In the movie Magnolia, Tom Cruise plays Frank Mackey, best-selling author of a self-help system for guys who are sick of striking out with the ladies. Everything about the role is over-the-top, from the name of Mackey’s book, Seduce and Destroy, to the smarmy verbiage Mackey slings during his motivational speech at a conference of his minions. Mackey tells the ravenous all-male crowd: “In this life, it’s not what you hope for, it’s not what you deserve — it’s what you take…I will not apologize for what I want!”
Hugely entertaining in a movie, all of that (and one of Cruise’s more memorable roles) — but transferable to real life? I mean, would men really pay a hefty chunk of cash to fill a conference room and take notes on pickup strategies to, using a Frank Mackey example, “tap directly into her hopes, her wants, her fears, her desires, and her sweet little panties” ?
The answer, as you’ve already surmised, is yes, they would. Writer Rick Lax describes his experience at such an event in a recent Las Vegas Weekly article, “Sympathy for the Skeezy”. Lax and 100 other guys ponied up $3850 to attend the Love Systems Super-Conference in Vegas, ready to receive the latest strategic thinking on how to avoid being LJBF’d by the lovely lady in their sights. (LJBF = “Let’s Just Be Friends”) The men who come to these events refer to themselves as PUAs (Pickup Artists), and for their $3,850 they get a “Gold Level” pass, which includes “Infield Training” sessions in “Vegas VIP Clubs.”
The article is a terrific read, but what’s more intriguing than anything the smarm strategists dole out is the conclusion Lax reaches about why men really attend the conference.
You don’t need to make fun of Pickup Artists because they’re uncomfortable enough as is. Admitting that you need help with women is embarrassing and emasculating. In most cases, the decision to attend a Love Systems boot camp is not motivated by libido; it’s motivated by loneliness.
Initially this struck me as an odd takeaway, but with a little more digestion it makes perfect sense. Maybe some of the guys who go to these events do glean snippets of strategy then used in clubs to improve their chances–but that’s not really what they’re paying for.
Rolling Stone writer Neil Strauss, author of The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists, no doubt helped inform Lax’s article. His book is probably the closest thing written to a scholarly analysis of the pickup community — sort of a Studs Terkel approach to seduction. In the fine tradition of Rolling Stone gonzo, Strauss immersed himself in pickup, even assuming a “handle” (all PUAs have to have a handle) — he called himself “Style.”
Lax includes a couple instructive footnote quotes from Strauss at the end of his piece, one in particular that I think sums up the topic well.
Some guys play the game because they have an isolated work life. Some guys are there because they had issues with their parents growing up, and for some guys it might be social ostracism. So what they think they want might not be what they actually want; they might think they’re after sex, but ultimately they learn that what they’re really after is social acceptance.”
Seen in this light, the motivations of men attending pickup events don’t seem dissimilar to those of people attending any motivational event, or church for that matter. The veneer is different to be sure, and generally preachers don’t advise their congregations on the fine art of getting laid–but the core need of the attendees is the same: to be part of a community that accepts them.
At one point in Magnolia, Frank Mackey tells his acolytes, “I don’t care how you look. I don’t care what car you drive. I don’t care what your last bank statement says.” That’s just about what every guy wants to hear, because it’s a relief having such major barriers to acceptance removed. Sex may get them in the door at Love Systems or any of the pickup artist events, but it’s the feeling of being part of something, no matter their shortcomings, that keeps them coming back.
HT: Coates Bateman on the Las Vegas Weekly article