Get your game face on

Two years ago, when Neil Strauss' The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists set the lonely, nightclub-crawling guy world ablaze with his "you wimp, you, too, can bed chicks if you treat them like idiots" wisdom, book/daddy wrote a snarky review which you can read if you follow the jump. But what does book/daddy know of the art of seduction? On Amazon, The Game has garnered 515 reader "reviews," 344 of which give it 5 stars.

Now Strauss has a follow-up, called, predictably, Rules of the Game (one feels Jean Renoir will survive this insult, too). And you can read novelist Jim Crace's hilarious "digested read" for the Guardian here:

"Day 8: Now that you've had a shower, bought some clothes that hide your excessive sweating and practised talking to shop mannequins without staring at their breasts, it's time to try out your skills on a real live woman. Your goal today is to say "hello" to five different women without getting arrested."

Pick-up shticks
A mope morphs into a makeout king and tells other guys how they can do the same

by Jerome Weeks
Book review
The Dallas Morning News
September 18, 2005

These days, a not-so-secret online network of would-be seducers swaps success stories and holds workshops on how to pick up women. These aren't old-school players; they're Casanova nerds. They've read up on neurolinguistic programming and body language. They've broken down the craft of seduction into "negging" and "peacocking" and "isolating the target."

If you haven't heard any of this datespeak, perhaps you're not getting much nightclub action yourself. Or perhaps you're married.

Or perhaps you just have a life. Neil Strauss apparently didn't have one even though he was a rock journalist and co-author of Jenna Jameson's profoundly inspiring How to Make Love Like a Porn Star. What he did have was the common longing of many of us who were or are socially clueless: to be adept at meeting attractive women at hot nightspots, to score like the big-dog alpha males.

So he became hooked on the world of PUAs (pick-up artists). If we are to believe his much talked-about book, The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists, he spent two years learning to be a master libertine.

Perhaps it's because I've never known an accomplished makeout artist who was a fully functioning adult that I found The Game fascinating -- and creepy.

It's fascinating because of the simplicity and purported effectiveness of the routines Mr. Strauss outlines. Many women, he finds -- single or married, even ones with their boyfriends right there -- are eager to slip into bed. They're just better at disguising it than men.

So the pickup artist has to learn their signals (IOIs or "indicators of interest") and how to disarm their self-image defense mechanisms (they don't want to think of themselves as too easy). And he has to have confidence: Approaching strangers is an aggressive act. It risks embarrassment and insult. Maybe a drink dumped on your head.

To gain that confidence, many AFCs (average frustrated chumps) could start with just a simple stint in the Army: Stand up straight, stop mumbling, ditch the silly haircut. But the short, balding Mr. Strauss goes for the extreme makeover. He gets his eyes Lasiked, his teeth whitened, his head shaved.

Most importantly, he compiles a repertoire of somewhat pathetic but still winning gambits to gain attention: magic tricks, bar stunts. He learns to talk about pop psychology, star signs and all the new-age pop-trash ephemera that Cosmo runs because the magazine knows its readers. Many young women are fascinated by such stuff, which is why PUAs call it "chick crack."

How charming.

In fact, at the core of its advice, The Game is much like The Rules, the 10-year-old get-wise book for women on how to snag Mr. Right: The art of entrancing the opposite sex, it seems, is calculated rudeness. With The Rules, this meant never calling him, never giving him anything. Here, it means to "neg" a beautiful woman (she hears compliments all the time -- zing her with a cocky insult instead). Also, a true PUA "knows never to buy meals, drinks or gifts for a girl he hasn't slept with."

Mercifully, The Game has more going for it than The Rules. For one thing, the sex is explicit (hey, threesomes!). For another, celebrities appear. Oh boy. Our hero scores Britney Spears' phone number. Tom Cruise asks Mr. Strauss to interview him. In L.A., this is life-affirming stuff. Not surprisingly, Scientology Boy turns out to be driven and self-obsessed, but that doesn't stop Mr. Strauss from admiring him anyway. "What would Tom Cruise do?" he asks himself when facing a tough choice.

Unlike The Rules, The Game also tells a story -- not just Mr. Strauss' metamorphosis but his establishment of a Hugh Hefner dreamland. He rents a house and turns it into Project Hollywood, a Church of the New Seducers. Rather cheekily, ReganBooks has even printed The Game like a Bible: black, fake-leather cover, gold-edging, red ribbon page marker. It looks like an S&M manual.

Thirty pages in, it's obvious what the inevitable film of The Game will be: The 40-Year-Old Virgin Meets the Wedding Crashers. But his Project Hollywood story really only begins when his fellow PUAs move in. That story is about how low-grade movieland roomies get their fill of strippers and start savaging one another. If this sounds familiar, that's because it's Hurlyburly, David Rabe's dark comedy of male self-delusion.

Mr. Strauss is hardly stupid or uncultured. He lets us know he re-reads Ulysses every three years. Just for fun. That's convincing. But we do get these laugh-out-loud insights from him along the way: "Since I'd started spending so much time with PUAs, I'd lowered my standards for people I hung out with."

No fooling. It seems that if you teach yourself shallow manipulations, you're likely to become self-obsessed and shallow and manipulative and -- well, what would Tom Cruise do?

Still, what's truly creepy here is that beneath the ordinary longings of these men for sex, for some small self-transformation, there's often a nerdy, vengeful hunger for control over women. It's a chief appeal of porn fantasies: You have a secret magnetism. Say the magic words and women will do whatever you want.

So while there is a perfectly fine desire for social skills and dalliance and pleasure here, there is also a bitter contempt toward women -- particularly when they fail to respond to the mojo. Or when they do so too easily. One PUA even has a mantra: "Who cares what she thinks?"

Who, indeed -- if you're never planning on seeing her again. But never fear. Our hero grows up, dumps the cheap routines and finds True Love. As is often the case with Hollywood endings, however, the hard, unglamorous work has just begun. The real challenge, it turns out, isn't picking up women. It's learning to live with them, an admission Mr. Strauss makes in his very last paragraph on his very last page.

Where all the nerdy guys who buy this book will probably never read it.

copyright, 2005, The Dallas Morning News

December 11, 2007 11:02 AM |



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