Monday, August 13, 2007

Destination: Manhood

VH1’s The Pick-up Artist introduces you to eight grown men who redefine the term The Biggest Loser. Half of them are virgins and the other half probably thinks that sex with a fully inflated blow-up doll counts.

Now what happens when you take these sad sacks and introduce them to the one of the greatest pick-up artists on earth? The same thing that always happens to guys like that: They embarrass themselves.

But, hopefully, that’s all going to change. And according to the montage of what happens to our lucky eight on this first season of The Pick-up Artist, it looks pretty promising.

The Pick-up Artist attempts to capitalize on a newer phenomenon in pop culture: The semi-underground world of pick-up artists, or PUAs. These guys aren’t Fonzies or even Robert Downey Jr., who picked up Molly Ringwald in the 1980s movie. They’re generally nerdy geeks who decided they’ve had enough of not getting enough. So, they’ve united on the Internet to share tips and adventures through a slightly coded language that is barely less embarrassing than using the real terms.

For instance, they call hot babes HBs. Pretty cool, right? Looking for women is called “sarging,” after pick-up guru and nerd-poster-child Ross Jefferies’ cat Sarge.

Very hip stuff.

But the most interesting thing is that this stuff seems to work. With a few magic tricks, a fake tan and a couple hundred sincere attempts, almost any guy can get laid or F-close, as they say. That’s what former New York Times reporter Neil Strauss found out when he infiltrated the PUA world. Strauss detailed his exploits in the new men’s classic The Game.

Strauss’ closest ally and mentor in the book was a PUA who went by the name Mystery. (All PUAs have to have an infantile nickname, which along with the constant use of the word “wingman,” forces anyone to think of the movie Top Gun.)

Mystery is also the star of VH1’s The Pick-up Artist.

The show’s voiceover explains that Mystery is the world’s most successful pickup artist. The VO also points out that Mystery wasn’t born Mystery. He was born Erik Von Markovik and he was rejected by hundreds of beautiful women (I want proof they were beautiful) until he decided he wasn’t going to take it anymore.

Mystery discovered what turned women on and went on a tear, which, according to Strauss, included long-term relationships with multiple attractive women that led to Mystery occasionally plunging into a manic-depressive state.

But Mystery looks like he’s at a hundred percent for his new show. He’s dressed like a mix between a model in the International Male catalog (look it up) and a New Romantic-era Adam Ant. Somehow that somehow combines into a late 80s Vince Neal. But looking out of place is part of the game for PUAs. It’s called “peacocking” and the ladies love it. Plus, it helps compensate for the obvious weaknesses that each man has. For instance, Mystery’s voice is extremely high and somewhat effeminate.

In the first episode, Mystery and his two wingmen J-dub and Matador meet the eight men who they must mold into master poonhounds. They are an eclectic, multicultural group who would make an excellent core for a remake of Revenge of the Nerds, which what this show basically is. They are a prime flock of what the PUA community calls AFCs, average frustrated chumps.

We have the Asian reject guy (who bears an uncomfortable resemblance to MadTV’s Bobby Lee causing me to question if the whole thing is just a huge sketch). There is the “seems gay” reject. The forty-five year-old virgin reject. The vaguely Middle Eastern reject. The fat reject. You get it.

None of them have any game, style or much self-awareness at all. And this first episode basically reinforces those facts again and again. Each guy is forced into a nightclub where we see—through intricate hidden cameras and painful subtitling—them fail with women or even fail to attempt to engage women. After each nerd has struck out, Mystery and his male companions hit the club and peacock their way into the ladies hearts while the nerds watch the cameras. We didn’t see any actual F-closing, but you got the sense that Mystery could’ve at least banged the Asian woman the plain-white reject tried to make a move on.

When Mystery returns to his pupils he explains that he’s going to teach them what he knows. He stresses that being a PUA is not just about meeting women— it’s about making a life. To the nerds’ relief, Mystery announces that no one will be eliminated yet (one person will be eliminated each successive show, Apprentice-style).

At that point, I think Mystery could’ve F-closed with any of those AFCs. But he’s not there to hump them; he’s there to remake them.

“Who you are now dies today,” he explains. And they all smiled like they were attending the happiest funeral on earth—the funeral for their own painful virginity and a Sisyphus-like commitment to masturbation.

It was a slight let down that no one was sent home the first night. But it would have been cruel to eliminate anyone without endowing them with PUA wisdom like that two women standing together is called a “two-set.”

With the secret information and the proper peacocking, one of these guys will impress Mystery, win $50,000 and travel the world teaching other men how to seduce women. That’s what being a PUA is all about.

Now, on another note, you’d have to be a fool or someone with a social life to not realize that VH1 is producing a wealth of amazing reality TV right now. Their Celebreality angle has even succeeded in interesting me in the life of the most boring person in the northern hemisphere: Scott Baio, TV’s Chachi (which is also the Korean word for penis).

I actually had to explain to another adult that Hogan Knows Best was my third favorite VH1 reality show the other day. And that’s just the kind of thing my mother feared when she found out it was bad that she did tons of nitrous while she was pregnant with me.

So, basically Celebreality is great.

However, where VH1 really succeeds in taking the art of the reality show to new level is in their exploration of subcultures. I didn’t think there was anything new to find out about crack hoes. VH1’s Charm School proved that I was just wrong.

I think The Pick-up Artist will also succeed by airing out the subculture of PUAs. And that may be a good thing.

For years women’s magazines have dished about “How to Get the Man You Want, Keep Him and Satisfy Him in Bed in 43 Ways,” but where were men supposed to turn for advice on attracting women? PUAs often say they are teaching men things that their fathers couldn’t. It’s a nice mission that, at it’s best, is more about empowering guys than exploiting women.

And if this show is successful, hopefully Mystery will stay in high spirits long enough to teach his Mystery Method to some women.