I’m a little late to The Game, but last week I read Neil Strauss’s exposé of the pick-up artist (PUA) community. Feminists might find offense in these dudes’ approach to women, but the book isn’t about women at all. It’s about men.
The Game is a Fight Club-esque dudes-on-dudes tour of the search for self esteem.
Nerds v. Jerks
Remember at the beginning of The Social Network, when Mark Zuckerberg’s girlfriend dumps him, she says: “You are going to go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd. And I want you to know from the bottom of my heart that that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole.”
That’s an important difference. Nerds are malleable. Jerks are fixed. Jerks are people who grew up nerds — or similarly situated on the adolescent social ladder — who settled on a defense mechanism.
It’s easy to finish The Game and conclude that what the PUA strategies do is turn nerds into assholes by introducing them to a series of learned strategies that inoculate them against insecurity. That’s partially accurate, but it’s only part of the story.
The Game is a Mask
The full story lies in the fact that men must come to the PUA community; the mountain will not come to Mohammed. Seminars are expensive (upwards of $1500) and hopeful Casanovas have to get themselves to where PUA masters are hosting sessions.
Every PUA is just a malleable dude painfully aware of his insecurity and fear of women — “AFC,” or “average frustrated chump” in PUA-ese — eager to be shaped.
Everyone is looking for self esteem. Pick-up artists, by Strauss’s account narrated by PUA “Style,” step off the self-actualization ladder to self esteem in favor of displacement. Why work your way up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs if you can shed that nerdy shell to spout practiced line, looks, and steps instead?
So it goes. Strauss describes “armies” of copycats to his alter-ego Style — sporting creative community avatars like “Ministyle” — marching up and down Sunset Strip.
These are not men looking for women. Dozens of boys spent the two-year duration of Strauss’s account sleeping in one PUA’s bathroom closet. These are men looking for the company of other dudes, and talking about sex is just one of those classic frat routes to companionship.
The Male Id
The author’s foray into the male id began with his own decision to don a completely contrived PUA persona. Here is his transformation, a physical identity adopted after a few sessions with his PUA guru “Mystery” and honed over two years in the community:
- Left: “Style”; Right; Strauss
Shedding a preconceived sense of reality to achieve something better isn’t novel. Mystics dropped acid to penetrate higher levels of consciousness; it’s hardly incongruous for men to drop their passive identities rife with insecurity in pursuit of more focused energy and attention available for life when bedding women is taken out of the equation.
That’s the most surprising part of the book. Strauss comments repeatedly that the mansion the PUA’s all share is full of dudes going out in groups, coming home in groups, but not so many women. Women don’t figure at all into the equation, except as a means for dudes to demonstrate value to other dudes.
These guys are certainly hetereosexual, but these boys’ hypersexualized Game is about guys studying guys and learning to talk to one another. They’re kids who feel entitled to engage a defense-mechanism “jerk” forcefield because they feel they’ve wasted so much time chasing women that they haven’t had time to build meaningful male relationships.
Pick-up artists are looking for mentors, fraternity brothers, respect. Strauss describes his first PUA seminar as deeply humbling; he enters the room and feels himself admitting that he is “but half a man,” having failed in his attempts to woo women. These are not men remotely interested in women; these are men interested in those two halves of man.
Inasmuch as anyone interacts with women in the book, the guys aren’t objectifying neg-responsive women any more than the women have objectified themselves.
Ladies: Do not be deterred by the sexist bent. Give this book a read. Understanding the Aspergers-y way these dudes reduce human interaction to science will help chicks shake those neg-flinging twits — or it’ll help you pick up some cute dude you actually like.