John Lui

Why ban pickup artist when we can rough him up?

And the ban played on in Singapore last week: The first was slapped on a "seduction artist" whose technique consists of charm, smiles and a lot of physical assault; and the second on shisha, a device which for years managed to pass itself off as an Oriental lamp with a slight exhaust problem, when it was actually just a more complicated way of sucking down a pack of Marlboros.

Mr Julien Blanc, the US-based teacher of seduction techniques, will be denied entry to Singapore, a step several other countries have taken to stop him from holding seminars. This was after he released a video showing him doing to unwilling women in a club things rarely seen outside of a gynaecological examination room.

For many people reading the news, the first thing that popped into their heads was: "What on earth is a seduction teacher?" and the second was: "Where can I see that video?"

I cannot help you with the second question, but as for the first, I have some personal experience. A few years ago, I was given the assignment of writing about what it is like to be the pupil of one such maestro d'amore.

The teacher I landed preferred to call himself a dating coach, because it sounds much less creepy than "pickup artist". When you think "dating coach", you think motivational speeches and romance tips. "Pickup artist", on the other hand, is the guy you want to punch in the face.

His first job, as he explained it, was to teach men to claw back their manliness, a trait bled from them by our society of tut-tutting sissies. Frustrated men pay him more than $1,000 to get in touch with their Neolithic selves.

That coach had me hook, line and seductive sinker until he came to the part where I had to express my manliness in public. The problem was that in his world, the line between "real man" and "sex pest" was very, very faint.

For example, I had to touch women I had just met on the arm or shoulders, and lead them by the hand as if they were toddlers exploring a new playroom. More alarmingly, I had to let sexiness drip from my every word and gesture. At my age, finding a seat on the MRT is sexy, but I think that was not what he was looking for.

Every teacher has his own version of the message, and for Mr Blanc and his team, they happen to place extra emphasis on the physically obnoxious part, because women, according to the well-researched theorems and postulates discovered at the Academy Of Dude Arts And Sciences, are kind of stupid.

Like how chickens calm down if you put a hood over their heads, women feel great when a stranger slaps, kneads and tosses them around like pizza dough.

What is interesting about the Blanc situation is that he has been banned from Singapore, in large part, because of a grassroots campaign.

How many of those who signed the online petition, I wonder, also launched the campaign to lift the ban on the library book about gay penguins? Or supported film-makers Tan Pin Pin and Ken Kwek when they were faced with bans on their films? Or muttered about the cuts made to the movie The Wolf Of Wall Street?

Have any of them complained of nanny-statism, over-reaching regulations, or pre-emptive restrictions on activities because of the potential for causing offence?

Because it would be inconsistent to ask for one and not the other. Banning Mr Blanc because he says things we might disagree with is censorship - it is not the person, book, film or website itself that is the problem, it is the message.

Our aversion to being told what we can read, hear or watch grows stronger every year, in my opinion. Look at what happened when the National Library wanted to pulp the books with gay themes earlier this year. And we are okay with gagging Mr Punch-me Face.

His ideas are odious and his person reeks of desperation and, for all we know, he might smell of gingivitis with notes of lime and mildew. But he has been banned for his female-objectifying language, similar to the stuff that was snipped from The Wolf Of Wall Street.

It would have been much more of a strategic win if he had been allowed to enter the country for his act. With activists and journalists recording his every word and every move on stage, and at the club, then filing a police report later.

Then, as he is dragged away in handcuffs, we can ask him: What does it feel like to be grabbed and pushed? Does it make you feel sexy?

johnlui@sph.com.sg