Posts Tagged Feminism

Counter Culture Interview with Blake Nelson

blakenelsonwithpatrickharrington

Patrick Harrington with Blake Nelson in Edinburgh

Blake Nelson, an American author of adult and young people’s literature, grew up in Portland, Oregon, USA and continues to live in the area. He attended Wesleyan and New York University. Nelson began his career writing short humor pieces for Details magazine in the mid-’90s. These articles, with titles including “How to Date a Feminist” and “How to Live on $3600 a year”, explored the slacker West Coast lifestyle. He has authored many acclaimed novels; the first novel GIRL, was serialized in SASSY magazine and since published in eight foreign countries, before being made into a film starring Selma Blaire and Portia De Rossi. His 2011 novel Recovery Road was adapted by Disney into a TV drama of the same name, premiering on January 2016 on ABC Family. Paranoid Park, a book about skateboarders in Portland, won the prestigious International Grinzane Literary Award (Italy) and was made into a film by Gus Van Sant, which won a special 60th Anniversary prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2007. The film featured a few of Portland’s old school skate punk legends including Chester and Jay Smay. Blake’s “The Prince of Venice Beach” was short-listed for the 2015 Edgar Award.

Nelson’s latest adult novel The Red Pill (2019) describes how a liberal advertising exec is slowly sucked into alt-right circles after accepting dating advice from his truck driving brother-in-law, Rob.

On a visit to Edinburgh Blake kindly gave an interview to Counter Culture Editor, Patrick Harrington.

 

Counter Culture: First let me thank you Blake for giving Counter Culture this interview. Can I begin by asking you what does the title of your book The Red Pill mean?

Blake Nelson: To become “red pilled” means to be awoken to the true reality around you. It came from The Matrix movie and then it passed into popular culture and it’s very popular with young men on the manosphere and nowadays in political circles. In terms of dating, to be ‘red-pilled’ is to understand that meeting women is kind of a brutal animalistic situation, as opposed to the normie sanitized version of it, where the man is courteous and respectful and the woman is coy and demure. Once you’ve been red pilled you understand that women like bad boys, and jerks, and guys with status or fame. All your worst fears are unfortunately true. It’s a painful lesson in reality. But you’re better off understanding how things really work than living in a fantasy world. And then it’s the same in politics. The realities of politics are harsh. But to survive you better be aware of them.

Counter Culture: What made you interested in that theme?

Blake Nelson: I write young adult books and I was interested in how young men were reacting to the current feminization of American society and ideas like toxic masculinity and male privilege and a general atmosphere that is pretty openly anti-male. Like if you’re sixteen, what do you think of all that? Does it affect you in any way? And so, people kept telling me to go on the manosphere, on the internet, that the answers to my questions might be there. And so I did that and at first, I was finding pickup websites. But then I found websites that were more philosophical about the state of the gender conflict. Then I gradually found political websites that eventually led to alt-right territory. So that’s the same Journey that the guy in the book goes through.

Counter Culture: Did you realize that tackling this subject even in the form of a novel would be so controversial?

Blake Nelson: I did think it would be. American media is so radically Left at this point, theredpillany kind of investigation of this type of material would cause problems. So, I knew it’d be controversial. I’ve done things like that before and I felt like I could handle it and I felt like my representation of the country at that particular moment, like 2016, 2017, was measured enough and balanced enough that nobody could really fault me. Nobody could say I was attacking anyone unreasonably. I was just showing what it was like, and hopefully showing both sides of the coin. But I felt like yeah sure, of course, Leftists will freak out. And they did.

Counter Culture: Your book references Powell’s Books, which is something of a Portland institution. Wasn’t there some kind of protest at your book signing there? Tell me about that.

Blake Nelson: Yeah, that was embarrassing for them actually. They did this big protest. Mostly because of the title of the book. None of them read it. But like if all you know about the red pill is “incels” and “alpha males”, then, of course, the feminists are going to have a problem with it. I noticed that for the protesters one of the big things was consent. Several signs mentioned consent. So they were very worried that young men who were being red-pilled were being taught how to rape women. Of course, the red pill idea is trying to teach young guys how to get women to want to have sex with them. Which is consent. So it was funny that they were so off base. Literally none of them read the book. But in the end, the climate in a place like Portland Oregon, which is an insanely progressive city they don’t care what’s in the book. They saw the title and they attacked. They accused me of being a racist, homophobe, transphobic. They handed out flyers. It was amazing. I knew I might be called these things but when you actually get accused of being a racist in public, in a big public situation, at a bookstore that I used to work at, you know, it stung. It feels weird and I wasn’t quite ready for it. It’s like fame, nobody’s ever ready to be famous.

Counter Culture: Or ready to be infamous.

Blake Nelson: No.

Counter Culture: I noticed that one of the reviews on Goodreads was from a staff member at Powell’s Books who had taken the trouble to read the book to see what the fuss was about. She was of the opinion that there wasn’t really anything that bad in the book and it was quite balanced and that people had misunderstood it. Do you think they’ve kind of missed the point of what you were trying to do?

Blake Nelson: Oh, yes. Absolutely. I think they miss the point of what anybody on the right is trying to do. They literally can’t imagine any perspective but their own. I met that woman, by the way, the woman who defended me at the bookstore. She said, “I don’t like your politics but I did buy your book and it is totally fine.” She was very nice, and I tried to talk to her more, to thank her for defending me but she just turned and left.

Counter Culture: Do you understand why there’s so much emotion against the whole pick up scene and the red pill philosophy? Not just women but some men in the sense that they see it as highly manipulative and as a way of getting around consent by using language and approaches drawn from psychology to try to manipulate people and get what they want. And that does seem to be part of what’s in the pickup culture. Do you understand? I’m not saying the book is like it, but do you understand to a certain extent the reaction, why people are so emotional about that.

Blake Nelson: Yes, I do. I think that they are right in that it is an attempt to be manipulative. But to me the whole realm of trying to manipulate people with language and sales techniques or subliminal advertising, all that stuff, that’s interesting but I don’t really care. None of that stuff is going to get you a real relationship. But if younger guys want to sit around and talk about good opening lines or whatever, it is their right. That’s what interests me. Why is this little corner of the internet the only place where men can even discuss any of this? What happened to the normal ways that men communicate this information? And why does it have to be this huge secret? Feminism has encroached so much on masculine space that men are forced to do this on the internet and I just feel you know, that feminism has overreached its influence on our society. Young guys, teenagers, should feel comfortable talking about dates and what you should do, what you shouldn’t do, and not have to be embarrassed or guilt-shamed or whatever. Women talk about men and men should be allowed to talk about women.

Counter Culture: Why do you think the codes and language in personal relationships are becoming so politicized? What do you think’s causing that? Why is it happening at this point in time?

Blake Nelson: I grew up out west and when I went to college, I was shocked by the degree to which feminism and liberalism and leftism completely dominated every subject. You couldn’t even take an ancient history class without hearing feminist complaints. If you took an art class. If you took an English class. There was this constant critique by the feminists. And I feel like the university was encouraging it. And the professors. There was a consensus, this is how it’s going to be. I didn’t know why they were doing it. I mean at first, feminism made sense. Like after World War II America was pretty traumatized and people just wanted things to be very normal and conservative and patriarchal. But after about twenty years of that, with the technology advancing and America being so prosperous, things had to change. And so there was a natural women’s liberation movement which was you know, they had the time and money to do other things besides be a homemaker. And there was a natural Civil Rights Movement too. It was time to open up society and let things breath. I think a lot of that stuff was completely legitimate but what happened was those tendencies were promoted to such a degree that thirty years later they’ve been corrupted and they’re dividing the country. They’re pitting men and women against each other to the point of seriously damaging our society. There’s always a natural tension between the genders. Of course, there is, in all societies they have this. But that’s been weaponized to a point that nobody wants to get married. It’s created the low birth rate that’s caused all these other problems. So many single women I know are unhappy. They’ve been told to follow their dreams and get that powerful job. But ninety-five percent of them aren’t going to get that powerful job, and what kind of dream is that anyway? Being a corporate asshole, is better than raising a family? But many believe it. And they do it. And it does not lead them to a good place.

Counter Culture: Obviously there’s a huge market for the pick-up material which shows there’s a need for it in some ways. Do you think that? There’s a lot of confusion going on that ultimately will lead to people discussing the proper power divisions in society between men and women and how men and women can relate to one another and get on. Do you see this as just a temporary period where there’s disruption of the normal?

Blake Nelson: well, first of all, I think that the pickup scene is really a lower level of culture that I don’t consider to be terribly important. It’s like when I was a kid, in the back of the comic book, it showed a cartoon of a skinny kid getting bullied and then he goes home, and lifts weights, and then he beats up the bully. To me, that’s what the pickup scene seems like. There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just for people that are at the bottom of the social competence scale. I feel bad for guys who really struggle just talking to girls and I feel like helping them in any way, is a good thing, you want guys like that to someday get it together enough to have a girlfriend, or fall in love, and get to experience those things. But in terms of what’s going on now with feminism, we’re in a really bad spot. I feel like this is a critical mass we’re getting to. A lot of people think that Generation Z will react against this and become very traditional. But what if they don’t, and it just keeps going as it is? You know bad blood between the sexes, no trust, no responsibility, single moms, broken homes, fatherless boys … it’s just not healthy.

Counter Culture: Can I just play Devil’s Advocate here? You reference the 1950s and I’ve had a discussion before with people in America who see the 50s as a golden era because there was economic prosperity but obviously, the 50s for some people were not necessarily that good and you reference also returning to a kind of traditional way of looking at things. Is that what we should be aiming at? Or do you think we should be recognizing that things in the past weren’t always good for everyone, particularly women who had very little control over their finances. Their autonomy was quite limited. Should we be aiming to return to that kind of patriarchal view or should we be both rejecting the interpretations of feminism that are anti-men, but saying we want to create something new? We don’t want to return to the past. We don’t necessarily want what’s being offered now, but we wanna create something that is beyond both.

Blake Nelson: My guess would be that you would eventually end up with some sort of blend. You’d get a new version of traditionalism that would have all sorts of new aspects to it, that maybe we can’t really imagine right now. That’s why it’s good that there’s always a new generation because these kids Generation Z, the Zoomers, I can’t imagine that they could look at my generation and see something that they would want in terms of how they’re going to live their lives. Just the amount of anger and resentment and defiance that permeates things now. And the level that it’s promoted in sitcoms and everywhere in the media. They pound on this in the media: men are oppressing you, men are taking advantage of you. Constantly sowing the seeds of dissatisfaction, nobody should be happy. They never stop. Women have to resist and fight and defy men at every turn. Are young people going to choose that? I hope not. But I guess they will if the media can control them. I do know some people who have resisted it. I know some women who became mothers and they are sometimes the rebels of their social groups. I have a friend who went to an Ivy League college and she’s very talented, and in the publishing world, and she was on the track to be a literary person at the highest levels of that world. But something happened to her, she was sort of miserable for a time and then she ended up having a couple kids and now she is incredibly happy and she doesn’t work very much, if at all, because the kids are still infants, but I’m sure when the time comes that she can go back into that world, if she wants. And I’m sure she will contribute but the idea that she won’t be at the very top because she stopped to have kids. Well, who cares? Why do you have to be at the very top? And what happens at the very top anyway? People stab each other in the back. Let the men do that.

Counter Culture: I’m a union representative. So I’m aware that if for instance, women take a break from their career in order to bring up children it can adversely affect them economically in terms of their pension. It’s difficult to go back in at the same level. Society really doesn’t support women in that way. I’d say that our society doesn’t seem to be geared towards supporting the family unit. I can quite understand why a lot of women will be worried about concentrating on their family under the kind of system that we’ve got.

Blake Nelson: Well that’s why you need marriage. That’s why you need people to trust in the institution of marriage. Right now, we tell women not to trust it. We put it into their minds when they’re in college that they have to be independent, they have to have their own jobs, their own apartments. They graduate and we distract them with all these options, grad school, travel, interning, working at a non-profit. We get them right on that career track. We feed them right into the consumer machine. Then they get into their late twenties, they’re paying those bills, paying off those student loans. And all the while, feminism is telling them they can’t trust men. They’re going to rape you or drug you at the bar, and when you get older they‘ll use you and leave you and they won’t marry you. You’ll end up destitute with your single child. This theme of you can’t trust men is incredibly damaging. Don’t trust your co-workers, don’t trust your boss, don’t trust your own father. It’s the best way to destroy a woman. Make her distrust all the people she will be dependent on for her entire life. And yes, she will be dependent on men. Women are dependent on men for certain things. Just like men are dependent on women to keep their genes going, to bring life into the world, to give them children. That’s how the whole thing works.

Counter Culture: The Martin character, in your book, is difficult to figure out because he seems quite diffident or uncertain. He doesn’t seem to be particularly passionate about his decisions. How far do you think he reflects the sort of strata of men these days? He doesn’t seem to know what he wants.

Blake Nelson: Yeah, I think he’s very typical. As a character, I made that decision early on. This guy believed all the stuff he heard in college. He is trying to be a feminist himself, an ally. Not like to a ridiculous degree, but just how most guys do. He’s a Gen Xer, forty, so he also has a little of that old fashioned chivalry-idea going too. He thinks being a good, decent person will get him, women. Being a solid guy. But those qualities don’t seem to be valued by anyone in present society, least of all women. It’s like nothing he does feels right. It’s like he’s superfluous like women really don’t have any need for him at all.

Counter Culture: Don’t you think with people who are less socially adept, they find it particularly difficult to know what to do? I’ll give you an example. I mean, we had a controversy recently about our prime minister 20 years ago when he was a journalist touching another (female) journalists thigh under the table, and this was big news in Britain Whether it’s true or not, I mean if it is true, it would seem a bit crude and socially inept to take that approach. A lot of people would know whether someone’s interested in them through visual cues and body language, eye contact and so forth. They wouldn’t need to be as crude as to use that approach. People don’t know how to pick up on that sort of thing are at a disadvantage and bewildered, confused and wondering what they did wrong. They’re looking around like Martin trying to understand what it is they should be doing.

Blake Nelson: Yes. Definitely. I think there’s a lot of people like that. On the other hand, once you’re in a relationship a lot of this stuff just goes away. We’re mostly talking about trying to start a relationship and often men really struggle with that. The question is, does the culture help us or hurt us as we try. Because when a culture wants you to be paired up, you most likely will be. And when it wants to keep you apart as ours does, just look at the growing numbers of single people, then it will influence you in that direction too.

Counter Culture: You do get the impression there’s a kind of bitterness on the part of a lot of the people writing and thinking about these issues.

Blake Nelson: I think people are bitter about it. People in my age group. The younger guys talk about stoicism a lot. They worry about the bitterness infecting them. Which makes sense. When I was first reading this manosphere stuff, it really brought home how bad it is for them. What a mess they’ve been born into. When else in history did the society seem so intent on destroying itself? At least at the level of family and relationships. And these young guys, they still want to do the classic male things. They want to meet a girl and start a family and be the provider, the dad, the hero. Which is now considered patriarchal and evil. What I saw was young men saying, “I want to live a good life, just tell me how to do it.” But nobody can tell them because everything is so upside down. Most of these young men want real relationships, and to be of service to their community or society or whatever. This sense of service was really strong. I was so shocked when I started reading this stuff because I have been indoctrinated too. That men are bad, and just want sex and don’t care about anything. That’s how I was during a lot of my younger life. But the guys on the manosphere do care. Here were these young guys saying, “I’m young. I’m full of life. I’m ready to go. But every direction I go in is perceived as bad. I want to do something good. I want to do what I’m supposed to do.”

Counter Culture: I’m surprised that there aren’t more books written for young men by women, books about dating.

Blake Nelson: Well there’s a lot of books like that and they’re really bad and it’s one of the strange phenomenons of the genders that women are not good at putting themselves in the shoes of men while men are often quite good at putting themselves in the place of women. My whole career was based on one book I wrote in the voice of a teenage girl and everybody was so amazed that I could understand a teenage girl, but I contend that men, in general, are very good at imagining life from a women’s perspective, but women seem to have a tin ear when it comes to the opposite. I don’t really know why that is. And when women write books about how men should act during courtship, they always go down the road of respect women, believe women, be kind, be a good listener, while the pickup guys contend that in fact women like assholes overall. And that nice guys finish last. So who knows?

Counter Culture: The book itself deals with a controversial subject. But when I read it I found it more observational than pushing a particular line or telling people what to think. I thought it was just observing the characters and the difficulties the central character is having. The controversy could be beneficial in that it will get people talking about these kinds of issues more. Do you think that by giving interviews and talking about your motives for writing the book you will get a different kind of debate going in certain areas?

Blake Nelson: Normally I don’t go crazy with the publicity. With my other books, I would think of what were the best couple places to publicize the book and do those and that’s it. Even in some of my book contracts, they force you to give them two weeks or four weeks where you will do any publicity they can dig up. With this book, I couldn’t get any publicity anywhere. I have my kind of dependable people that I call up when I have a new book, you know, could you write a little something? But nobody wanted to touch this book.

Counter Culture: People were shying away from the controversy?

Blake Nelson: They don’t want to get involved. They’re afraid. Why risk getting put on a list, or being the person who gave attention to the racist, sexist, homophobic book? It’s been a sad thing to see. This is an industry I’ve been in my whole life. It’s a very grim atmosphere in the United States. This is a novel we’re talking about. It’s not a book about politics. It’s a novel about dating. And it’s funny. But in a way, I understand people hesitating. When I was doing the final drafts, I thought, do I really want to make trouble for myself by doing this? But I felt like I had to do it. It’s my duty as a writer, as a cultural commentator. It’s my job. I made money during the easy times and I had a nice life, now it’s harder times, so what am I going to do, quit?

Counter Culture: After the Trump presidential victory there was a kind of denial on the part of the Democrats as to why they had lost and there didn’t seem to be very deep thinking about that. I see that in a lot of things in American politics. They seem to not want to understand the strengths of the opposition and not want to understand what might attract people to those candidates and what the problems are that those people are trying to answer. In the case of dating, there’s clearly something going on there. There’s a big demand for this kind of advice as people turn to gurus and say, you know, what am I meant to do. There doesn’t seem to be an attempt to understand that except in a dismissive or pejorative way. No one’s really analyzing what’s going on here and are we partly contributing to this or creating this? And so I guess one would hope that a book like this would create debate and that people would move beyond mere condemnation to trying to understand what’s going on.

Blake Nelson: Yeah, but in the United States there’s no effort to understand the other side.

Counter Culture: I suppose I’ll draw hope from that lady at the Bookshop who did actually bother to read the book and make up her own mind. I guess I would hope that there would be more people like her. I mean obviously, it’s a story, it’s a novel. It should be judged by is it a good story or a bad story? Is it interesting? Right? Does it have something to speak to us about? What does it tell us about the times we live in?

Blake Nelson: Yeah, I was trying to do something like that. I’m conservative myself politically, but I’ve spent my whole life in the realm of New York media, which is of course 90% Leftist. So when Trump got elected my Facebook feed which was all these writers and publishing people became a continuous stream of questions about who voted for Trump. Who are these monsters? Where did they come from? How can we stop them? And when I wrote the book I thought this is perfect. There’s this big question that everyone is asking and I have the answer. And I meant this in a sincere way. Who voted for Trump? I can answer that question. Because I grew up in that world, in semi-rural America. I know those people. I am one of those people. And here’s this novel, explaining it in a nice, calm way. No rants.  No diatribes. I’m just going to gently show you how Trump got elected, or how a Trump supporter might be formed. But no it turns out they don’t care about that. They just want Trump gone. And all his supporters erased from the country. Which wouldn’t leave you much of a country.

Counter Culture: If they refuse to even think about it, they might soon be asking the question: how did he get re-elected? Well, thanks very much Blake for that fascinating interview. That’s great.

You can read our review of  The Red Pill here.

Blake Nelson Bibliography

  • Girl, Simon & Schuster, 1994 (reissue 2007,2016)
  • Exile, Scribners, 1997 User, Versus Press, 2001
  • The New Rules of High School, Penguin, 2003
  • Rock Star Superstar, Penguin, 2005
  • Prom Anonymous, Penguin, 2006
  • Gender Blender, Random House, 2006
  • Paranoid Park, Penguin, 2006
  • They Came From Below, Tor Books, 2007
  • Destroy All Cars, Scholastic Books, 2009
  • Recovery Road, Scholastic Books, 2011
  • Dream School (GIRL #2),
  • Figment, 2011
  • The Prince of Venice Beach, Little Brown, 2014
  • The City Wants You Alone (GIRL #3), Amazon Kindle, 2015
  • Boy, Simon & Schuster, 2017
  • Phoebe Will Destroy You, Simon & Schuster, 2018
  • The Red Pill, Bombardier Books, 2019

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