I’ve been fascinated about the idea of a pickup artist community ever since I heard about its existence last year. What do these people do? Does it work? Why? This was the book seen as the essential guide to this underground lair of secret lotharios, written by seminal pickup artist guru “Style” who published an article about the scene in the NYT a few years ago. However, this book was wasn’t available from the library, so I read THE MYSTERY METHOD first.
Then a friend got a copy of this book back from the guy he’d lent it to. I kind of smirked when I saw he’d disguised it in the dustjacket of a more benign novel. I smirked less when I found myself flipping to the back of the dust jacket in an attempt to see what Style (aka Neil Strauss) looked like, only to see the picture of Umberto Eco. My curiosity at his looks stemmed largely from the fact that Style, like Mystery, claims to be able to sleep with any woman he wants.
I’m glad I read THE MYSTERY METHOD first, because there are a lot of terms unique to the pickup artist culture. In fact, there’s a glossary, but the glossary didn’t cover every term I wanted (evolution phase shift?) Even so, there were so many people out “sarging” (picking up girls) that they developed their own styles and terminology to go with it.
The story is basically how Style met Mystery, learned to pick up women, got good at it, rose to the apex of what they though possible, and watched as everything crashed and burned around them. This is a comfortable and successful plot arc, which has been used for everything from crime to gambling to alcohol and drug addiction. Two things made this story compelling. One, Style is an actual writer. Two, most of the characters (especially Mystery) are complete train wrecks.
This book reminded me of WAR (Junger) and EASY COMPANY SOLDIER (Malarkey) in that like frontline combat, pickup artist circles are an exclusively men-only arena, and nothing intrigues me more than a “keep out! no girls allowed!” sign. At one point, they interview Heidi Fleiss, and say that she’s “one of them” but I didn’t buy it. In fact, as the story progresses to the point where Style, Mystery, and the other pickup artist gurus are living in a mansion in Hollywood, Style points out that “Project Hollywood” (the name for their bachelor pad) is remarkably devoid of women. He got into the game to meet women, but ended up with a band of brothers, who became a band of frenemies.
Although it’s not a how-to book by any means, this memoir fleshed out the dry how-to of THE MYSTERY METHOD fairly well. They briefly touch on other techniques, for example, woo-woo “waking hypnosis” where you get the “target” (attractive female) to conjure up happy/aroused feelings, and partner them with a gesture, word, or kinesthetic motion, then use that trigger to re-conjure those feelings. Another technique is “cocky funny” where the pick up artist jokingly and confidently assumes that every woman wants him. Most of the other techniques were varieties on the Mystery method. When you get down to it, the fact that these work is not mysterious. They all pretty much boil down to the fact that women like confident, powerful, interesting men who pay attention to her. Duh. Saying that women are helpless before this is like saying that men are helpless in the face of big sexy hair and giant tits.
One of the side effects of being a successful pickup artist, some of the men lament, is that they no longer trust women to ever be faithful. It didn’t matter if their target was married or had a boyfriend, they still got phone numbers. (To this I’d say, it’s hard to say that “all women are unfaithful” if your sample selection is “attractive, urban, young women drinking in bars or clubs.” )They also became mysogynistic once they realized how easy it was to pick up women with a few simple lines. I’ve heard similar things from women who lost a lot of weight–that the instant uptick in attention makes them feel disdainful of how shallow men were. Another disadvantage was that sarging soon took over the rest of their lives. They no longer had jobs or hobbies or even girlfriends, as their lives were so consumed with going out to hunt for new targets. Style and the other pick up artists soon realized what every addict eventually realizes–that even sleeping with a different beautiful woman every night won’t make up for deep underlying problems you are too afraid to face.
As the story progresses and Mystery and Style become richer and more famous, they become killed by their own success. New students use their material to the point that they can’t find a woman who hasn’t heard it. The inner coterie of pick up artists act more and more like rock stars, until strange people are wandering in and out, the drama escalates to MTV levels, and at one point even Courtney Love moves in. Ironically, Courtney occasionally comes out as one of the most emotionally mature people in the house, which really says something.
The novel winds up with a happy “here’s what they’re doing now” ending for most of the main characters–most of which I don’t believe. Even Style ends up happy and leaving the scene, after he meets a gorgeous woman named Lisa who won’t fall for his schtick. His attempts to seduce her fail and fail and fail again, until he gets one-itis that he breaks it off with every other woman to commit to Lisa. I’d feel less cynical about the ending if I hadn’t recognized her “hook a man and land him” strategy. I think she got it from THE RULES.