I borrowed this book from a friend recently, after having watched several episodes of a hilarious and slightly disturbing show called The Pick-Up Artist from a few years ago. I’d heard of the book before, and I knew it was a book giving advice to guys on how to pick up women, but I had no idea of the huge subculture of pick-up artists, also called PUAs.
I had thought that I would find the show reprehensible and awful, because I consider myself to be a pretty hardline feminist in a lot of ways. There are certainly parts of the book and the show that I do find distasteful, such as women being described as little girls who need to be told what to do, or a guy using the same opening line over and over again, casting his net so wide that some girl somewhere is bound to agree to shag him. I was also offended by some of the attitudes of the guys in the book and the show, who see sleeping with a woman as a kind of video game – you get higher points for nailing a perfect ten.
One of the things that really made my skin crawl was the practice of ‘negging’ a girl. The idea behind this is that with ‘hot’ girls, compliments just wash over them because they hear them so often. If you ‘neg’ them (basically it’s a mild criticism, or a backhanded compliment) then they respond by trying to prove themselves to you, and seeking your approval. It’s a way of subtly grinding down a woman’s self-esteem, and I find the whole idea really creepy.
The show itself is hilarious. The format is a group of mutant guys who have never seen a naked woman before, learning to transform themselves and behave in ways which will make them irresistible to women. Some of the failures are heartbreaking, but most of them are hilarious. The show is hosted by a PUA/magician called Mystery, who’s obviously very charismatic and I can totally understand why he attracts a lot of women. Each episode, he sets the guys challenges, usually relating to getting a woman’s phone number or a kiss. Each episode, someone is eliminated, and then the last guy gets a $50,000 prize and the title ‘The Pick-Up Artist’.
So there’s some horrible stuff out there, and I’m sure it attracts a lot of horrible guys, too. Guys who can’t get a woman to talk to them because they’re just not very nice people, and there are certainly lots of guys like that in the book. But I was surprised by how much I warmed to Neil, the narrator of the book. He’s a small, shy, balding writer who has had no luck with women. He’s a journalist who intends to investigate the world of PUAs, but then ends up getting sucked into the subculture and becoming one of the best known PUAs out there. His success rate with women skyrockets, and he befriends Mystery and they begin working together, teaching other guys how to perform the routines that will help them pick up women.
There are also some pretty interesting ideas in the book regarding picking up women, and I’m sure that I’ve experienced a lot of them, though I’m not sure whether the guys have been doing it consciously or not. It’s definitely eye-opening. Some of the stuff that’s in there is also just common sense. Opening up a conversation with a woman, rather than using a pick-up line, is always the best way to go. And small cues like touching a woman on the shoulder are always pretty obvious, too. But creepy. I hate to think that courtship and mating are so… formulaic? I’ve never approached a man with a game plan or a tactic, or a way to trick him into liking/sleeping with me. That idea is so dehumanising and alien to me. And surely it must take al the spontaneity out of getting to know someone for the first time. If you already know where it’s going to lead, then it isn’t any fun, is it?
Anyway, the book is interesting, and sort of enjoyable. Neil seems sincere and nice, and after getting caught up in that world, he seems to eventually find a good balance.
On a sidenote: I’ve wondered if these same ‘techniques’ would work on men, but I’m not sure that men and women have the same dynamic between them in the pick-up game. Most women tend to be waaaay more picky, and are expecting to get hit on, unlike guys. I also have a sneaking suspicion that a woman’s success rate would be ridiculously high compared to a man’s. Before you know it, you could have ten different guys on the go, but I’m not sure how good my juggling skills are.
I guess there's only one way to find out.
Next time: I’m going to give myself a real treat and re-read an old book before I lend it to someone, so it should be fairly quick and enjoyable. Double points! The book will be World War Z by Max Brooks.