femininity

visual art

A bit of everything: the collages of Ian Farrell

Introduction by Natalia Lehaf

Ian Farrell makes things. Music. Pictures. Collages. I’ve known him since my freshman year at NYU, as he was just beginning to decide what he wanted to study. Over the years, I watched him develop his personal artistry and, in doing so, add beauty and ideas to the world. Like any strong piece of artwork, Ian’s creations make you think. They stop you in your newsfeed scrolls and force you to look, stare, and ponder. I find the effect to be as impressive as the piece itself.

In particular, I love immersing myself in his collages. Some background information on Ian’s collages:

  • He started making collages in a class based on fairy tales led by a professor who often explored mixed media.
  • He finds inspiration in his mother’s house. She’s big on antiquing, and her house has always been full of old things.
  • Much of his work grapples with the female form and “The potential mysticism that can surround it.”

My recommendation to the TCBP audience: As you look at his collages, be sure to note his use of dimensions, new or foreign places, and colors.


Ian Farrell is a collage maker and photographer with a degree in photography from NYU. He current lives in Orange County, California. Find more of Ian's work on his website.

visual art

sexxxy art project

Originally added to Roving Brooklyn in April 2014. For more information on Roving Brooklyn, please read our letter.

sexxxy-art-project-header.png

Snapchat can be used to send nude images to other people. Nothing is stopping them from taking a screenshot of those pictures. Only trust.

Advertisements have long come under fire from activists and social commentators for featuring unrealistic portrayals of female beauty. With Photoshop, models can be altered even further.

With these two realities in mind, digital artist Kathryn Leslie takes the average and mundane and turns them into something "sexxxy," using Snapchat's drawing features to alter photographs with crude stick figures of women in a state of undress. Leslie's simplistic drawings serve to underscore the twisted nature of how we are asked to view the world.

Sex sells, so why shouldn't sex sell everything? And yes - even Easter. 

Statement from the artist:

I wanted to explore the female form through Snapchat. The cartoonish female I've created reflects what I see as the absurdity of women in advertising. Her body serves as a metaphor for the rigidity and stiffness inherent in society's perception of women and of the feminine role.

Furthermore, because each piece is inherently ephemeral and transient, the images in this gallery are documentation of my art, not the actual pieces themselves. Some pieces in this series are not shown here, as we were not able to preserve them before they were destroyed by Snapchat; those creations are gone forever. 

However, have they truly disappeared? Are they forgotten, or do we forever remember them? The same could be asked of much of the media we consume daily.

Plus, I've also gotten really good at drawings cartoons of women in Snapchat.

- Kathryn Leslie, April 2014

article

Depictions of and Challenges to the New Woman in Hannah Höch’s Photomontage

When one thinks of the Weimar Republic, images of cabaret, women in short haircuts and pencil skirts come to mind. The New Woman was also represented in these images and is almost synonymous with the era itself. While many artists of the Weimar Republic criticized and challenged the political and cultural assumptions of the Weimar Republic, very few called the idea of the New Woman into question. Hannah Höch was a German artist active during the Weimar Republic, whose photomontages critique and question the role of the New Woman in German society. Combing through the rapidly expanding popular print culture in German, Höch’s photomontages and other projects during the Weimar Republic simultaneously challenge German culture and society’s perception of women.

After the armistice ended the First World War, it became easier for artists to travel around the continent. One of those artists, Richard Huelsenbeck, returned to Berlin from Zürich and brought with him the spirit of Dada. The Zurich Dadaists’ interest in Cubism and Futurism, the spirit of confrontation and experimentation, and their enthusiasm for performance and spectacle found a new audience in the turbulent German capital. Calling themselves Club Dada, rising and later famous artists—such as George Grosz, John Heartfield, Wieland Herzfelde, Johannes Baader, and Raoul Hausmann—collaborated on publications and exhibitions.

These artists, however, lived in a more politically radical environment than the sleepy town of Zürich. The armistice was only the beginning of a long and arduous transition of power within Germany. Kaiser Wilhem II had abdicated the throne and fled the capital shortly before the armistice was signed and the much of the Navy had already mutinied. Major cities across the nation, including Berlin, were beginning to be controlled by councils of mutinying sailors and soldiers. The workers and sailors council in Berlin was one of the strongest, and it was led by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxembourg, co-founders of the German Communist Party (KPD).

Club Dada was mostly comprised of Communist party members or artists with communist sympathies. Höch was part of the latter group. Regardless, all members felt their hopes shattered and already betrayed by the new republic. Höch herself described a “feeling of alienation” as a driving force for the political and acerbic art that the Club Dada produced between 1917 and 1922.1 These exhibitions culminated in the 1920 exhibit titled, “The First International Dada Fair” (“Die Erste Internationale Dada-Messe”) from June 30th to August 25th of that year. They constructed sculptures out of found materials and propaganda posters with nonsense slogans. Most importantly, they experimented with the newly invented medium called “photomontage.”

Nearly every member of Club Dada claimed to have invented photomontage, but Richard Huelsenbeck, the unofficial historian of the Dadaists, supports Hannah Höch’s description of how she and Raoul Hausmann invented the practice.2 While on a vacation with Hausmann in the Baltic, they noticed many of the mothers and widows of the town had small, postcard-sized paintings of men in uniform. Where the painted head should have been, however, was cut out and replaced with a photograph of a son or husband pasted onto the paper. This mixing of mediums fascinated the pair, who began experimenting while still on their vacation.

The major themes and characteristics of Hannah Höch’s photomontage work were established early in her career during the Dada years. This is not to say that she remained trapped in a certain style or that she did not develop after the Dadaists disbanded in 1922, but rather that her Dada works establish common themes such as androgyny, satire, and popular mass-media imagery that continue to play a significant role in understanding her oeuvre throughout the decades following. Höch’s most famous work, Schnitt mit dem Küchenmesser Dada durch die letzte Weimarer Bierbauchkulturepoche Deutschlands (Cut with the Kitchen Knife Dada through the last Weimar Beer Belly Cultural Epoch of Germany) (1919) (Figure 1), was exhibited at First International Dada Fair in 1920 and one of the best examples of Höch’s early mastery of the photomontage medium. The salacious and long title propagates the agenda of the photomontage - to use the sharp weapon of montage and Dada critique to attack the fat, bourgeois gut of the new Weimar Republic. Schnitt mit dem Küchenmesser maps out the “Dada” and “Anti-Dada” forces in the new Weimar Republic in a swirling circular diorama. The “Anti-Dada” elements in the top right corner of the photomontage are surrounded by the “Dada” on the bottom right below them.

Figure 1.   Schnitt mit dem Küchenmesser Dada durch die letzte weimarer Bierbauchkulturepoche Deutschlands   (Cut with the Kitchen Knife Dada through the Last Weimar Beer Belly Cultural Epoch of Germany), 1919-1920, photomontage, Nationalgalerie Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz Berlin.

Figure 1. Schnitt mit dem Küchenmesser Dada durch die letzte weimarer Bierbauchkulturepoche Deutschlands (Cut with the Kitchen Knife Dada through the Last Weimar Beer Belly Cultural Epoch of Germany), 1919-1920, photomontage, Nationalgalerie Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz Berlin.

The abundance of newspaper clippings and photographs from which Hannah Höch was able to choose during the Weimar Republic reflected a cultural shift in journalism. After World War I, Germany experienced a publishing boom. Advances in technology made cameras lighter and photographs easier to develop. The largest of the post-war publishers was Ullstein Verlag, who had the widest circulated and most influential newsmagazine, Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung (BIZ). By 1930, BIZ had a national circulation within Germany of 1.85 million copies, with its nearest competitor’s highest circulation hovering around less than a million copies.3 The popularity of the BIZ was due mostly to the abundance of photographs in its pages. With the technology to mass produce photographs, the whole German population consumed them in abundance. At the time, photographs were considered at least as important as the content of the story—if not more important than the stories to which they were attached. This philosophy would later influence and shape other publications such as LIFE magazine in the United States. Höch understood the power of the quantity of images and exploited them for their familiarity and impact. She notes, “that the image impact of an article - for example, a gentleman’s collar - could produce a stronger impression if a photograph of one of them were taken, cut out, and ten such cut-out collars were just laid on a table and a photograph made of them.”4 Repetition and unique arrangements drew the eye and the attention of both readers of magazines and patrons of art galleries. BIZ was a consistent source of photographic material for Hannah Höch’s photomontage, most likely because her employment at Ullstein Verlag made it easy for her to obtain copies of the company’s publications. There were three major types of photographs that Höch sampled from this publication: candid political photographs, ethnographic photo-reportage, and advertisements.

The power and influence of Ullstein Verlag was buoyed by the many smaller and more specialized news magazines that it published alongside BIZ. Die Dame (The Lady) sought to create a market for the working Weimar woman, who made up around 35 percent of the working population by 1925.5 The articles and advertisements of Die Dame frequently featured idealized photographs of the New Woman, especially bourgeois iterations of this idealized type. Höch most certainly would have seen these depictions of women in the print media, because Höch worked at Ullstein Verlag shortly after her arrival to Berlin in the late 1910s and worked for Die Dame as a pattern designer for the clothing section of the publication. Höch even used these patterns in her collages in the early 1920s, and some of the patterns might even have been of her own design.

Androgyny, a common identifier of the New Woman, and political satire went hand-in-hand in Höch’s photomontages and play a prominent role in Schnitt mit dem Küchenmesser. Within the “Anti-Dada” corner of the photomontage is World War I war hero General Field Marshall Friedrich von Hindenburg, but his head rests upon the body of a modern dancer, identified by Maud Lavin to be Sent M’ahesa.6 Other political figures, such as President Ebert, are also depicted in this way. Ebert is identified by his goatee and his head has been transplanted onto the body of a topless dancer. Höch renders these serious masculine figures of authority and power both silly and using allusion to the New Woman to call their manliness and power into question. The establishment of the Weimar Republic led to a shifting of the German culture to a more liberal one. The shortage of men after the war led to an influx in the number of working women in Germany. Many of these female laborers began wearing more masculine clothes and cutting their hair shorter, creating an androgynous look that became synonymous to the New Woman in Weimar Germany.7 Jula Dech sums up this transition well: “Taboos of sexual deviancy were thrown out with the Wilhelmine corset. Homosexuality, transvestism, and bisexuality were discussed often in the new republic and, at least in the large cities, practiced.”8 Dech also mentions the psychoanalytic notion proposed by Otto Weininger and Magnus Hirschfeld of “das dritte Geschecht” or the third sex.9 This theory of the third sex argued that there was an inherent sexuality that, like the androgynous dress of the New Woman, combined characteristics of both the male and female genders into one body.10 This sexual liberation and experimentation was something that Höch not only commented on in her work, but also in which she participated. She was part of this new movement of female labor as a pattern designer at Ullstein Verlag, she dressed in a more gender-ambiguous manner, and (as mentioned above) she had a romantic relationship with the female Dutch poet, Til Brugman, from 1926 until 1935. For the male politicians, this androgyny most certainly emasculated them, because being associated with the androgynous ideal of the New Woman was probably not something they desired or made them look powerful to the traditional bourgeois. The style that gives power to the Weimar woman takes power away from the men in charge. This photomontage demonstrates well not only how Höch used photomontage and mass culture to criticize society, but also how Höch is actively thinking about the relationship between mass culture and its ideas about women of the Weimar Republic.

After a period of only a few photomontages depicting women, Hannah Höch began collecting images in 1926 to serve as future source material and inspiration. This Scrapbook (figure 2) is a collection of photographs taken nearly exclusively from Ullstein Verlag publications such as BIZ and Die Dame. She collected the photographs over time, deciding the order and creating the book in 1933 by pasting the photos into an issue of Die Dame.11 The Scrapbook’s themes are pulled from the mass media and suggest, “how Weimar women, particularly those who like Höch considered themselves to be New Women, may have interpreted New Woman stereotypes.”12 Unlike her previous photomontages, all of the images in the Scrapbook exist in their entirety. None of the images are violated or cut; they are arranged neatly side by side without overlapping or obstructing one another.

Figure 2. Pages from Hannah Höch’s    Album   (  Scrapbook  ), 1933. Scan from   Hannah Höch album  . Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz Verlag. 2004. n. pag.

Figure 2. Pages from Hannah Höch’s  Album (Scrapbook), 1933. Scan from Hannah Höch album. Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz Verlag. 2004. n. pag.

Many pages of the Scrapbook, such as those in figure 3, show how Höch montages images of Western women and women of non-Western cultures explore how print culture treats the idea of the New Woman. As one can see in the facing pages of the Scrapbook in Figure 2, Höch connects images from Ullstein publications from Germany’s former colonies, a common feature of Weimar newsmagazines, to the New Woman. Although not all of the women in these photographs are nude, the nudity of the white woman in the bottom left corner is connected across the page to her African counterparts in the other images. Höch decontextualizes an erotic photograph by juxtaposing it to ethnographic images of nude women. These same associations between Weimar women and foreign subjects are made on other pages that connect more explicitly to images of the New Woman that inhabit Höch’s Dada photomontages such as Schnitt mit Küchenmesser.13 Modern dancers on the left page of figure 3 and a photograph of the burlesque dancer are placed with photos of a Balinese child dancing in a trance and two sumo wrestlers in a pose that resembles a tango. The short hair, the nudity of the burlesque dancer, and the freedom of movement are representations of the New Woman that Höch connects to the non-Western women and ideas of the Scrapbook. By placing these obvious identifiers of the New Woman, the modern dancer with short hair, side-by-side with these exotic photographs, Höch equates her ideas about the New Woman with the otherness of non-Western cultures. Even though it may seems as if women were liberated in the 1920s, Höch shows that she feels the idea of the New Woman is divorced from her actual lived experience as a woman in German society, and that she herself doesn’t feel like a New Woman.

Figure 3. Pages from Hannah Höch’s    Album   (  Scrapbook  ), 1933. Scan from   Hannah Höch album  . Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz Verlag. 2004. n. pag.

Figure 3. Pages from Hannah Höch’s  Album (Scrapbook), 1933. Scan from Hannah Höch album. Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz Verlag. 2004. n. pag.

These associations between exotic women and cultures and the New Woman became important in works such as Denkmal I (1924, Figure 4), an early work in the series Aus einem ethnographischen Museum. The standing figure is a photomontage integrating both the ethnographic and the female imagery that might have been found in a publication such as Die Dame. The head and torso appear to be taken from separate African statues and photomontaged together, and the figure has an arm with a balled-up fist that appears to be of an African person of unknown gender. The legs of the figure in Denkmal I are taken from images of Western women - the left a ballerina slipper and the right an inverted arm bent at the elbow. The elbow is the top of the leg with both the forearm and the upper arm extending down. The hand and fingers of the arm extend the furthest down, as if it were a foot extending out in a dance-like pose, connecting it to this repeated trope of the New Woman as a dancer.

Figure 4.   Denkmal I: Aus einem ethnographischen Museum   (  Memorial I: From an Ethnographic Museum  ), 1924, Berlinische Galerie, Berlin.

Figure 4. Denkmal I: Aus einem ethnographischen Museum (Memorial I: From an Ethnographic Museum), 1924, Berlinische Galerie, Berlin.

Her choice in ethnographic material and the style in which she frames her works in Aus einem ethnographischen Museum indicate that she was focusing on how the framing of a work contextualizes or changes the context of a work. The bottom of Denkmal I has a black rhombus that appears as if it is a base or a pedestal for the photomontage above it. A framing device such as a pedestal appears in several other members of the Aus einem ethnographischen Museum series. These pedestals create the context for the museum that the title of the series implies, that these works are being exhibited in a pedagogical context for education and instruction, not for religious or social function. Instead, this photomontaged object is placed on a pedestal and treated as a Western object d’art, obstructing or preventing an true understanding of the object. This fragmentation of the context for the work is reflected in the photomontage itself, which combines disparate images to create a new whole. In many cases in Höch’s work, including Denkmal I, the composite of the photomontage is something grotesque and unnatural in appearance. The grotesque object on the pedestal creates a contradiction, “The base, which traditionally presents the wholeness and perfection of an object on display, is used by Höch in these works as a pedestal for her fragmentary, grotesque, and sometimes humorous montages of multicultural fragments.”14 Höch presents a sculpture in this photomontage that is broken and ugly, a critique of her ethnographic and New Woman subject similar to that expressed in the Scrapbook, but not yet an explicit condemnation.

Marlene, 1930 (Figure 5), is an example of the stronger stance Höch takes against Weimar culture by the end of the decade. By combining the base of a column and a pair of bare legs, Höch creates a sexual obelisk, at which the men in the lower right corner stare and cat call under the sun of a smiling woman's face. The presentation of the female figure remains important from Denkmal I. The legs are removed from their original context - the person to whom they belong - and are placed on a pedestal. This juxtaposition of men ogling a pair of legs without a body or a face to accompany allows Höch to reveal the imbalance of male and female representation in the media. Although women gained a larger role in society during the Weimar Republic, Höch remains unsatisfied with the progress of society in which the New Woman is objectified in the sex symbols of the time, such as Marlene Dietrich, a film actress that Höch alludes to here by name.15 The smiling lips in the top right corner appear to smile down approvingly on this scene, perhaps indicating the approval of the media on this type of objectification. The female subjects of Höch’s photomontage work only represented printed representations of women, but with the allusion to Dietrich, Höch’s critique expands to film, the other main engine of Weimar mass culture.

The use of images of the New Woman such as the dancers in Schnitt mit dem Küchenmesser, the African and Oceanic photographs that Höch associates with the alienation she feels towards the idea of the New Woman, and their use within the photomontages of the late Weimar Republic indicate an increasing skepticism on Höch’s part to any actual change in women’s roles and freedom in society. Much like the main character of Irmgard Keun’s novel, The Artificial Silk Girl, Höch realizes that one is more likely to find the New Woman in the pages of Die Dame, on stage at a cabaret, or the film Der blaue Engel than in the actual streets of Berlin.

Figure 5.   Marlene  , 1930, Dakis Joannou, Athens.

Figure 5. Marlene, 1930, Dakis Joannou, Athens.


  1. Höch quoted in Taylor, Brandon. Collage: The Making of Modern Art. New York: Thames. 47. (Back)

  2. Makela, Maria. “By Design: The Early Work of Hannah Höch in Context.” The Photomontages of Hannah Höch. Germany: Cantz. 1996. 59. (Back)

  3. Lavin, Maud. Cut with the Kitchen Knife: The Weimar Photomontages of Hannah Höch. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993. 51. (Back)

  4. Höch, Hannah. “A Few Words on Photomontage.” Art of the Twentieth Century: A Reader. ed. Jason Gaiger and Paul Wood. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2003. 113. Print. (Back)

  5. Lavin, 4 (Back)

  6. Lavin, 19 (Back)

  7. Peukert, Detlev J.K. The Weimar Republic: The Crisis of Classical Modernity. New York: Hill & Wang, 1993. 96. (Back)

  8. Dech, Jula. Schnitt mit dem Küchenmesser Dada durch die letzte Weimarer Bierbauchkulturepoche Deutschlands. Berlin: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 1989. 62. “Mit dem wilhelminischen Korsett werden auch die Tabus abgeworfen, mit denen sexuelle Abweichungen bis dahin strikt belegt sind. Homosexualität, Transvestitentum, Bisesualität, werden in der neuen Republik relative offen diskutiert und - zumindest in den Metropolen - auch praktiziert.” (Back)

  9. Dech, 62 (Back)

  10. Lavin 186 (Back)

  11. Lavin, 73 (Back)

  12. Lavin, 74 (Back)

  13. Lavin, 75 (Back)

  14. Lavin, 163 (Back)

  15. Lavin, 185 (Back)


Bibliography

Dech, Jula. Schnitt mit dem Küchenmesser Dada durch die letzte Weimarer Bierbauchkulturepoche Deutschlands. Berlin: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 1989. 62.

Höch, Hannah. “A Few Words on Photomontage.” Art of the Twentieth Century: A Reader. ed. Jason Gaiger and Paul Wood. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2003.

Lavin, Maud. Cut with the Kitchen Knife : The Weimar Photomontages of Hannah Höch. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993.

Makela, Maria. “By Design: The Early Work of Hannah Höch in Context.” The Photomontages of Hannah Höch. Germany: Cantz. 1996.

Peukert, Detlev J.K. The Weimar Republic: The Crisis of Classical Modernity. New York: Hill & Wang, 1993.

Taylor, Brandon. Collage: The Making of Modern Art. New York: Thames.


Thomas Baldwin is an editor for Things Created By People and currently has almost no social media presence.

essay

Taco and the Tramp

About a year ago, a friend and I were drunk-eating tacos at 2 a.m. when a guy approached us. He teased us that we were eating our tacos Lady and the Tramp style, and as we continued talking, he and I started discussing Catholic versus Jewish guilt. He asked for my number, and I gave it to him, not expecting to ever hear back, and pretty much forgot about the whole thing.

Several days ago, however, I got a text from an unknown number saying that I was saved in his phone as “Kathryn Guilt Catholic Taco Tramp.” I reminded him of how we’d met, and when he asked me out, I said yes, without knowing his name or what he looked like.


Taco Boy and I were planning to meet at an oyster and liquor bar, but he texted me a few minutes before our meeting time to ask if I wanted to first stop off at his apartment because the weather was “super gross!” His apartment was on the way to the bar, so I agreed to visit, and then proceeded to freak myself out about the possibility that I was going to be abducted or killed in some Law and Order style incident. Instead of telling him that I’d rather meet him in a public place, I just texted a friend his address, and kept my mace in my pocket. (Luckily, he spent so much time checking his phone that even if I had truly been in danger, I could have easily escaped during one of his frequent phone breaks.)

If you’re curious, Taco Boy has a real job but is working on a startup. When I asked what the startup was, he said “productivity.” That’s it. “Productivity.” More questions about it revealed no new information, and while his stated ultimate goal is for the startup to be about productivity, he sort of admitted that he doesn’t know what that’s going to entail exactly. I got the distinct sense that he would not appreciate a joke about how he might need his own startup to actually create a startup.

He then invited me to a seminar that a friend was leading. I soon realized that I’d been invited over in a bait-and-switch style operation, and now I doubt that the plan was ever to go to the oyster and liquor bar.

He told me that his motivational-speaker friend was going to be leading a talk on “personal development.” When I asked him how his friend became a motivational speaker, Taco Boy said that he “didn’t have anything else going on,” as if his friend simply fell into it. The irony of having nothing better to do and deciding to become a motivational speaker was not lost on me, but apparently was on my date: when I commented on the contradiction, he gave me a blank look.

Taco (as we are now on first name basis) then clarified that his friend spoke about not only personal development, but also spent a few minutes at the end of each seminar on how to pick up women. As the conversation progressed, however, Taco revealed that the talk was mostly on how to pick up women, but I was assured that if I wanted to go, there would be other women in attendance who were “just really into personal development,” and am I into self-help stuff at all? (No.) Either way, there would be a ten-minute discussion on the subject. “Some guys,” my date promised, “aren’t into the pick up artist stuff at all and show up in suits with notebooks just to learn the self-help part of it.”
Taco warned me that the talk may seem slightly misogynistic and sexist, but in his experience, his friends that have dabbled in the pick up artist community follow the same three stages:

  1. Nerdy, uncool, uncomfortable around women;
  2. Really absorbed in pick up culture, become “super gross” and misogynistic, very unpleasant to be around; and finally,
  3. Through their sexism, they transform into suave, “super cool” gentlemen who don’t even need the tricks they learned as a pick up artist, “so I’m just like, ‘Okay so you had to be super gross and now you’re like on the other side of it and just cool,’ you know?”

About two years ago, I wrote a paper on the subject of how men speak to other men while in the presence of women – how does men’s behavior change when women are around? In doing research for the paper, I stumbled on the pick up artist community, and got completely sucked into it. It’s fascinating to me – especially since the culture feeds off of a very open contempt for women while simultaneously exposing a very naked need for women’s approval and sexual adulation. These men clearly dislike women who sleep around, but the community’s main goal seems to be to sleep with as many women as possible.

To this day, I still regularly read articles on pick up artist sites – of which there are many. My personal favorite is ReturnOfKings.com, which recently published an article called “35 Signs The Girl You’re Dating Is A Whore.” I thought the article would tell men how to find out if their girlfriends are or were promiscuous, but I realized that it’s about how to tell if your girlfriend literally makes her living as a prostitute. I highly recommend the read, if you’re ever unsure about your significant other’s chosen profession.

So when Taco was warning me about how misogynistic I might find his friend’s talk, I was delighted, and reassured him that I wouldn’t be offended. And so, off we went to the Hotel Pennsylvania’s Gold Ballroom.


Taco wanted to find an UberX to take us to the hotel, but didn’t want to pay full price, and then there was a surge overcharge, and then he tried to find a promo code online but couldn’t find anything, so we settled on a taxi. Traffic was horrific, so in our three block, $9 cab ride, we had a lot of time to talk.

For inquiring minds, Taco was wearing $500 jeans from “straight off the runway,” whatever that may mean. His real passion is for shoes, including their smell – “of the new ones, I mean.” He has a friend whose girlfriend is six feet tall and “literally a model,” and just last weekend she was grinding with DJ Tiesto! I don’t know who that is, but his tone told me I should be very impressed.

He has another friend who lives by his favorite vegan juice bar, whose girlfriend is Karlie Kloss. Fun fact: Karlie’s face is the front page of Taco’s startup’s website. No word on what Karlie’s boyfriend thinks of that, unfortunately. Taco Boy gave me a look after telling me all this, “You know who that is, right?” Yes – but only because I heard that she’s shacked up with Taylor Swift. No word on what the boyfriend thinks of that, either.

Wanna know another thing Taco Boy hates? Models in his favorite coffee place, especially during Fashion Week. It’s not their fault, you know, but they crowd up the place and he’s just trying to get some work done. Just the other day, he told some girl off about that, but she totally knew he was joking.

By the way, isn’t it the worst when really hot girls are “super bitchy” because they’re so pretty that men never say no to them? A lot of his female friends are like that – “super hot” – and again, it’s not their fault per se, but men shouldn’t give in to them. (Noted.)

We discussed all this in the taxi to the hotel, with frequent, loud interjections from him about how the taxi driver was cheating us. Eventually my date insisted that we exit the taxi and take an Uber after all. But he really wanted a promo code, and still couldn’t find one, so we settled on the subway instead.

Upon finally arriving, we didn’t enter the hotel through its front entrance, but rather through the hotel’s steakhouse, on a winding path that lead us through the dining area and kitchen to ultimately reach a dingy back hallway with an elevator to the ballroom. The reception hall before the ballroom was empty except for some plastic tables, a few folding chairs, a water cooler, and at least a dozen discarded plastic cups scattered on the ground. I started worrying again that I was going to become fodder for a future Law and Order episode. We quietly snuck into the ballroom, Taco greeted his friend at the door, I was instructed to surrender my phone, and we took seats in the back. The seminar had started at 5 p.m., and we arrived just after 8 p.m.

There were approximately one hundred men listening, rapt, to the speaker – who as it turns out, was not Taco’s friend after all, as his friend was only the speaker’s assistant. The speaker was named Todd – I didn’t have confirmation at the time, but could tell that he was one of those guys that spells it with two Ds. I did a little research later and confirmed that I was right.

Is it just me, or is there a certain type of person who calls himself Todd?1

What I first noticed about the audience was that there were a lot of backwards baseball caps, paired with a lot of Ed Hardy-style shirts. I was the only woman in attendance, despite my date’s fervent promises to the contrary. There were some men taking notes intently, and as I looked around the room further, I saw that some of the men there were my age or younger.

Let me get this out of the way: Todd is not an attractive man. He looks sleazy, with dark, shiny hair slicked back with so much gel that I could see it from the back row. He was wearing two dark v-neck shirts, both unbuttoned to his collarbone, in a style that you can tell he thinks is Johnny-Depp-hip. He’s maybe in his early to mid-thirties. The men in the room had paid $300 to hear him speak for the two-day workshop, a “LIVE event” experience for which Todd claims you’d otherwise “easily spend $10,000 or more. Period,” per his website.2

When we arrived, Todd was showing a clip of him approaching a woman in Washington Square Park. She’s sitting on a bench, headphones in, and he approaches her while his friend hovers nearby, awkwardly and surreptitiously filming the interaction. Todd first showed the pick-up in its entirety, and then he started it over again to break down each step of the conversation with his commentary. He started with an “opener” about how the woman was sitting, and she challenged him in response with a “shit-test” by objecting that she was only listening to music. (A shit-test is a “combative response” to whatever the pick up artist has just said.) Eventually, after several more shit-tests, the woman agreed to go get yogurt with him. There’s more hidden camera footage of Todd and his lady walking to a 16 Handles, more footage of them sitting outside eating, and even more footage of Todd walking the woman back to her apartment – which is turns out, is the NYU freshmen dorm Hayden Hall, where I used to live. The cameraman is left outside, but Todd alleges that he was able to sneak into the dorm without being signed in as a guest, went up to the girl’s room, and then hung out with her and her roommate for awhile. I want to add that Todd met her while the sun was still out, and then walks her back to her dorm well after sunset – the cameraman must have been following them for hours.

Todd warned the audience that they should watch out for the “super tight” security in NYU dorms, and do their best to sneak past the guards in the lobby as often as possible. Although some audience members did seem to be college-aged, most were in their late twenties or early thirties, or older, yet none balked at the idea of hanging out with an eighteen-year-old college freshman in her dorm room.


Todd really emphasized “sneaking one past the goalie,” which is just as nauseating as you’d expect. Todd’s prime example of this technique was telling a girl that he’d like to have “unprotected sex in a disrespectful manner with her in a public place.” Basically, there’s just so much wrong with that statement that she simply can’t disagree with it all! Says Todd, “If she says, ‘Unprotected sex? No, you should always use a condom!’ then she’s not disagreeing with the sex! If she says, ‘Disrespectful? That’s so rude!’ Well, she’s not disagreeing with having sex with me!” I’m not sure how this plays out in real life, but apparently it’s extraordinarily effective; once you’ve pointed out to the girl that she hasn’t objected to having sex with you, I guess she’s duty-bound to fuck you. (?) If you’re really just looking to have women sleep with you because they feel conned into it, this technique might be what you’re looking for.

Another tip: get the woman emotionally invested in you. The 18 year old in Washington Square Park was emotionally invested in him as soon as she called him a “cocky liar.” She’s begun “qualifying” him, which demonstrates his “value.” It’s just a slam-dunk from there!

A third tip, courtesy of Todd: when you’re shaking a woman’s hand, don’t shake it as you would a man’s, as that’s too business-like for ladies. Instead, rotate the palm of your hand up when shaking her hand, which seems more “personal.” You’ll want to be gently cradling her hand in the palm of yours. This wasn’t a recommendation of Todd’s, but I imagine that if you do it quickly enough, you can probably break her wrist in the process. Then you’ll be able to accompany her to the E.R., which I expect would probably lead to a ton of that super valuable emotional investment you’re going for.

After analyzing three “pulls,” including one in which the woman tells Todd several times that she has a boyfriend but gives him her number regardless3, it’s time for role-playing. The first exercise is “Yes, and” statements; when a woman shit-tests you, you should affirm what she’s said, and add something else to it. By saying yes, teaches Todd, you’re telling the woman, “I accept the world how it is.” I think Gandhi used the same technique.

The lights were turned on and we were instructed to stand up and break into groups of three. Another friend of Taco Boy’s had sat next to us in the back row, and so he became our third group member. He was cute, actually, and seemed charming – but had been diligently taking notes through the seminar, which seems like a wild red flag.

I was not very good at “Yes, and” statements, and in case you’ve never tried it, it’s a thoroughly unnatural way to hold a conversation. Also, with the lights on and everyone out of their seats, I felt much more uncomfortable, and was much more noticeable than I had been while sitting in the back row, in the dark.

You get a lot of looks as the only female attendee in a room of over one hundred men who have paid several hundred dollars to learn how to meet women.

Looking around the room, though, most of the men seemed to be well-dressed and at least somewhat attractive. I wondered why they thought I was there, and also why they were there – frankly, if some of them had approached me in a bar, without using one of Todd’s idiotic “openers,” I wouldn’t necessarily have turned them down.

After a few torturous moments of our Yes, ands, we moved onto “I love” and “I hate” statements. Todd instructed us to start off every sentence with either one, and to say the first thing that came to mind, no matter how idiotic. I was slightly better at these. Taco and Friend encouraged me to think of this as a free improv class, but Friend told me I should probably work on my “cold approach” – i.e., approaching strangers on the street with the intention of hitting on them. I told him that was a skill I was never going to use. (By the way, no indication of whether Friend had paid to attend the seminar, or had snuck his way in for free also, although I suspect he did the former.)

Todd kept staring at me without blinking, and the amount of eye contact became increasingly unnerving.

Lastly, we did “qualifying statements,” in order to get our targets emotionally invested. Todd, unblinking, assured us that they could be as stupid as we wanted them to be! It doesn’t matter, just say anything! They had to follow the format, “You’re so _____, it’s like _____.” My date thought of a charming one: “You’re so stupid, it’s like pathetic.” Todd pointed out one participant in the front row who was wearing an ugly patterned sweater: “You’re so sweatered up it’s like you’re a penguin!” Unfortunately, the young man was staring at me and didn’t realize Todd was talking to him. His fellow group member had to swat his arm to get his attention.

Another prime example, courtesy of Todd: “Your posture is so chill right now, it’s like you’re a Buddha!” The Buddha in question grinned and pumped his arms in the air, presumably ecstatic. There was some sad, scattered applause.

I refused to do a qualifying statement, so Friend started off, “Your hair is so carefree, it’s like fluttering blossoms blowing in the breeze.” Taco’s statement to Friend: “You’re so racially ambiguous, it’s like you could be in a Target commercial.”

A quick note: Yes, ands, can be a way to carry on a conversation, however awkward. And “I love” and “I hate” statements aren’t difficult to think of, nor do they feel particularly unnatural to say. But the third exercise has a distinct I’m-trying-to-hit-on-you vibe. To watch a group of one hundred allegedly-über-hetero men try to seduce each other is something I can’t recommend highly enough. They were practically yelling across the room to each other, trying to stand as far away as possible. There were a lot of feet shuffling, looking at the floor, aggressively crossed arms, and averted glances. The emotional investment was palpable.
Unfortunately, one of the event coordinators came up to Taco and I and indicated that we had to follow him, cutting off the third exercise for us. I stood around by the door while Taco and the coordinator talked – I got the sense that we were in trouble, but that the men would handle it for me. I was told to produce my ID, and then after it was returned to me, I was asked to take my phone and leave.

If attending the seminar wasn’t embarrassing enough, getting kicked out certainly was.

Turns out, Taco hadn’t really cleared it with his friend the assistant or Todd that he could attend for free. Until Todd was able to confirm that that was the case, we needed to either pay $300 each or leave. Seeing as they kicked us out at 9:15, and the seminar ended for the day at 9:30, paying didn’t seem quite worth it.

Taco had also told me that paying attendees were allowed to bring dates or girlfriends for free – a provision that makes fiscal sense to me because there aren’t likely to be that many men attending that have women to ask, and also because I doubt very many women are likely to go. While I have to admit that I think it’s a little hypocritical to be kicking out the only female attendee, to be fair, I was very clearly an interloper, and I’m sure my Jane Goodall-esque attitude didn’t help things much.

Either way, Taco and I left the hotel and he told me that he was going to get Chipotle and then try to return to the seminar. I was invited to join, and to go clubbing with him and the literally six foot tall Tiesto-grinding model, but I declined both. We hugged awkwardly, he told me to text him, and I haven’t heard from him since – which is assuredly for the best.


[1] I tried Googling “Tod versus Todd” but didn’t find any significant results, although there is a doctor with the unfortunate name of Tod Todd in California who specializes in holistic treatments and has written a fictional thriller novel titled 444 The Key to the Island. FYI. (But seriously, you guys must intuitively know the difference between a Tod and a Todd, right? I can’t be alone in this, can I?) (Back)

[2] In the interest of Todd’s privacy, I won’t call him by last name, although it’s only a quick Google away if you’d like to attend the seminar yourself. You’ll know it’s him by the awful hair. (Back)

[3] Todd admitted that nothing happened with the woman with the boyfriend, and an audience member asked what happened with the NYU freshman, at which time he reluctantly stated that he only hung out with her and her roommate before leaving. A third video showed him picking up two dancers in Times Square. One dancer was very clearly uninterested in him and his shtick4 and when that came across in the video, Todd interjected that she was “much less hot” than her friend, who was coincidentally fawning all over Todd. Even so, Todd took both women out for coffee, got the hotter friend’s name and number, and kissed her. Then she and her friend drove back home to Jersey and that was the end of that.

It’s exceedingly curious to me that Todd chose those three videos, which are evidence of him spending considerable amounts of time on a total of four women, to only net one quick kiss in return. I wanted to stay after the seminar’s conclusion to ask him what his goal is. Is it collecting numbers? Is it sleeping with these women? Is it creating a relationship with them? (Back)

[4] Another note: when Todd could tell that a woman was on the brink of rejecting him, he would demonstrate his own “value” but saying something like, “I mean, if sexy, charismatic, confident, funny, successful guys like me aren’t your type, that’s fine and I’ll leave you alone.” But the really astonishing part was that it seemed to work! These women would feel insulted that he would insinuate that they don’t have good taste in men, and in another instance of “sneaking one past the goalie,” they’d then be drawn into continuing the conversation. (Back)


Kathryn Leslie is a human being living in Brooklyn.