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Documentary Review: The Pickup Game (2019)

[warning: spoilers ahead]

[cw. discussion of misogyny]

Watching The Pickup Game as a girl is an unsettling experience. If you aren’t already aware, there exists a ‘pickup industry’ that, in a nutshell, teaches men how to charm and manipulate women to reach their ultimate goal: taking them to bed. The pickup industry is one that generates millions per year. Its followers, mostly men, are willing to pay up to thousands of dollars for online courses, masterclasses and week-long boot camps to pursue the promised Casanova lifestyle. For certain men, this is seductive. But for women, it is dangerous. And in their compelling documentary, directors Barnaby and Matthew O’Connor offer viewers an exposé on this thriving underground industry.

Self-styled ‘seduction coaches’ or ‘pickup artists’ in The Pickup Game exude alpha male confidence. They willingly reveal their step-by-step seduction tactics, which allows the documentary to expose how these pickup artists operate. These tactics are explained in detail, and we see male students with eager faces diligently jotting down notes. Among the ‘soft skills’ taught include fabricating a ‘jealousy plot’ that attempts to pit women against each other, and violating what is called the ‘LMR (Last Minute Resistance)’, i.e. refusing to stop when a woman shows hesitance or expresses discomfort before sex. As the documentary follows these students, so do the feelings of shock and horror. We see them apply the knowledge in real life. They are brought to bustling nightclubs in downtown Miami and Los Angeles and pushed by their coaches to use the tactics on women.

In The Pickup Game, more screen time is allocated to the seduction coaches, and with good reason: the credentials of these self-proclaimed seduction coaches are questionable. There is no solid evidence of high success rates of their pickup methods. Yet, they have no qualms in charging thousands for advice that is accessible online for free. Perhaps the most depressing part is that there is a market for this, and an extremely lucrative one. In teaching their students how to put up a facade, the coaches are idolised and elevated to a sort of a pseudo-celebrity status. As to how much these students gain in return socially and emotionally, nobody really knows, not even themselves.

Should we feel sorry for these men? The pickup industry capitalises on the insecurities of men who subscribe to heterosexual courtship. They burn a huge hole in their pockets to boost their value as males, but none of them seem to be aware that this value is extracted from someone else. On the other end, women are seen as objects to conquer and nothing more. They are referred to as “targets”, and after a night out the men are told to generate “field reports” for their coaches. In this context, both men and women are unwilling, exploited victims of hegemonic masculinity. At the end of the day, nobody really wins.

The Pickup Game is now available to stream online as part of the 2020 Melbourne Documentary Film Festival. Buy access passes here.

Ong Jie Yee

The author Ong Jie Yee

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