credentials consist of a manila folder full of photos of women he claims to have slept with, including actress’ and model’s headshots. Only one photo actually includes Mystery himself. Somehow this does not trip any internal con artist warning alarms for Style, and Style hands over $500 for the privilege of attending nightclubs in the presence of Mystery and some other students.
Style spends a lot of time introspecting about his reasons for doing this, which largely come down to he feels socially awkward and not attractive. As the other students arrive for the workshop, it is clear that they feel much the same way. Personally, I think they need a motivational speech, and possibly possibly a makeover (not because they need it physically, but because sometimes changing one’s look and receiving lots of compliments on it from one’s accompanying friends can do wonders for confidence). What these men seem to really really need is just some practice presenting themselves to others. For example, Sweater, a student who seems to exist in the narrative so that the narrator can feel better about himself by comparison, opines that he does not look good smiling. This is not an uncommon feeling, and the best response is to practice smiling in a mirror, possibly take photos of practice smiling, in order to learn the feel of moving muscles in the face and how that corresponds to different facial expressions. (I used to hate my smile in formal photos when I was a child, and I actually did practice smiling in the mirror until I no longer dreaded cameras. So I really sympathize and I also know that Mystery’s order to smile in spite of his fear of smiling is not the best advice for Sweater.) There are classes on self-presentation, taught by actual people with actual credentials. One of the more helpful general education classes I took as an undergrad was called self-staging, a theatre department offering, which was exactly about practicing talking to other members of the class plus mock job interviews and some other stuff I’ve forgotten by now, but there was a lot of good practical advice on how to interact with other people. As far as Style et al’s fears of unattractiveness go, maybe we need messages akin to the Dove Real Beauty Campaign, but for men. Sure, things like that are typically cheesy and never reach beyond a fairly shallow and heteronormative definition of beauty, but there is a time and a place to reassure people that they are, indeed, beautiful. A gathering of people who feel so hopeless about their social skills and so desperate for love that they are willing to give a lot of money to sketchy people from the internet* would seem to be one of these places. Alas, such an “Everyone’s a Hero in Their Own Way” approach is not to be. Students, including Style, tell Mystery their “scores,” that is, the number of sexual partners (who are women) that they’ve had. In case it’s not completely obvious, number of sexual partners isn’t even a measure of the goodness of one’s sexual experiences, much less the goodness of one’s social abilities. It definitely isn’t a measure of a person’s goodness or lack thereof as a person. We have no time to dwell on this, however, for all the students are off to the nightclubs to never question their assumptions that women have no sexual agency or awareness.
At the nightclubs, Mystery demonstrates both an ability to pick up women and an ability to claim that there are no good targets when he doesn’t. Seriously, how does this not ring all con artist bells? Possibly it would if Style were willing to think of women as people, but he constantly maintains that the women of the nightclubs are completely unaware of the intentions of the men of the workshop in their midst. Now I don’t actually like nightclubs, and am there very seldom, so I am not familiar with the typical patron thereof, but to assume that absolutely none of the women at nightclubs are thinking, much less expecting or wanting, to have amorous encounters thereat just seems silly. Of course there are going to be women at nightclubs looking for romance, and of course some amorous approaches are going to work on some people better than others. It is the good con artist who can read people well enough to pick good people to approach, and it is the excellent con artist who can make a failure look to a suggestible audience like something other than a failure.
Mystery, of course, explains his success at approaching women in nightclubs by claiming his surefire algorithm** complete with many techniques which are acronymed for no reason. IOI for example, meaning indications of interest. This is confusing for not only the pointless TLA (three letter acronym), but for why it is presented as so amazingly clever to realize that when people are interested in someone amorously, they will indicate it. Another thing that the pick up artist community fancy themselves clever and original for is the concept of the “neg,” that is, a rather insulting comment made to an amorous target about appearance. There’s a guide even. In picture form.
I seem to recall Christian dating advice some time ago (though unfortunately I can’t find it on youtube anymore) in which men were told to tease women they were interested in, as though the women were their little sisters. However, back to The Game, I do recall hearing men at my undergrad parroting a lot of this “negging [sic, because I dislike this word. There are already words that are more elegant that describe such things that could be used instead, there is no reason to introduce non-euphonious homophones into our lexicon.] advice. I literally had men tell me that women go for men who ignore them because women are like cats who bat at strings just out of reach. The cat with a string simile is straight from The Game, and probably internet forums before that. At the time, however, I did not know where such insulting generalizations were coming from or how to respond, or why exactly I was so uncomfortable having men tell me that I was different from all those other horrible women they described in such ways, so I suppose I should thank Neil Strauss for explaining to me the reasoning of the insulting young gentlemen of my undergraduate years. I will thank feminism a lot more for offering me the courage to respond to such insulting statements with the hearty “fuck you” that they deserve.
Back to the narrative. After the workshop, Style is inspired to go looking for a wing (some guy who helps other guys pick up women) online, and finds Grimble, a disciple(?) of Ross Jeffries, a pick up artist with a different technique than Mystery, but who compares himself superlatively to the famous libertines Ovid, Casanova, and Don Juan.*** Jeffries is into impenetrably mysterious statements rather than algorithms, to whit: “Anything you want from a woman–attraction, lust, fascination–is just an internal process that she runs through her body and brain.” Parsing this statement seems to imply that, beyond the obvious that the only thing these men can imagine wanting from a woman is related to sex, the brain is not part of the body. More than that, I cannot comprehend. Presumably because I am a woman and intellect is not wanted from me. Jeffries’ disciples are big into speaking about the “technology” they use, which seems to rely entirely on woo and misunderstanding synesthesia. Style is confused, not for the obvious reason that these statements are nonsense, but because even though this is different from Mystery’s “algorithmic” approach, it still seems to get results. He does not pursue this train of thought, however. Probably because it might imply that different women like different things (they aren’t the borg!), or at least that a lot of people in the world are looking for love and are willing to make a reasonable effort to be seduced if people are willing to make a reasonable effort to seduce them (women have sexual agency!). There is actually a slightly interesting point about suggestibility to be made in all this. One of Jeffries “technologies” is anchoring, in which he hands a woman an object and tells her to think about the feelings she is having about her True Love (TM) when looking at that object. If you hand a lot of people an object and tell them it is imbued with certain feelings, some number of people will experience those feelings when looking at that object. It’s exactly how suggestibility works, and some people are more suggestible than others. The great talent of the hypnotist is in recognizing the more suggestible people of the audience to try their tricks on, and likewise, Jeffries’ seems to be attempting basic suggestibility tricks.
Now Jeffries’ disciples are on to something when they say they are a community. Communities are important (unless of course, they are toxic) and since Style seems to be implying that these communities are made up of men who want to feel confident and attractive, communities are really important. It’s good to have friends. Now the pick up artists of this community aren’t as evil as they claim they are, at least, they don’t come across as such to me. Mostly because they seem so impressed with themselves and talking about how impressively evil they are in engaging in pick up artistry that I’m bored with them. Mozart and Lorenzo da Ponte have already said everything that these pick up artists have to say, and said it way better, in Don Giovanni and Cosi fan Tutti. It’s still offensive in those operas, but at least the music is good. One could remark that the much-vaunted “negging” approach is taking advantage of the way a lot of people are socialized to be insecure about themselves and in particular their physical attractiveness, but since the pick up artists themselves are being preyed upon by sketchy people from the internet who claim to have all the answers, I have a hard time seeing these pick up artists as the force of great evil and skill they see themselves as. It’s more depressing than anything else. This is why we need skepticism, to recognize con artists. Ideally before we give them money.
I’m 50 pages into this, and I think I desperately need ice cream. Because women, who are all alike and all totally lactose tolerant, handle their womanly emotions in such a way as ice cream. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before someone seduces me with this fact.
*I mean, if giving money to sketchy people on the internet just happens to be the thing that makes you feel better about whatever problems you have, I will very selflessly offer to take your money. Because you are all beautiful and wonderful people.
**As a side note, I really really dislike the appropriation of computer science terminology for describing the human psyche. Computers are not human and the reverse is also true.
***For the record, dear readers, I would totally do Ovid.