Mental HealthModern MythologyPop CultureSkepticism

The Not so Beautiful Game Step 1: An Uncompelling Frame Narrative Stigmatizes Mental Illness

I have started reading Neil Strauss’ The Game.  I have heard this is the defining literary work of the pick up artist movement/subculture/whatever and while I have heard a lot of bad comments about it, I have never actually read it.  With the exception of Twilight, I do attempt to actually be somewhat familiar with the stuff I say bad things about it, so I borrowed it from a friend who assured me it was every bit as bad as I’d heard  Now insofar as I judge books by their covers, The Game is very pretty.  Like a Bible in design, complete with gilt-edged pages and ribbon even.  Behold!


The volume is divided into sections labeled Steps, each accompanied by a film noir type picture.  This is such a pretty book.


Shall we begin?  Step 1: Select a Target is our frame narrative in which we start at the present and then consider how we arrived at such a place.  The character of Mystery, our narrator’s guru, is introduced, shown to be in a parlous state of weeping and suicidal ideation, and taken by our narrator to “the madhouse, ” otherwise known as the Hollywood Mental Health center on Vine street, a place which seems to actually exist.  There is a given description of “an ugly slab of concrete surrounded day and night by homeless men who screamed at lampposts, transvestites who lived out of shopping carts, and other remaindered human beings who set up camp where free social services could be found.”   Below is my search result for the Hollywood Mental Health center of Vine street, which doesn’t appear to be slabous, concrete, or free.  Ugliness, architecturally, is quite subjective, but I wouldn’t consider it so.


It’s entirely possible I found the wrong Hollywood Mental Health Services on Vine st.  It is also possible, given that the opening statements of the book that “The following is a true story.  It really happened.  Men will deny it, women will doubt it…” that I simply should take everything at face value and not bother fact checking too much.  Or I’m being a silly woman that can be easily manipulated into doubting by being told I will doubt.  Is my mind supposed to be blown?  I can’t even tell.  Back to the story: our narrator is busy stigmatizing mental illness and the process of seeking treatment thereunto, which is clearly more important than an accurate representation of mental health facilities.  I realize that seeking medical help (of any kind really, but particularly for mental complaints) can be really unpleasant and dehumanizing and I hate sitting in waiting rooms as much as anyone else, but there are better ways to criticize that involve less stigma and nastiness and why are we throwing transvestites into our nasty description of mental health services here? Anyway, Mystery gets in to see a counselor, and we the lucky readers are treated to an in-depth exposition of how the counselor (who is a women) does not see Mystery as a person, but only a thing to be medicated or hospitalized.  I’m not entirely clear on how self-aware the text is, so this could be set up (and rather poorly, in my opinion) as a foil to how Mystery sees women not as people but as things.

Since a redeeming feature of this book is that the chapters comprising each section are really really short, we soon get to move onto a brief history of the work.  In this, our narrator claims that he was a writer whose editor discovered an obscure part of the internet that bore investigating and thus the narrator was drawn to this “secret society* “of pick up artists where he discovers magical pick up methods that changed his life.  I think I believe this about as much as I believe that Ben Franklin had people really begging him to continue his autobiography.  They would probably get along swimmingly, our narrator and Ben Franklin, since they both like to brag about their great pursuit of venery.  Our narrator, who pseudonyms himself Style, also explains how truly unattractive (in a conventional American sense of what it means for a man to be physically attractive) he is and that before learning the magical secrets of people on the internet he was not particularly good at talking to women, though he is, he assures us, a deep man.  Deep here is defined as reading Joyce’s Ulysses every three years for fun. Probably his references to Dostoevsky are supposed to indicate his oddly defined deepness as well. There is also some, quite frankly, whining, about a failure to have sex while a teenager or a college student.  My impatience with plaints of sexual frustration aside, there is a good conversation in here somewhere about societal expectations for age at first intercourse, the tangled and terrible societally constructed web of goodness of personhood versus amount of sex had and with how many people, what it means to have social skills, and how to handle approaching persons of the desired sex with amorous intentions.  I’m reasonably sure this book will have none of that.  What it does have is an unreasonable amount of pride in the amount of jargon and acronyms used by pick up artists.

Next up, assuming I don’t just get annoyed and disgusted with this: Fix your life by giving money to sketchy people on the internet and consider multiple competing theories of what women are like!  That women are not the Borg will not be one of those theories.

* If it’s on the internet it may be obscure, but unless it’s encrypted or behind a password, it is not secret.  Security by obscurity is not.

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Elizabeth is a professional belly dancer, a flaky computer scientist, and a returned Peace Corps volunteer. She lives in Georgia (the state of the U.S., not the country) but is nonetheless somehow not a combination of stereotypes from Gone with the Wind and Deliverance. Her personal blog is Coffeefied. Operafied. Fluffified. Beglittered.

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