“Pick-up artist” Julien Blanc’s expulsion from Australia last week served as a purgative for the nation, a way for us to feel absolved — if only for a little while — of his particular brand of misogyny. And nowhere is this ugly misogyny more readily apparent than in the blossoming subculture focused around the belief that seduction is a science that, if correctly applied, will give lonely men the success with women they so richly deserve. Blanc may have gone back to America with his tail between his legs, but Australia’s home-grown “pick-up artist” community offers plenty of its own distasteful examples.

Cruising through the posts of the leading pick-up forum in the country, it’s easy to see why. The sleazy shorthand of the forum mechanically reduces the intricacies of social interaction to the most basic of puzzles — think less chess, more noughts and crosses — laying out the appropriate responses to each and every prompt. Each step in the game is made worse by the clinical detachment with which each poster jots down the steps towards getting that final, crucial yes. Crack a cheesy joke to “get them out of bitch mode”. Look for an “opportunity to isolate”. Maintain just the right amount of physical contact, at just the right time. Checkmate. Perhaps worse is the unblinking acceptance of these terms from other readers; in addition to everything else, pick-up forums are the worst kind of echo chamber.

Pick-up forums are the lowest order of pick-up culture, and the advice pick-up artists give to acolytes seeking to master the art of gentle persuasion reflects this. The scope of the advice is revealing. “What to say when she starts acting up.” “What to say when she says she has a boyfriend” — the latter helpfully giving three different responses based on her tone of voice. See how far this one gets you.

Her (in a defensive way): “I have a boyfriend.”
You: “Wow, I’m sorry, you must have thought that I was hitting on you. I was actually just being nice…”
This will make her feel guilty and she will more than likely apologize to you. 

Not all the advice peddled on the forum is as callously manipulative — just cringe-worthy. Wondering what to do when (let’s be honest — if) she calls? Try this one out.

Her: “Hey, how are you?”
You: “I’m good, how are you?”
Her: “Good.”
You: “Wait, your (sic) good? (pause) I bet I could make you SO bad!”
*Delivery is very important for this one.*

Nowhere is this awkward kids-behind-the-bike-shed vibe stronger than in the section of the site dedicated to help desperate Don Juans find a wingman in their local area. These men aren’t just looking for someone to back them up on the approach — the posts are loaded with pleas for a mentor figure, someone who can help lift their game to unstoppable levels. There’s an element of self-improvement to them, albeit one coated in layer upon layer of self-aggrandising rhetoric. Here’s one post from a user calling himself BalaG:

“New to this forum stuff but, currently sleeping with 3 girls weekly and hav 4-5 new HBs pending. Waz a former AFC always getting into relationships and neva had nightclub or day game…. Looking for PUAs in perth to swap storys with and continue towards my goals of F-closing 3 new girls in one day and F- closing 9 in a week.”

What’s an AFC? Average, frustrated chump. HB is, of course, hot bitch. Average and frustrated — above all, this is the self-image that these men are struggling to distance themselves from.

“At its heart, this sub-culture — in all its permutations — is about self-affirmation. But that affirmation comes through the eyes of others … “

Most of the posts continue in this vein. There’s a sort of pleading earnestness to them, an eager-to-please fumbling for approval. More than anything, these men are after respect — but not, perhaps, from women. In this culture, women are merely a way of keeping score, tangible proof that a man is worthy of attention and love. Frantic not to appear out of place but still groping for someone to tell them how they’re going so dreadfully wrong, users strike an uneasy balance between chest-thumping machismo and adolescent artlessness. One user, Gigolo, starts a new thread searching for like-minded womanisers — or at the very least applause. “I am going to Sydney for one week and Cairns for 1 week,” he boasts, “and I am going to fuck the hottest girls there.” No replies.

Not all men feeling luckless in love choose to slum it in the grimy depths of internet forums, though. Towards the upper end of the scale of seduction lies the School of Attraction, a “dating coaching program” that aims to drag its supplicants away from the idea of women as passive, frustrating puzzles to be solved and towards the man himself. Supposedly rejecting more conventional methods that teach men to “lie, cheat and manipulate women”, the school focuses on the loftier goal of helping men find the best version of themselves. If that seems a daunting task, don’t worry — the School of Attraction offers a 13-week “sincere seduction intensive” program guaranteed to strip away the layers of inferior man until the bedrock of solid hunk lies glimmering for all the world to see. The school takes its title quite seriously — 27 hours of those 13 weeks are devoted entirely to theory, with the syllabus covering such topics as “mastering your inner game, making the perfect approach, humour, tease” and, of course, “sexual escalation”.

Polished videos show former students of the school reflecting on their first coaching session in a bar, summoning up the courage to approach women under the steady gaze of their teachers. To a man, they wear the awed expressions of apostles who’ve tasted that first sip of wine at Cana. In the testimonials section of the site, one man describes his experience with the school with glee: “To sum up the last four weeks in one word: emancipating!”

This is perhaps the most telling statement on the site. At its heart, this sub-culture — in all its permutations — is about self-affirmation. But that affirmation comes through the eyes of others — the School of Attraction may very well claim to be about self-improvement, but the fact that this change is shown through the feat of being able to pick up women is telling.

“Everything in the world is about sex,” goes the saying. “Except sex. Sex is about power.”

Back on the pick-up forum, Umirin is struggling to come to terms with his failure with women:

“I’m 22, speak well, look good, dress good… I know alot about PU and have read over 50 books, watched over 20 dvds, etcs.. but rarely go out for practical experience.

“Problem is all my mates have girlfriends and are total (AFC’s) that are absolutely no help.”

Peter Fray

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