A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
A sightseeing trip through the pick-up artist netherworld.
Desperation is mostly inseparable from masculinity. Men strain for fame, for female attention, for sad, trivial triumphs over one another. We are a people perpetually trying to figure it all out – flexing in the mirror, using lines we've heard before, trying to seem bold and dignified. We're not cowboys or poets. If we are, we wear it as a disguise. Mostly, we are vulnerable and self-conscious and probably masturbating for the third time on a Tuesday afternoon, because we're off work and that Lea Thompson scene in All the Right Moves just came on. We are not men, but almost. Note: columns may also contain William Holden hero worship and meditations on cured meats.
Richard La Ruina is a professional seduction coach, pickup artist (PUA) and author. He has greasy, shoulder-length brown hair, owns several leather jackets and is exceptionally skilled at staring at people. That this staring might make a woman uncomfortable is her problem, man, because she just needs to let go of her inhibitions. In one of his videos, he demonstrates how to unbutton a girl’s jeans at a club without her noticing. In another, his primary suggestion for initiating physical contact is to tell the girl she has lint on her crotch and then attempt to wipe it off for her. He recently posted on his Facebook page, “Just writing about the time when I asked a girl what she was doing, she said she was about to watch a film and I wrote: "Cool, don't press play, I'll go buy some wine and snacks. Send me your address.’”
He does not walk the line between aggressive and felony. He rides it on a flaming unicycle while wearing a Burger King crown and performing pretend-cunnilingus on his fingers. The title of one of his e-books is How to Make Your Move With Zero Chance of Rejection. I haven’t read it, though I assume it just contains a list of the trunk dimensions in every car manufactured since 1974.
The advertisement on Facebook for his website, Secret Attraction, is titled “Learn To Seduce Chicks”. Adding yourself to his mailing list enables you to receive his e-books and his “GAME-CHANGING videos” featuring “STEALTH ATTRACTION skills you need to start sleeping with women, IMMEDIATELY (WARNING: THIS STUFF IS POWERFUL).” The advice is preposterous, almost satirically lame and could only make sense in a world where women have the mental capacity of a door hinge. His instruction for approaching a group of girls is to use his signature line: “Hey, are you girls talking about me?” No. “Well, why not?” In the video, he laughs, satisfied and the actresses appear on the verge of literally evaporating from sheer mortification.
That La Ruina exists could easily be kicked into the bottomless void of internet absurdity, were he not to have more than 36,000 YouTube subscribers and the ability to charge $1,200 for his two-day PUA bootcamp. He operates a real, sincere enterprise that attracts hundreds of dysfunctional acolytes who worship his methods.
The following is a list of thread titles on MPUAForum, for which La Ruina is a featured poster, under the name “Gambler”: “I Lost My Alpha Male Status How Do I Get It Back?”, “Anyone Know How to Knock Down Bitch Shield?”, “Is A Smartphone of a Top Brand Conducive to Picking up Girls?”, “How to Keep Composure Upon Seeing a Beautiful Woman”, “Help Seducing 1st Cousin”, “Girlfriend Going to Prom With Another Guy”, “Weird Text ‘Am I allowed to cheat on you?’”
The forum is not composed of alpha males grunting and punching each other and celebrating the ways in which they’ve defiled women. It reads like one infinite conversation at the table in the cafeteria where all the kids who had vegan parents, or who weren’t allowed to go to summer camp because of that time they got swimmer’s ear in the bathtub, talked about “babes” in this vague, awed, misinformed way. The sex-driven alpha males already possess an innate degree of arrogance and indifference to female opinion that these guys fantasise about. The men that PUA appeals to are the profoundly desperate. These methods (persistence, uninvited physical contact, learning bizarre skills like juggling) appeal not merely in the way steroids appeal to a fringe baseball player but the way napalm and a helicopter would appeal to a kid in a nerf war. They promise things that are completely implausible and ridiculous but fuck that because it seems so easy. This is going to rescue them.
All the PUA literature focuses on something that terrifies these guys (friend zone), something scientific-sounding (oxytocin release) and an all-caps promise of something cool (HOW TO GET A GIRLFRIEND). It plays on their marrow-deep feelings of inadequacy. Men who see the world women inhabit as a SECRET SOCIETY or a MATRIX or something you can only access with a code or by blowing into a mechanism on The Hot Chicks Door and it detecting traces of Red Bull and creatine on your breath. They are a breed of men who seem almost exhilarated simply to float in the orbit of attractive women: making eye contact with one at a club, dancing next to one without her running away like he was a Velociraptor, scrutinising the motives of a specific arm touch. Their usernames (Reborn Cobra, Dionysus, PassionGuy83, the punisher, beast 2013) are all strained attempts for Bold Masculinity, audacious and “cool” only in the way the names of cartoon villains or your newly single dad’s AdultFriendFinder handle is “cool”.
There is a glossary of PUA acronyms that is nearly a thousand entries long. There is a corresponding term for almost every interaction with a female, no matter how slight (IOI = indicator of interest; NC = number close), so that every scenario can be dissected and a refined plan can be devised. Here is a subculture of men so underequipped and timid and paralysingly insecure that they gravitate to a strategy to talk to human beings. They need a tutorial for Being Alive. The sex aspect is no more essential to their real lives than beating some fictitious boss on Xbox. It’s having a beacon, a tangible measure of their self-worth. The message board is a confessional; their interactions with women serve as a scrapbook for their evolution as warm-blooded organisms. One poster’s signature on the forum was “stop masturbating and watching porn for the sake of your game.”
These Game guides function like multivitamins: a mostly unsubstantiated consolation that you can survive with an inadequate diet or, in this case, have bad skin or bad posture or not make eye contact, and there is a solution. You can transform yourself into something. The aliases and extravagant makeovers create two discrete identities; they are superheroes taking their glasses off of their greasy noses and tying capes around their necks. These identities and techniques are valuable not just for the access they provide to one realm, but for the escape they provide from another.
Women are not seen by the posters as disposable objects but as actual conquests, like the flag outside the castle at the end of a level of NES Mario. It is some tangible representation of “making it”. While their objectives might on the surface seem lecherous and misogynistic, the men are tame, deferential and categorically bashful. Women are not utilities, they are symbols. The guys never mention “fucking”' they “have sex”, or “get laid.” They want girls to “check them out” and “like” them and “touch their hand”. They refer to their penises not as “dicks” but “M-16s” or some corny euphemism, as if sex on a vulgar level intimidated them. Sex in the sweaty, carnal, explosive sense is less important than talking to someone about it – to their friends; to their message board; to, perhaps most valuably, themselves, in a bathroom mirror, the next time they’re alone and feeling minuscule and ugly. They want it because it serves as some indisputable proof that they are no longer losers. It is this weird reenactment of the high school lives they never participated in.
Demonstrating Higher Value (DHV) is an essential part of PUA. One poster asks, “Can magic tricks be used as dhv?” and you can half imagine a fidgety guy standing in front of a bar entrance, with a top hat and a wand, frantically trying to cram three doves down his pants as a group of women approach. Their conception of attractive and interesting is beautifully, incredibly distorted. Another poster suggests posting “awesome” pictures on Facebook to DHV. His examples: hugging a lion, bungee jumping, swimming with dolphins, off-road biking. They are things that would impress only your nana, but for solitary introverts, it is progress. Inadvertently, PUA has served as A Beginner’s Guide to Acting Like a Person. Being around women does not necessarily make these men alive. It makes them feel like they deserve to be.
Previously - Scott Disick: American Psycho
John Saward likes O.V. Wright and eating guacamole with no pants on. He lives in Connecticut. Follow him on Twitter @RBUAS.