Charm School: Dating Experts, Abject Masculinity, and the Immaterial Labors of Seduction
Anders Axel Wallace, Anthropology
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Michael Blim
From Berlin to Beijing, men are joining seduction communities (charm schools) to learn skills in dating women. These communities raise questions of intimacy, consent, and authenticity as problems for men who learn techniques of social persuasion as they seek to attract women and transform their personal identities. By displacing sexual inhibitions, these communities focus on developing forms of social capital through “weak ties” (Putnam 2000) that allow men to feel a sense of belonging in impersonal urban environments. This project uses digital software for text mining and topic modeling of big data to find out how men are developing an embodied sense of masculine identity through standardized training in seduction skills. Conducting statistical analyses and comparisons among prescriptive texts (ebooks and seduction manuals) with descriptive accounts (digitally published diaries) of users’ experiences and mishaps in striving to embody so-called “alpha masculinity,” this project aims to discover what kinds of social intimacies follow from the labor of dating consultants, and what happens to those men who build social communities—both online and in real life—around their practices. For which men do seduction skills come to be thought of as integral to their self-fashioning? How does rationalizing intimacy create new forms of power and dependency between men? What do seduction communities reveal about the vulnerabilities and frailties of masculinity today? This research is being developed for public view using Scalar, a multimedia storytelling platform. Please visit the website for more information.