Pick-up techniques - interview with Neil Strauss
Kirstin Innes talks tactics with Legendary seducer Neil Strauss, and explores Scotland’s fastest-growing seduction subculture
IceDragon, Scotland’s number one PUA (pickup artist), is trying to lock me into conversation. However, he’s quickly surrounded. Deep Vertigo has perched at his shoulder and five other members of the Glasgow lair are hovering on the fringes. Chance, 20 years old and ‘peacocked’ (see below for glossary of terms) up to the nines in a floor-length brocade coat and a smudge of eyeliner, stretches himself out in the chair next to me, and begins, slowly to take over the interview, employing light ‘kino’ tactics and not breaking eye contact as he turns my questions back on me. The others lose interest and drift off. They’ve been ‘AMOGged’.
Despite the codes, the ‘lairs’ and the silly names, I’m not online in Second Life, World of Warcraft or any other gaming fantasyland. I’m in Waterstone’s on Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street. Chance, IceDragon, and Deep Vertigo, all of whom have asked me to use their PUA nicknames (‘we don’t want what we do to affect our normal lives,’ says Chance), are certainly all engaged in a game, but it’s composed of calculated conversational routines and secret weapons, it happens in the real world, and the objective is not to slay Orcs or vanquish trolls, but to seduce as many women as possible.
The PUAs are ‘sarging’ me in Waterstone’s, rather than a sticky, darkened corner of a bar or a club, because Neil Strauss is giving a reading. Back in 2005, Strauss was best known as a mild-mannered, LA-based music journalist for the New York Times and Rolling Stone. Then he published The Game, a personal narrative describing his ascension from AFC (average frustrated chump) with little sexual experience or confidence, to seduction community royalty. Strauss, or ‘Style’, as he became known, was voted number one PUA in the world three years in a row.
‘I didn’t get into it for reasons of manipulation, or power,’ Strauss says, when we meet for a drink at his hotel prior to the reading. ‘It was something I did because I wasn’t happy with who I was. These days, though, people assume that I play everybody, all the time – someone actually said, “I’m scared! I don’t know how you’re playing me!” recently. It was just a normal conversation!’
Until The Game came along, pickup artists operated much more covertly – by going public, Strauss helped to create the international community. ‘I read The Game in 2005,’ IceDragon tells me, ‘and it changed my life. I tried one of Style’s routines out in a club, and I got the girl’s phone number. I realised later that it wasn’t necessarily the routine that had done that. It was me. That’s why I started the Scotland Lair website – it’s a support community.’
The game is being played, now, in almost every city in the world. The Glasgow lair, with 260 registered online members, is relatively small compared to the London and Los Angeles lairs, which now stretch into the thousands. Members of the seduction community meet up online to discuss techniques and post ‘field reports’ of their approaches on HBs (hot babes, often accompanied by a number denoting their attractiveness out of ten). Men – many, many more men than would publicly admit it – passed The Game between their friends. There are splinter factions squabbling online about whether you’ll get better results by using neuro-linguistic programming or simple hypnosis. By ‘better results’, I mean ‘more women’.
‘My books aren’t just about pickup routines, about tips and tricks,’ Strauss insists. ‘I’m tracing the evolution of a subculture.’ Later, at the reading, he’ll wonder, in front of a 200-strong audience of stammering boys, peacocked PUAs and older, nervy men in suits whether ‘this whole thing will just be a blip on early 21st century culture, or if we’re seeing the beginnings of a new phase of male self-improvement.’
Pickup is a huge, money-making business these days. Chance, Deep Vertigo and IceDragon have all been employed as ‘approach coaches’ by Alpha Interactions, the biggest seduction company in the UK, training up other AFCs on sarging bootcamps, which happen in nightclubs and cost upwards of £295 a session. Conversely, while the current storm of publicity for Strauss’ new book The Rules of the Game – essentially a 30-day seduction manual – has brought the community even greater exposure, women still seem largely oblivious to the manoeuvres being used around and on them.
What worries me about the seduction community, I tell Strauss, is that it seems to set heterosexual relations back a good 50 years, and, ironically for a movement that purports to teach men how to talk to women, ultimately widens the gap in understanding between the sexes. I refer to a quote in The Game by a pickup artist who calls himself Tyler Durden: ‘I never used to be a misogynist until I discovered the Game.’
Strauss takes a while with his answer.
‘Yeah, yeah, I-I-I understand what you mean. Um. But anyway. I’ll come back to that. But, looking at the positive and negative sides of the Game – I’d like to focus on the positive sides first. When guys are afraid of women, that fear and sexual frustration can turn into hatred – and hatred leads to some guy opening fire in a supermarket! There was a college shooting in America recently (the incident at Virginia Tech in April last year), and that guy started it over a girl who rejected him. A lot of guys are very intimidated by an attractive woman, and they dehumanise her because our culture perceives beautiful women as commodities. But I think if you’re able walk up to a person and get to know them, and you see their flaws and their impurities, and realise that they’re like you, then you can humanise them again.’
And the negative?
‘Well, yeah. Where women have to be treated by a certain set of rules, and according to the Game, they do, it does create that curtain between men and women. Because it does become an addiction, running game. It gets into your head and changes the way you look at things. I’d just be in a business meeting and there’d be a female in the room and I’d have to sarge her, get her phone number, often without even realising what I was doing.
‘Hopefully,’ he says, with another nervous giggle, ‘once men get to understand how they can swipe that curtain away, they’ll step over it. That’s the ultimate message of The Game; that sometimes you gotta drop it and act from the heart! My books are not Loaded magazine! They’re not Nuts!’
Later a group of us, including Strauss, go out to dinner. I put the same question to the other PUAs.
‘But women have had the power for hundreds of years,’ Chance says. ‘We’re just trying to make things equal again.’
When I ask what power women have had, he looks at me as though I’m stupid.
‘Women are the ones who get to decide.’
As the evening comes to an end, IceDragon leaves with an arm round each of the beautiful young women he’s been accessorising with all night. The rest of the Glasgow lair are eager to take Strauss sarging along Sauchiehall Street, their prime hunting ground; he’s much keener on checking out the Glasgow music scene. He met Sons and Daughters recently, and wants to visit Nice’n’Sleazy’s on their recommendation.
TALKING THE TALK
Unravelling the language of the seduction community
noun: a socially comfortable male who competes with a pickup artist for a woman or interferes with a pickup artist’s game. 2. verb: to remove a potential male competitor – through physical, verbal or psychological tactics – from a group of women.
noun: a pattern, routine or line a pickup artist uses with the intention of seducing a woman who already has a boyfriend.
verb: 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.
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 to her friends) a lack of interest in her.
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.
verb: to pick up women, or to go out to try and meet women.
noun: the woman in the group who the pickup artist desires and is running game on.
The above is taken from The Game, by Neil Strauss, published by Canongate.