Last week, the news emerged that self-styled pick-up artist (PUA) Julien Blanc had been denied entry to the UK. The controversy has put Blanc, his company and the world of pick-up artistry under the spotlight. There has been talk of misogyny and aggression, of disrespect and objectification, of manipulation and coercion. There has also been talk of bad apples and tarred brushes and broad strokes.
In the wake of the controversy, responses from any of Blanc's remaining hard-core defenders have been fast and furious and unsurprisingly unreasonable. There was predictable finger-pointing at bra-burning feminists. There was the occasional, truly ridiculous, suggestion that women were only afraid of Blanc because of his 'panty-dropping masculinity'. Then, naturally, there was the claim that it was all a terrible misunderstanding, that the whole thing had been taken out of context.
There's not much left to say about Blanc. There will always be people like him in the world. It's hard to reason with unreasonable people.
The defence of PUAs, and their culture in general, has been more widespread and varied. Many have condemned Blanc, but spoken out against the villainisation of men who sign up for PUA workshops. Others have contested the misrepresentation of all PUAs as those of Blanc's ilk, deeming it akin to judging a whole tree by a few bad apples.
I agree that it's unhelpful to villainise the men who sign up for these workshops. I also accept that not all PUAs are like Julien Blanc. I'm sure there are those who adopt a healthier approach, who, at the very least, don't go around advocating sexual violence. I'm sure there are some good apples. But I also don't think Blanc is a one-off. I think it is likely that part of the mind-set he adopts, and a lot of his underlying beliefs, feature prominently in this world. PUAs who are decent and respectful are, I would argue, decent and respectful in spite of, not because of, their presence in this world.
When I finished reading The Game, two things struck me. First, I was met with a sneaking suspicion that the world of pick up artistry is not really about women at all. It is, at its core, really all about men. Men being 'wingmen', men learning about what kind of men they should aspire to be, men learning about what kind of men other men are. Alpha males, beta males, cocky-funny males. It seems like a world where women are no more than a target, a story to tell, a goal to score. A world in which playing The Game becomes more important than what The Game was supposed to be about in the first place. Neill Strauss himself notes that PUAs get more from other men's approval than from a successful pick up itself. And that seems terribly like they're missing the point.
The second thing I realised was that the postscript I had been assuming, all along, would be at the end of the book, wasn't there. I had been waiting for the big realisation, the return to real life, the moment where everyone came to their senses and went back to their real jobs. But that never came. The world, though Strauss may have left it, still exists. PUAs haven't yet realised, it seems, that their Game is fundamentally flawed.
You meet someone for the first time. It's a friend of a friend, or your new bank manager, or the person who's just moved into the house next door. As you talk to them, you are picking up on dozens of nuances, social cues, miniscule changes in facial expression, subtleties of language. You are making judgements and inferences, interpreting responses and acting accordingly. You are communicating effectively and dynamically, and you are doing all of this extremely quickly and, largely, unconsciously.
Human social interaction is a complex process. There is no cheat sheet. It is complicated and, for some people, really difficult. There are trained professionals who can help build your self-esteem, or become more comfortable and confident in social situations. But anyone who claims they can teach you the rules or the skills to manipulate any social situation into whatever you want it to be is seriously misguided. Or lying. Human interaction should not, cannot, be meticulously planned, or staged. That is not teaching social skills. That is just bad science.
Pick-up artistry has been around for decades. It didn't start with Neill Strauss and it won't end with Julien Blanc. And, yes, there may be a few particularly bad apples, and maybe even a lot of good apples, but it seems to me that the tree itself is rotten.