Stupid Sex Tricks: No wonder George Sodini killed himself


Remember this post of mine from August? Remember what prompted it? And remember how a certain loose (hey hey!) “community” of pick-up “artists” (and I use the term loosely) lost their collective shit over the negative exposure they got as a result–and then proceeded to justify all the negative exposure and then some?

Well, it seems that these misogynists had something to get all defensive about: their “art”, or “game”, is all bullshit and virtually guaranteed to fail big-time. It’s a massive waste of time, money, effort, and self-esteem. And in the hands of the wrong person–someone even worse than your typical misogynist, someone downright mentally unsound (like, oh, say, George Sodini)–it can be a recipe for suicide as well.

But I’m getting ahead of myself a bit here. Let’s give the floor to Caitlin MacRae, writing for, to demonstrate just how well “The Game” doesn’t work:

Success, according to these [pick-up] manuals, is one of three results, known as “closes”: the number-close, the kiss-close, and the f-close. Get a number, get smooched, get laid. Frankly, I will be stoked if I close the experiment without a panic attack; anything else is a bonus.

Your scientist would like to disclose a bias before we begin: prior to engaging in this experiment, I strongly believed that mainstream advice guides were based on little more than misogyny and an eager exploitation of the insecure. I recoiled from materials that treated men and women as irreconcilably alien from one another, and which suggested that little more than snake oil and manipulation is required to bed them.

However, I was also hot off the heels of a number of breakups — one with a person, another with cigarettes — and had no real notion of how to function socially without the latter. I was hard up for a release; this seemed as good an avenue as any.

It takes guts to try something like this at such an emotionally volatile time. But at the same time, what better time to try it than when one is between relationships, and therefore has nothing (and no one) to lose?

And MacRae deserves some kudos, too, for stepping outside her normal boundaries to test the “fake it till you make it” techniques of the pick-up dudes–on women as well as men. It’s not easy to abandon good sense and taste to dress up like a douchebag (the guys call this “peacocking”) and hit on random strangers. Especially not when you consider that the douchebag get-up has to come with a matching attitude:

More problematic is the culture surrounding these basics, as described in detail in Neil Strauss’s The Game. It’s a culture that describes women as “targets,” that calls a mission to go meet women “sarging” (named after a certain veteran PUA’s cat, Sarge. Pussy! Clever!), that refers to a woman’s desire not to be approached by strangers as her “bitch shield,” that encourages making women feel bad about themselves as they are being hit on, so as to make oneself seem larger and more important (a tactic called the “neg”). It speaks glowingly of men who (allegedly — there is a lot of ego here) have manipulated their partners into plastic surgery and sex work, encourages “going caveman,” and provides this gem of an acronym:

LMR — noun [last-minute resistance]: an occurrence, often after kissing, in which a woman who desires a man prevents him, through words or actions, from progressing towards a more intimate sexual contact, such as removing her bra, putting his hand down her pants, or penetration.

Um, yeah.

Actually, what they call LMR isn’t just “last-minute resistance” to something that’s gonna happen anyway–it’s called withdrawing consent. It’s not a sign of to-be-overcome “resistance” to a man she actually desires–it means she doesn’t desire him at all. It means she’s had enough already, or even that she’s gotten uncomfortable with this phony and his sleazy antics. She doesn’t want more manhandling from the “master” to “help” her “overcome” her “LMR”. She only wants him out of her pants N-O-W. Meaning, for all you unclued-in dudes out there, if you disregard her verbal or nonverbal stop signs and keep pushing your luck (or salient parts of your anatomy), you’re basically headed for date rape.

So, to enter the world of pick-up “artistry”, you don’t just have to abandon your dignity and good taste at the door, you also have to doff all respect for the woman, as well as the law. You can kind of see what’s hinky about all this now, eh?

But still, MacRae remains game (yes, pun intended). She invents a “player” persona for herself, calls this new and totally not-self “Cash”, and tries it on for size:

Since a major part of attracting mates is standing out from the competition, I dressed in a style both flamboyant and outsized, a la VH1’s Mystery: gold lamé pants, a suggestive belt buckle, a water bra, an enormous hat, lots of eye makeup, and gold glitter spangled across my lingerie-enhanced cleavage. I geared up to go “sarging” by listening to R. Kelly. It seemed appropriate.

Dressed as though auditioning for the slut-cowboy ballet, I was ready to impress folks with my confidence, suavity, and several routines lifted verbatim from my research materials including, uh, magic tricks. But to take the experiment to the fullest, I couldn’t just strap on a silly costume, hit on some folks, and call it a night. No, I’d have to live it — a prospect infinitely scarier than, say, wearing a vibrator out in public for an evening. I’d seriously attempt to become someone else — someone able to initiate conversations with strangers without spazzing, able to bang strangers without worry or compunction. It was time to live the game.

Trying to actually become someone you’re not is a pretty serious sign that the strategy is doomed to fail, unless you’re a Method actor, in which case you’re still only doing it temporarily–just long and far enough to get you into character so you can play a part convincingly. At the end of the performance, or your play’s run or your film’s shooting, you step out of character again, and your normal self re-emerges. The difference between a PUA and an actor is that the PUA actually has to become the character–and make a lifestyle of it. There is no stepping out of that character. At some point, theoretically, “faking it” is supposed to magically turn into “making it”.

All the teachers, parents and guidance counselors out there who have told countless kids over the years to “just be yourself” must be smacking their foreheads over the PUAs in dismay right now. There’s a reason they say “be yourself”, instead of “pretend to be someone else”. Being yourself is clearly a lot easier. It’s also less apt to turn people off. This is kind of important when you consider that the whole point of a pick-up is to turn somebody else on.

So how’d it work out for MacRae? Well, she discovered that “peacocking” is a fine way to get people’s attention (duh!), and wacky PUA conversational gambits work too–if attention, whether good or bad, is all you’re after. But “negging” only serves to respulse someone who’s overstepped his bou

I commented on his wandering hands with a “neg” line lifted straight from the manuals: “Have you always been so grabby?” It’s supposed to make your target want you more, but he looked incredibly hurt, mumbled something and scuttled away. I may not like the neg concept, but at that moment I was grateful for it.

…or someone else with whom you’re hoping to get blissfully out-of-bounds yourself:

I also told a woman she had man hands. This was not improvisation, but nearly word-for-word from my reference manuals, a way of making your target feel self-conscious. (Thus breaking down her “bitch shield.”) […] I was caressing her palm when I said, “You kinda have man hands. It looks like you work with your hands a lot, like… a longshoreman?” To say she wasn’t feeling my game would be an understatement. It’s a good thing I didn’t ask if her boobs were fake.

Uh-oh. Looks like “negging” doesn’t live up to its promise. It won’t put someone under your hypnotic sex spell, nor will it make you bigger by making her smaller; it’s more like a sure-fire way to get the old Bitch Shield (TM) thrown up on you at full strength in a hot instant.

Any woman who’s ever had to parry such a lame approach from a lamer dude will know right away how well this sort of thing works. And sure enough, MacRae, too, finds herself called upon to do so–with a tag-team of would-be woman-rasslers:

One night I was approached by a freakishly confident, mustachioed wingman with a pattern on his shirt that looked exactly like sperm. He touched my arm and told me I had to meet his friend. “And if I don’t want to?” I asked.

“Oh, you do.” Fine, player. It was on.

I spent the next fifteen minutes taking mental notes about how they treated me. Finally over it, I shook his friend’s hand and thanked him for the cigarette. Wingman looked at me and said, “I don’t like that handshake. What’s that all about?”

“I’m sorry,” I said, “should I have humped him?” I checked to see if my bitch shield was showing.

He cocked an eyebrow and smirked, “Oh, I see what you’re doing.” He was negging me! I had been negged! And I guess it sort of made me want to fuck them, if by “fuck” you really mean “punch in the nose.”

Yeah, that’s about how I would have felt, too. Only it wouldn’t have taken me fifteen long minutes to reach that point.

More disturbing, though, at least in its implications for the pseudo-scientific “findings” of the player-manual writers, is the following insight:

Being attuned to other folk’s game had an unanticipated side effect. I noticed how my targets (mostly dudes, some ladies) responded when they realized that they were in the vicinity of sexy times. When I acted as the female sexual conquistador, almost invariably they started working their own game double-time, and whatever control I was supposed to have over the situation dissipated. I felt more like prey than predator. As a young woman with a pulse, this feeling isn’t unfamiliar. But just because it’s familiar doesn’t mean it’s comfortable.

Uh oh, boys–women actually get onto you and your game! They interact unpredictably, not in the stereotypical “from Venus” manner at all. They rob you of control by “playing” back, or ducking out. How ’bout them apples?

The end of the experiment is pretty inevitable too:

One night, exhausted from weeks of uncharacteristically talking up strangers like it was my job (which I suppose it was), I half-heartedly peacocked and went to a new bar. The prospect of acting my way through another conversation made me want to cry, so I sat at the end of the bar with my wing woman (in violation of the game’s rules about body language and approachability), made brief eye contact and whatnot, but largely kept to myself and my liquor. The game had worn me down; it was time to rock my normal, standoffish behavior and unwind.

And I ended up with a cute woman’s face between my boobs on the dance floor, in what was empirically my most successful evening to date. Go figure.

Surprise: The parents, teachers and guidance counsellors were right all along. Just being yourself works better than assuming a fake persona. Who knew?

And yeah, in case you hadn’t guessed, there is just no way you can winkle, wangle, wrangle and just plain old manipulate a person into wanting you. People aren’t computers; we don’t react in pre-programmed, hard-wired ways. There is no prescribed set of commands that works on every woman, no matter who, what or where she is. The PUA manuals purport to teach you a seductive “code”, but I’m here to tell you right now that that code does not exist. Anyone who tells you otherwise, is lying. And probably trying to sell you a pile of worthless crap.

The tragedy is that someone with mental problems fell for this skeevy sexual hucksterism–and that when it inevitably failed him, he could not pick himself up, be himself and move on. Instead, he felt compelled to become a lady-killer in the most hideously literal sense, before turning the gun on himself.

No, it really isn’t much of a game, is it?

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