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Looking for a pick-me-up? Mind Games and Misogyny at STUK’s New Exhibition
“Point of View”, running until April 25, gives a chilling run-down of the gamification of dating
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by Clare Healy
Arts & Culture Editor
The club being a no-go-zone throughout the pandemic, your memories of strangers’ hands on the small of your back, getting tactically cornered and ordered to play “guess my age” in the smoking area, and the phrase “loosen up” are likely fading into obscurity day after day. Fear not! You can revive them at STUK’s new installation, “Point of View”, devised by the American writer and artist Angela Washko.
The exhibition starts off on a strange note. An enormous projection shows gameplay from World of Warcraft, where Washko’s avatar has taken a break from crafting war and begun quizzing other — presumably male — online players about their definitions of the word feminism. The only user willing to take the bait gives an answer poetic in its brevity: “Kitchen.” From there ensues a too-awkward-not-to-be-real conversation about gender roles and women’s nature, which, according to the anonymous player, excludes a compulsion to devote long hours to video games (this is apparently a bad thing). Another film shows Washko and a colleague probing a larger group of WoW-ers, the text chat subject to frequent derailments like players correcting each other’s spelling or everybody stopping to greet a character named “isetfires”. There’s some surface-scratching discussion about the differences between historical and modern feminism, but the researchers, quite bizarrely, wrap it up while their informants are just getting fired up.
Thankfully, things pick up from there — “pick up” being the operative term. The next piece is “The Game: The Game”, a computer RPG that takes players to a Los Angeles bar flooded with men who have banded together under the tutelage of Erik “Mystery” von Markovik, a real-life self-proclaimed seduction expert. You, an unsuspecting woman, are accosted by various members of this dream team and forced to listen to their babbling, often aggressive attempts to trap your phone number inside their weird little notebooks. In return, you can be cold, coquettish, or combative — sometimes your choice seems to affect the outcome, other times not. (This would be a criticism, except that this is also how it is in the real world.) According to Washko, the men are programmed to follow the “M3 model”, a strategy involving three phases: attract, comfort, and seduce. It’s an intriguing game that can take you to dark places if you’re daring enough to engage positively with the pick-up artists, but if not you’ll still get to watch von Markovik’s appearance on Late Night with Conan O’Brien in which he, wearing a cowboy hat and a pair of binoculars as a pendant, says that men “don’t have to dress like a clown” to be successful with women.
Though “The Game: The Game” is definitely the exhibition’s crown jewel, it’s the third and final room that might send the most chills down your spine. It features a screening of an interview Washko conducted with Daryush Valizadeh, “the Internet’s most infamous misogynist”, notable for his Bang series, which includes a number of travel guides ostensibly geared towards sex tourists. You can flip through some copies of these books while listening to Washko having a surprisingly open-minded conversation with Valizadeh — she smiles and bites her tongue while he cracks jokes about how American women don’t clean up after themselves and bemoans the glorification of “fringe” behaviour like homosexuality. Her measured approach is admirable, but reading some of the thoughts he’s had the honestly awe-inspiring gall not only to write down but to publish — such as the idea that you shouldn’t expect to have any deep conversations with Colombian women or that having sex with a pale Icelandic girl makes you feel like a rapist wolf — you can’t help but wish that Washko tore him a new one.
Despite its weak beginning, overall the exhibition is a fascinating experience; physically small but labyrinthine, it offers hours worth of content to satisfy your morbid curiosity. Washko’s research brings to light a subculture of lonely men destined for only greater loneliness, if not criminal records, and the cult-like leaders getting rich off their backs, whose perceived success keeps the game going. One can only hope that work like Washko’s will help them to see it from where the woman is tensely sitting. Catch “Point of View” while you can — the exhibition runs in STUK’s Expozaal until April 25. Entry is free.
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