“Game” and The Price of the Pick Up Artist Movement
First, before we begin, we need to get this out of the way:
Whatever connection you might be making between the mass murderer Elliot Rodger and Pick Up Artists is a pretty lie you are telling yourself .
Rodger was not a Pick Up Artist (PUA). It is of course true that Rodger used words and phrases that showed he knew the lexicon of PUAs. This means that the PUA movement and its culture were exactly as responsible for his actions on May 23 as was the Quran was for Nidal Hasan’s, military bureaucracy was for Ivan Lopez’s, homeschooling was for Adam Lanza’s, heavy metal albums were for Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, and Dungeon and Dragons was for Kip Kinkel’s… which is to say not at all.
It is fashionable at the moment to find ways to connect the dots between Rodger and the PUA movement, but this says more about us than it does PUAs. We abhor seeing the effects of random madness splayed out before our eyes. Our frightened minds work furiously to create the illusion of patterns that give meaning to the absurd, that we might find comfort. Even in the grave, the Elliot Rodgers of the world confound us with their aimless carnage. We blame those things we already mistrust — things that make the senseless fit within a comfortable framework. The formulas we create to explain the world’s Elliot Rodgers are, as I have said, pretty lies.
So no, the PUA movement and its ironically seductive “Game Theory” neither spawned nor spurred the monster that was Elliot Rodger.
It is, however, still worthy of our distrust.
Though the acronym PUA is very much a product of our most modern times, the belief that there is a secret knowledge that will unlock access any woman’s bedchamber is as old as the social mores that insist women resist such seductions. Like most things people would prefer everyone not know that they do, however, seduction culture has both accelerated and flourished in the Internet age. The anonymity that online PUA sites offer provide its membership a safe level of discretion while allowing a kind of locker-room talk that never was part of lock rooms, really.
When I was a teenager, the embarrassment inherent in purchasing a book on how to seduce women meant that the few that were sold were mail ordered from advertisements in the back, never-read pages of Playboy. Nowadays, though, the number of PUA sites is legion. And though there is some variance between different cultivators of “the Game,” the underlying promise of each is the same: If you subscribe to their methods, you can transform yourself from the virgin nerd who can’t even get a girl to give you her phone number to a man who can take home any woman in any bar, any time he wishes.
In many ways (and this is important) the seduction culture of the PUAs does in fact deliver on its promises — at least up to a point. In his book The Game, journalist-turned-PUA-coach Neil Strauss tells the tale of how he himself went from schlub to stud, though the careful reader might question Strauss’s ability to see the forest for the trees. Sure, his changed prospects might have been due to his magical insights into “negs,” wingmen, and finely crafted pickup lines that tuned into the evolutionary psychology of the human female. Or, alternatively, it may have simply been the Law of Large Numbers. Going from a practice of never talking to women in bars to doing nothing but hitting up multiple women in multiple bars all night every night does indeed seem like a pretty good formula for increasing the number of times one has sex in a given week. And the mere constant repetition of approaching women can help a nervous young man realize what their more experienced counterparts already know: that the simple act of talking to a woman need not, if fact, be scary endeavor.
When people I know defend Game, this is the point they usually make. Game, they say, helps men feel more comfortable, which helps them feel more confident, which really does make them more appealing to most women at first blush. Put like that, Game is little more than the advice and pep talk your female friend gives you over a beer when you’re feeling sorry for yourself. And were that all there were to Game, PUAs, and seduction culture, it wouldn’t be problematic.
But the thing is, that’s not all there is to Game, and therein lies the rub.
In 1975, while operating within the human potential movement, Richard Bandler and John Grinder published The Structure of Magic I. Leapfrogging from a hodgepodge of ideas stapled together from New Age Gurus and celebrity thinkers such as Carlos Castaneda, Noam Chomsky and Milton Erikson, Bandler and Grinder put forth the theory that “linguistic programming” controls all human action, both psychological and physiological. The right words — in the right order and spoken in the right tone — could, they posited, cure everything from depression and learning disorders to viral infections and chronic diseases. Though they had no academic or scientific training, ran no clinical testing, and never submitted their ideas to be reviewed by any journal, they declared their theory “scientifically proven” and gave it a name that sounded as if it had been: neuro-linguistic programming (NLP).
Despite not having anything to back up their claims, Bandler and Grinder discovered there actually was a market for NLP training. New Age institutes ate it up, of course, but so too did a surprising amount of trained psychotherapists, Advertising agencies hired them to unlock the secret linguistic keys that would re-program the brain chemistry of consumers, compelling them to purchase products they had no need or desire to own almost against their will. Largely because of its this commercial success, the scientific community eventually began to test the theories of NLP, and when it did it found exactly what you would expect: NLP was baseless pseudoscience, and that Bandler and Grinder were hucksters of the lowest order. By the mid-1980s, discredited by the scientific community and having not produced the promised results with advertisers and psychotherapists, NLP went the way of pyramid power and crystal therapy. And it might well have stayed on that New Age trash heap, if not for a man named Ross Jefferies.
Though you might not be familiar with the name Ross Jefferies, most people affiliated with seduction culture are. He is the Father of the modern PUA movement, if for no other reason than he was the first to show that using the internet to cross market books, seminars and videos promising to teach awkward men how to seduce women could be a sustainable and lucrative business model. Every successful PUA vendor, including Strauss, credits him as being the movement’s primal source. Frank T.J. Mackey — Tom Cruise’s iconic PUA character from Magnolia — was based on Jefferies. All of today’s Game Theory is based Jefferies original work — and Jefferies work is based on Bandler and Grinder’s NLP.
Of course, the underlying theories to which Jefferies pinned his business plan have been reworked, massaged, and renamed, mostly so that new PUA entrepreneurs can themselves market the real secret magic that beds all women. The lexicon of different sciences has been brought in (especially that of evolutionary biology), but the formula is essentially identical from site to site, and it carries NLP in its very DNA: Men with little or no understanding of the underlying science of which they speak use vaguely recognizable, science-y buzzwords to con others (and probably themselves) into believing claims either highly dubious or long disproven.
Part of the problem with Game, then, is that the so-called “science” behind it is claptrap, and was proven so decades ago. Where it succeeds (and to be fair, it very often does), it does so by something akin to the placebo effect: If you believe that a seduction method is “scientifically proven,” you’re more likely to try it rather than refrain from talking to women at all; that will of course lead to greater success, which will encourage you to talk to women more often still, which will lead to even more success, and thus does the wondrous Circle of Heavy Petting wheel along its rutting highway.
The other problem — the real problem — is this: You can’t teach young men who don’t know that much about women to begin with that all females are interchangeable, programmable objects without self-agency and expect it to go off without a hitch.
True, there will are many PUA-site readers that are able to walk right up to the point where self-confidence gives way to misogyny and refuse to step over that line. In fact, I have to believe that there are some young seducers that PUA helps. (After all, if you eventually get the courage to start talking to women it’s quite possible that you’ll discover they are, in fact, unique, human and your equal.) But there will be just as many, and perhaps more, that don’t understand that the line even exists. And when you look at Game in this light — a discredited pseudoscience targeted at sheltered young men that objectify women rather than treat them as individuals — the results are sadly predictable.
For starters, throughout the PUA universe the entire worth of a woman is based upon the degree that she both looks and acts like a Playboy model. (Or to be more precise, acts like someone who’s never met a Playboy model fantasizes one might act.) At first blush this is relatively harmless, but bandied about back and forth anonymously on the Internet, this belief manifests itself in a number of troubling ways. On most PUA sites, for example, women above the age of 22 are commonly said to have little human worth; woman over the age of 30 are commonly said to have none. On these sites, isn’t even enough to declare any woman who’s overweight a crime against humanity; men who see these woman as being human beings to be judged as individuals are seen as being complicit in that crime.
Further, women who exhibit any kind of personal agency are seen as dangerous if not outright wicked. In the world of PUA blogs, the more education a women has received, the less human worth she possesses. “Western women” are pretty universally devalued on these sites for the specific reason that these women are likely to voice their own opinions, contrary to the way PUAs believe Asian and Russian women have been raised. Additionally, women who are successful in (non-modeling) careers are successful for one and one reason only: they are whores. And in case you’re wondering just how deep that well runs, let’s just say that dudes with Game have a thing or two to say about the wisdom of women’s suffrage.
The PUA movement, then, is deeply based in misogyny. And please don’t misunderstand — I’m not suggesting that I believe simply wanting to bed multiple women is misogynistic. I don’t. Part of what the PUA movement fails to grasp, in fact, is that the reason women sometimes have sex with men they aren’t in committed relationships with is that, outliers aside, women actually like sex too. They don’t just begrudgingly agree to have it because “evolutionary forces have taught them this is the price for being protected by the larger, stronger of the species.”
No, the PUA movement is misogynistic because it teaches men who don’t know any better that women are less potential companions (carnal or otherwise) than they are adversaries that need to be defeated. And this misogyny isn’t simply theoretical; it manifests itself into some pretty detestable actions. As I noted last summer,
at the heart of [the movement] is an objectification of women that seems deeply grounded in hostility. The objects of affection are frequently referred to as “targets.” That these fantasy women have not already bedded the reader is assumed to be a function of the women’s emotional shortcomings, inflated senses of self-worth, or “being a bitch.” … Women who are confident and emotionally strong are viewed with particular derision, and are given labels such as The Entitled Princess. “This type of girl dominates because she wants to see how far she can push you, how much she can control you with her sexuality,” advises a much agreed-with Reddit poster. “It doesn’t necessarily turn her on, in fact, it’s a form of punishment for being weaker than her.”
Much of the advice also seems to be depressingly solipsistic. When one poster asks what people’s “play” is when they meet a woman who is depressed because she ended a long-term relationship less than 36 hours prior, the replies are telling: Some advise not engaging with that person on any level at all because she wouldn’t be worth it, while others recommend slipping in as a “good guy” because that girl might have “banging hot ass friends.” And of course, at least one charming lothario recommends moving in for “rebound sex” but cautions, “she might end up stopping in the middle of things and start crying.”
PUA sites take a lack of action by females take that can cause real pain — rejecting men who do not want to be rejected — and teach men that those inactions are the moral equivalent (and therefore excuse) to treating a woman in almost any derogatory fashion. Sometimes that translates to simple dishonesty and deception, but popular and well-regarded PUA sites often advocate actions far more heinous. As I noted in my MRM article last October, PUA blogger Matt Forney argued that the women you pick up “should be terrorized by men; it’s the only thing that makes them behave better than chimps.” It’s hard to stress enough the degree to which Forney’s essay was trumpeted by other PUA sites when it was first published. And no less revered a PUA leader than Ross Jeffries, in his signature book How to Get Women You Desire in Bed, advocates hypnotizing (and, arguably, drugging through alcohol) a woman to the point that she is incapacitated and out of control of her faculties in order to mount her. He goes on to admit that it might legally be rape, even as he coyly tantalizes his readers with the prospect:
One last caution before I lay out this technology. In some states, rape is defined as “intercourse of a woman, by a man, by force, threat of force, or OTHERWISE WITHOUT CONSENT.” In some states, if you get a date drunk, and fuck her when she’s passed out, you could find your self facing a rape rap.
Likewise for hypnosis. I am not an attorney, and am not going to give you legal advice, but I warn you here and now of the possible consequences and am not about to be held responsible if you get slapped with charges. YOU USE THESE METHODS AT YOUR OWN RISK. (And I wouldn’t have to give this disclaimer/warning if these methods didn’t work as well as they do.)
There are some, I realize, who will say that this type of immaturity is the exception (despite its prevalence within the movement’s most trafficked sites), or that it’s just good fun (depending on your definition of fun), and that there is little doubt that there are people out there who use PUA techniques who have no truck with the sophomoric misogyny rooted in the movement. To one debatable degree or another, that all might well be true. But at the same time I think that there is something more foundational at work here. These more reprehensible behaviors, I would argue, are the inevitable outcome of teaching men who don’t know a lot about women that it’s “science” that women are programmable, interchangeable objects. In fact, when seen from this angle it is not so surprising that there is a lot of overlap with PUA trainers, bloggers, and authors and racial realists. Both camps, after all, rely on heavily debunked pseudoscience to neatly and effortlessly categorize, objectify, and dehumanize groups of human beings they do not truly understand.
Past the damage that the PUA movement may or may not render to women, though, is the very real damage it can do to its own practitioners. One of the more fascinating patterns that I noticed when both reading PUA sites and talking to self-identified PUAs for my MRM research was the juxtaposition of these men’s criteria of women for relationships and their own historic success with these same women. If you’re going to be in a relationship, they all seem to say, you need to be with someone who is young (again, under 22), has few fully formed opinions to contradict your own, focuses all of her attention and self-perception on how she looks, and takes constant note of the material possessions owned by men. They go on to bitch about past girlfriends and spouses for being immature, spoiled, and unfaithful brats. That none of them seem able to connect those two data points in any relevant fashion baffles me to this day.
I remember, back in the early 1990s, being dragged by a female friend of mine to see a seminar on The Rules. A bestselling self-help book by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider, The Rules promised its female readers who adhered to its tenants a husband within a year. The rules themselves were like something out of Pleasantville: Never disagree with the man you’re out with. If a man ever corrects you, tell him he is right and you’re just a silly female — even if you happen to know for a fact that they guy is wring. Let him order everything for you. Never let him beyond 2nd base without a wedding ring, but other than that do everything he says with out question. After you were married, they told us in the seminar, you could go ahead and begin exerting your will against his. My reaction to The Rules then was that same as it is today: A woman following the rules could, I believe, actually get a man to marry them within a year using this strategy. But the obvious caveat was this: you’d be married to an insecure, self-important blowhard with unproven capabilities within the bedroom.
Members of the PUA movement strike me as having a similar caveat. The parts of Game that actually work — being willing to talk to women, doing it enough that you don’t’ feel awkward doing it, having something interesting to say, feeling comfortable in your own skin — don’t actually require being shallow, misogynistic, or an asshole. In fact, shallow, misogynistic, asshole guy tends to attract female lovers (and male friends) who suffer from low self-esteem, and that carries a whole lot of other baggage. The morality of being hurtful aside, is that really who you want to shag, date, and possibly fall into an long-term relationship with? Treat all women (or men) like “whores” and sooner or later you’ll surround yourself with people who feel that way about themselves. That’s who you’re spending countless hours on the Internet training to “get with?”
Of course, I already know what most PUAs would say to such a question. Half of the PUA blog posts I’ve read are some variation on a theme that answers that question with a scoffing line about “beta-males.”
And that’s fine and just as well, I suppose. Shallow, self-absorbed, immature women with low self-esteem need people to date too.