I don’t know how I first came across Neil Strauss’ The Game, or The Rules of the Game. It’s one of the mysteries of the Interwebs. How else does a gay guy approaching middle age end up on a website promoting books and DVDs designed to teach young guys how to pick up women. And yet there I was. And Strauss, or someone he works with, knows a things or two about Internet marketing, because the first thing I saw was this:
I’m a selfish prick. A hot, rich, pampered intellectual with a big dick and a marathon tongue. I’m young enough to do it often and old enough to do it right. I don’t have time for petty drama or emotional hysterics. I do what I want, when I want.
At that point, he had my attention, in less than five seconds on the page. What the hell is this? A video started to play. It was a kind of tutorial/demonstration of the principle that buying drinks for women in bars is basically pouring money down the drain. And Strauss had me again: challenging conventional wisdom, giving his insight away for free on the Internet, using a dramatic vignette to make his point? Wow.
Turns out the text above was the text of a personal ad Strauss had written while undercover in a secret society of pickup artists, while being taught what they referred to as “the Game”. And get this: he actually ran this ad, and it was very successful, leading to many meetings and dates.
A red flag had gone off in my mind: isn’t this some predatory misogynist sexist how-to manual for would-be sociopaths? But there was something about the lightness of touch in the video, and the gentleness and understatement of Strauss himself, who appears near the end of the video to make a summation of the lesson learned, that made me discount that worry, at least for the moment.
So who is Neil this Strauss guy anyway? From the horse’s mouth:
Neil began his writing career at the age of 11, when he wrote his first book and mailed it to a dozen publishing companies. He never received a response. Unfazed by rejection, he kept writing, almost to the point where his life was consumed by it. He became a contributing editor at Rolling Stone and a staff writer for The New York Times.
After going undercover in a secret society of pickup artists, he finally started leaving the house, then wrote a book about it called The Game that became a New York Times bestseller. He wrote a few other best-selling books too: The Long Hard Road Out Of Hell with Marilyn Manson, The Dirt with Mötley Crüe, How To Make Love Like A Pornstar with Jenna Jameson, and recently, Rules of The Game and Emergency.
His latest book, Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead, collects the 228 best, craziest, and most soul-baring moments from his adventures with musicians, celebrities, and icons while writing cover stories for Rolling Stone and The New York Times. It also hit The New York Times bestseller list. I think they may be getting fed up with this guy over there. We’ve tried to tell him to stop writing and take up another hobby, like needlepoint or gold-prospecting.
Neil lives in Los Angeles and would like to own two of every animal. He likes peanut butter and bacon sandwiches, beating up old ladies, and having other people make his bed.
It’s quite a resume. And in the videos, you see that Strauss is every bit the thoughtful, writerly, introverted gentleman you would expect someone this dedicated to writing to be. So the whole “pickup artsis” thing is tongue-in-cheek. The goal is clearly to meet women, not to crassly exploit them, but rather to form relationships with them. Anyone who doubts this should read this piece from Strauss on how to break up with someone. There is no question that he is an extremely standup cat.
So what does any of this have to do with acting? I admit, I’m not entirely sure, but I am quite sure that it is somehow relevant. It’s too interesting, too deeply grounded in practical intelligence about how human relationships come to be not to be of great interest to actors. In fact, I think there are lots of ways in which it would be of interest to actors.
Consider the following video:
It’s the first in a series of videos in which Strauss uses two guys (actors?) to present his basic principles. In this one, the results, are, um, eye-opening, to say the least. The point of it, as Strauss states at the end of the video, is that “fitting in” is a losing strategy. This is a good thing for actors to keep in mind. We are all actors because of some deep-seated need to be seen, and yet, when we go to act, ambivalence about this desire to be seen can arise. Do we really want to be seen? Is this the way we want to be seen? What will people think? And these worries can entice us into playing it safe, trying to blend in, trying NOT to stand out. As actors, we need to develop antenna for opportunities to be bold, to break the mold, to try something new. This doesn’t mean that every move we make has to be ground-breaking, but we need to be looking for occasions to take risks. To this end, it is of great use to try to develop a sense of when that desire to hide or to blend into the background is asserting itself, and to work to inhibit that kind of impulse, to do whatever is the opposite of what such an impulse might be prompting us to do.
To that end, Strauss’s challenge at the end of the video is a great challenge for any actor: dress up in an extreme or ridiculous way, and go talk to strangers. Nothing like doing this to arouse your fear of being seen. And once you’ve aroused it, you can begin to wrestle it to the ground.
All in a day’s work.
I expect you’ll be hearing a good deal from me about Mr. Strauss in the near future.