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Archive for June, 2010

“My interview with Britney Spears was going nowhere. I looked at her, crossing her legs and fidgeting on the hotel-room couch next to me. She didn’t give a shit. There was only one way to save this interview: I had to sarge her. As I taught her how to read different types of eye movements, she clung to every word. Her legs uncrossed and she leaned in toward me. The game was on.”

– Extract from The Game by Neil Strauss

For many local journalists, the assignment call from the news editor is a humbling exercise in routine humiliation and habitual disappointment, a brief exchange where your childhood dreams of national by-lines, explosive scoops and social justice are crushed by the coldly delivered words “injured hedgehog makes an unlikely feathered friend”. However if you are Neil Strauss, writer for the New York Times and co-author of Motley Crue’s debauched bio The Dirt, you needn’t worry about scuttling down to the local vets when your editor calls, it’s a different type of tail you’ll be hunting.

Forgive me, father

Strauss’ ascent to sarging immortality begins with a call from his book editor, asking that he create a publishable novel from subtly-titled online document The How-to-Lay-Girls Guide – a 150 page scrapbook of hints and tips from masters in the world of female seduction. Single, awkward and journalistically curious, Strauss attacks the layguide with all the verve of an office intern unzipping a US president:

“The moment I started reading, my life changed. More than any other book or document – be it The Bible, Crime and Punishment, or The Joy of Cooking – the layguide opened my eyes. And not necessarily because of the information in it, but because of the path it sent me hurtling down.”

Give us a snog, darlin'

With both The Joy of Cooking and The Bible put firmly in their places, Strauss feverishly trawls through the newsgroups and websites recommended in the layguide, conscientiously noting the community’s main players. Included in this band of merry swordsmen are Mystery: a flamboyant showman acknowledged by Strauss’ research as “the most worshipped pickup artist in the community”; Ross Jeffries: one of the founding fathers of the seduction community, but now an aged and lecherous Benny Hill figure who spends his days hitting on 20-something waitresses; Juggler: a ridiculously-named cyber behemoth who dominates the online seduction forums with his enthusiastic field postings. His appetite whetted, Strauss swiftly adopts the must-have one-word moniker (Style) before declaring it his “full-time job and obsession to hunt down the greatest pickup artists in the world and beg for shelter under their wings”. His subsequent exploits and experiences comprise The Game.

Adriaaaaaaan!!!

It is perhaps worth taking a moment to consider Strauss’ self-deprecating description of himself as “far from attractive”. So, you’re thinking, is his low self-esteem triggered by the horrific scars of childhood acne, an award-winning monobrow or a pitifully small todger? No, you’re way off:

“I’m not the kind of guy women giggle over at a bar or want to take home when they’re feeling drunk and crazy. All I have is my mind and nobody can see that. I have indentations on either side of my forehead, which I like and believe add character to my face, though I’ve never actually been complimented on them.”

I'm a real fun guy, honest

Of course, slight facial indentations – tough break. With Strauss’ underdog status cemented, it’s clear we’re heading into Rocky territory, but with blemished intellectuals sucking it to the jocks, rather than monosyllabic New Yorkers overcoming adversity by beating up, well, monosyllabic Russians. However, what elevates the book from mundane cliché into humorous romp is the refusal by Strauss to belittle the world of the pick-up artist, faithfully reporting the often ludicrous sarging activities with childlike intrigue, reserving full judgment until the final third of the novel.

This style of reporting accentuates the bizarre traits of the PUAs (pick-up-artist – you can have that one for free) such as Mystery and Jeffries, much in the manner that the best comic creations have no outside awareness of their own ludicrous behaviour. This is perhaps best demonstrated by Strauss’ inclusion of a glossary of words and phrases deployed in the seduction community, going so far as to indicate the grammatical context and creator of said word or phrase. Here are a few terms that any aspiring PUA should have in his locker:

“AFC – noun [average frustrated chump]: a stereotypical nice guy who has no pickup skills or understanding of what attracts women. Origin: Ross Jeffries.

Sarge – 1. Verb: to pick up women, or to go out to try and meet women. 2. Noun: a woman who has been picked up. Origin: Aardvark.

Neg – noun: an ambiguous statement or seemingly accidental insult delivered to a beautiful woman a pickup artist has just met, with the intent of actively demonstrating to her (or her friends) a lack of interest in her. Origin: Mystery.

Kino – verb [from kinaesthesia, noun]: to touch or be touched, generally with suggestive intent or the purpose of arousal, such as hair-stroking, hand-holding, or hip-grabbing; precedes actual sexual contact. Origin: Ross Jeffries.

Cockblock – noun and verb: a person who interferes with or hinders a pickup artist’s game, whether accidentally or on purpose. A cock-block can be a friend of the women, a friend of the pickup artist, or a complete stranger.

Peacock – verb: to dress in loud clothing or with flashy accoutrements in order to get attention from women. Peacocking items include bright shiny shirts, light-up jewellery, feather boas, colourful cowboy hats, or anything else that makes one stand out in a crowd. Origin: Mystery.”

My cockywock

Of all the phrases, it is perhaps peacocking that provides the most amusement, the idea that being noticed is paramount, regardless of whether or not you like a colossal tool.

While easy to mock, the success of peacocking makes theoretical sense and has some evidential support. Perhaps the most high-profile modern-day peacocker is Russell Brand, a serial sarger and hate-figure to sexually-repressed Daily Mail readers across middle-England whose appeal is based on a combination of traditional peacocking (an outlandish physical appearance, in his case rakish goth) and a studiously devised extrovert personality. Across the pond, ex-NBA star and Big Brother failure Dennis Rodman is an extreme peacocker, rarely seen without lippy, mascara, a feather boa and – on occasions – a white wedding dress. Where us AFCs see a mentally unstable cross-dresser, Rodman laughs all the way to the condom vending machine, with his sarging zenith achieved during a brief marriage to Baywatch wank-fodder, Carmen Electra.

In England, however, peacocking is yet to gain momentum. In fact, it has become nigh-on impossible to differentiate young ‘lads’ from one another, with each wearing the standard-issue uniform of black Allsaints cardigan or the vulgar blue Lyle & Scott jumper. More recently, Jack Wills – overpriced ‘aspirational’ clothing targeting the middle-class – has been claimed by males of all ages and background, resulting in the comedy Saturday city centre image of neatly gelled chavs wearing hoodies emblazoned with the words ‘Oxford v Cambridge Varsity’. It should also be noted for the sake of balance that smug well-quiffed toffs wearing similar clothing is equally disheartening, particularly when they have the necessary resources to promote peacocking as acceptable British practice.

PEEKABOO!!!

Extreme peacocking

Strauss’ formative spell as a PUA is spent attending workshops organised by Mystery and his sidekick Sin. At the workshop, Mystery lays down the defining characteristic of a sophisticated PUA: “an amateur hits on a woman right away. A pro waits eight to ten minutes”. This eight to ten minute period is where the PUA comes into his own, running through Mystery’s steps in a prescribed order. Once the sarger has mastered the process, we are led to believe that nothing can stop him.

To demonstrate the success of his methods, Mystery takes Strauss out sarging to a trendy Hollywood nightspot, where he spies washed-up Happy Days actor Chachi* out on a double-date. Like many who grow up watching Happy Days re-runs, I fondly recall the escapades of Chachi, the ruffian mechanic who used his relationship with Joanie as a front to hide his latent homosexual desires for his cousin, The Fonz. Imagine, then, my horror when Mystery successfully sarges his tail, collecting her telephone number in under 10 minutes, leaving a confused and broken Chachi pleading to Strauss, “tell me this is all an illusion and he’s not actually stealing my girlfriend”. Just as I was about to halt my reading in protest at Mystery’s disrespectful handling of Chachi, Mystery stops the sarge, leaving Chachi free to bullshit his date into believing that he has some exciting projects in the pipeline.

* For those unfamiliar with Happy Days, he played the lead role in the 70s Jodie Foster version of Bugsy Malone, and was immortalised by Ben Stiller (“Joanie loves Chachi!”) in Dodgeball.

As highlighted above, Mystery’s successful sarge owed nothing to good luck or spontaneity, but a rigorous application of a tried and tested set of moves. In simple terms, these can be broken down into four stages:

Open

Every PUA should have a few openers in their armoury, the success or failure of which will determine whether the target allows the PUA a platform on which to perform. One of the most accomplished openers I was privy to was deployed by a friend of mine (let’s call him Ken), who never ventured out into the night unless armed with two lighters. A smoker, Ken kept a fully-functioning lighter at all times, together with a dud. Once inside the club/bar, he would approach the target and ask to borrow a lighter, flailing hopelessly at the dud with forefinger and thumb to lend credence to his tale. As Ken earnestly ran through his routine, I thought the pre-meditated nature of the move a little contrived, but in hindsight I can acknowledge that he was one step ahead of the game.

I'm REALLY REALLY LONELY 😦

While Ken was a one-trick chancer, Strauss and co boast a proven opener for every occasion. Where the target is within a mixed-group, rather than approach the target directly, the PUA should woo the group as a whole, gaining the approval of the target in the process. In such circumstances, Strauss rolls with the ice-breaker, “so, this is where the party’s at!” I remain sceptical about how this line would be received outside of white-noise London bars, anticipating it to be a fifty-fifty call between chastening indifference, or a polite invitation to ‘fuck off’. On the rare occasions where it is appropriate to engage the target in a one-on-one situation, we are told never to approach her from behind, but from the front at a slight angle, “like Robert Redford in The Horse Whisperer”. Gold.

Most ludicrous of all is the ‘My Little Pony’ opener – “hey do you guys remember that shit, My Little Pony? Yeah, well I was trying to remember, did they have powers?” – a complex delivery that is either the result of intense study of the female psyche, or a worrying endorsement of the pulling methods of disgraced glam-rocker Garry Glitter. On a similar childhood-memory vein, I would like to propose ‘The Krang Opener’ (“hey, do you guys remember Krang from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? What the fuck was with his brain, man?”), however I think the appeal is a little more niche.

Engage

Key to the Mystery approach is treating the target differently to how she is used to; for example, an attractive woman is used to a curious mix of compliments, lechery and groping. Taking stock of this information, the PUA adopts a different tactic and steams in with a reel of light abuse (or negs – see definition above – to use proper PUA parlance), the idea being that by refusing to show deference to the target, you are somehow more interesting to her. Slightly confused by the concept, I was relieved when the glossary produced some tried and tested killer negs, including “you kinda have man hands” and “is that a wig? Oh…well it looks nice anyway”. Rather unhelpfully, the text failed to provide witty follow-up lines should the target be midway through a sex change, or in remission; presumably one should simply GTFOOT (Get The Fuck Out Of There).

This idea of securing interest is also considered in Mystery’s ‘cat string theory’, a mind-blowing feline study which records how a cat will engage playfully when a line of string is tantalisingly kept above its paws, yet act with utter contempt when the string is dropped onto its paws. While I can see the logic at work, the theory is hampered by the incorrect assumption that a woman’s mind is no different to that of a common moggy. Taking Mystery’s theory through to its natural conclusion, any PUA worth his salt would never venture out unless armed with a bag of cat nip and a box of Whiskas. While you could try to pass security by arguing that the items are for personal use, you may be forced to take to your hands and knees and engage in an unpleasant public chow-down.

Attract

"Hey, is that guy over there groping her boobs?"

So, by now you’ve rudely interrupted a group of strangers, cornered an innocent women and subjected her to a tirade of systemic abuse. At this point, I anticipate you may be indulging in some moral questioning of your own conduct, perhaps agonising over whether or not you should conclude the sarge. If so, you need to go home and grow a pair. We’re moving into sixth.

Perhaps inspired by northern lothario Paul Daniels, the meat of the sarge requires the PUA to entertain the target with an ESP (extrasensory perception trick). Usually this will take the form of some piss-poor magic demonstration or spiritual reading (i.e. grope). Strauss’ ESP of choice is to ask the target to select a number between one and seven, because “there is a 70% chance that the answer will be 7”, a percentage – we are told – that will increase if the target is time-pressured into giving a response. However don’t be dispirited if your target fails within the 30% range, as there is always Mystery’s patented puppet show routine to call upon:

“Well-chosen props are a great way to focus a girl’s attention on something else so she doesn’t resist overt sexual moves. I agree. Say, “Look at the puppet show over there,” while you play with her tits. If she hesitates about the tit-play, simply point to the puppets and laugh, “Look at the puppets. Look, they are funny puppets.” Then play with the tits again.”

Unless you’re running an extreme game of sarging at kids parties, you may have to be creative to run this routine, perhaps substituting “dancers” for “puppets”, or something similar. Regardless of the wording, if the girl responds in a positive way and you feel good about this, you should take her to a mental hospital, and perhaps check yourself in too while you’re there.

Hear me now

The final stage comprises the kiss-close, a self-explanatory act that requires little elaboration. While the PUA will normally be in control of the sarge and able to dictate the timing of the move, the target may choose to ruin his game by making some overt sexual comments (“cor, I bet you’ve got a big wanger!”, or something). Strauss wrestles with this conundrum over several nights of dramatic introspection, before stumbling across an unlikely repost:

“Some women like to make extremely sexual comments after meeting a man. If the guy becomes uncomfortable, he fails. After watching the British television character Ali G, I discovered the solution: Just look her in the eye, nod approvingly, and, with a slight smile creeping across your face, say, “Respect,” in a smart-ass way.”

Inspired by Strauss’ leanings towards British comedy, I began listing other choice comedy phrases for serious deployment in the field. Top of my list was Alan Partridge’s “kiss my face”, a demanding yet playful take on the traditional kiss-close, followed by “I’m sorry, I’ve just cum”, a complex neg first coined by an unnamed Charlie Higson character in The Fast Show, with “feck off” (Father Jack Hackett in Father Ted) sweeping up the rear, being a last-ditch neg to be used at the end of a particularly barren night.

I am Jack’s raging boner

As for The Game itself, we follow Strauss as he forges close relationships both with Mystery and – to a lesser extent – Jeffries, picking up moves from each which he then combines and develops to create his own sarging identity. Within too long, he’s knee deep in poon, rattling off openers, EPSs and kino exchanges like social pleasantries, and becoming a heavy-weight figure in the online community. Basking in their own success and anxious to test the limits of their powers, Strauss, Mystery and his other protégés move to LA, renting a sprawling once-celebrity-owned mansion, where girls flow like water. In a nod to Fight Club the adventure is named ‘Project Hollywood’, an association which is highlighted when one of the residents possesses the moniker ‘Tyler Durden’.

If I told you I loved you, would that change our relationship?

The Fight Club parallels are at the core of the story: lonely and unfulfilled characters adopting alter-egos to satisfy their primal urges and gain acceptance. In the same way that new recruits arrive at Tyler Durden/The Narrator’s house in Fight Club, Strauss receives a visit to his flat from a kid who has flown from Hawaii to learn from him. The characters, too, follow the same pattern. Strauss is rational, intelligent and measured like Edward Norton’s narrator, while Mystery is a crazy nihilist in the manner of Brad Pitt’s Tyler. Ultimately, Project Hollywood suffers the same fate, imploding under the weight of its own ambitions and increasingly misogynistic personalities, while Strauss narrates from the sidelines, detached from the daily quarrels taking place around him.

Strauss is able to do this because he infiltrated the pick-up community mainly out of genuine intrigue, rather than a desire to suppress any negative personal issues. For characters such as Mystery and The Game’s Tyler Durden, being a PUA defines their being, it is an unhealthy obsession fuelled by in-house rivalry and a fear of rejection, and when things go against them, these negative issues, for example, abandonment and rage, rise to the surface.

None of this is, of course, anything new. People all around us exist outside of their true selves: the ‘crazy girl’ who dominates conversation with her loud voice because she is afraid of being exposed through silence; the muscular gym addict who compensates for his innate shyness through an imposing physique; the needy who follow the majority view, even where this means contradicting  their own private instincts.

Strauss, to his credit, doesn’t judge these people, and much of the research I have done suggests that he has been faithful in his characterisation of the main players in the community, and the real-life experiences that inform the book. Indeed, when a disillusioned Strauss predictably renounces the pick-up world and leaves the mansion with a serious girlfriend in tow, he highlights the positives derived from the experience, rather than character assassinate his former wingmen.

Admittedly, the story may come across to some people as a little contrived and whether the events that took place did actually happen to the degree described, has and will continue to be debated. However, as a novel it’s an entertaining read and well worth passing up some of your time for. While sarging is ultimately a lonely pursuit, part of me would like to come out of retirement just so I could visit the Newton Abbot Cyder Bar wearing a feather boa, and try the My Little Pony Opener, which ranks as one of the funniest things I’ve ever read.

Just in case anyone with slight facial indentations is reading this, I have posted a video to Strauss appearing on a US TV show which can hopefully give you an idea on how to overcome such a grave trauma.

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