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Neg: A Love Story

I remember, in my senior year of college, discussing Tess of the D’Urbervilles in what was, I now believe, the finest class of my college years. (“19th Century English Novels!” Partayyyyy!) I, of course, loved Tess, and wanted to converse for hours on end about its many fascinating points – so true! so relevant to Our Society Today! – much to the disgust of all the other (fabulous; never has there been a group of undergraduates so fabulous) students, who thought it was icky girl stuff. 

“When Angel Clare leaves her though, and Tess goes back to her rapist to keep from starving?” I said, at one point. “I mean, I cried. I am not ashamed.” 
“I did not,” said one of the students, a boy with a scholarly-looking beard who wore three-piece vintage suits to class every day, “because I am a man.” 
I laughed. I also immediately formed a crush on the boy with the three-piece suits, or whatever it is when you could have a crush if you did not have better things to do and also some lingering uncertainty as to whether the dude in question dates chicks. Now, of course, I know that he captured my interest through the highly scientific principle of “negging.” 
I have had conversations, dear reader, about my ongoing fascination with the whole Pick-Up Artist movement, and its founding father, Mystery. They mostly go like this: “Stop it! It is ridiculously not worth noticing! You look dumb when you insist on talking about it!” I know this is true, and yet I cannot look away! I mean: what is “peacocking?” Does it explain the top hats?  Is Chuck Bass a devotee of Mystery, and if so, does this explain why, in the most recent episode of Gossip Girl I have seen, he dresses entirely in fetching shades of violet, and occasionally in a cravat? Such are the eternal questions! 
“Negs” are by far the most fascinating of devices. They basically consist of doing or saying mean or dismissive things to a girl, so that she will try to impress you and ultimately sleep with you as a means of proving how cool she is. She will then think she’s won, because if you’re into having sex with her, you must have some kind of interest in her, or at least in her boobs, and if you are a certain kind of sad drunk girl in a certain kind of sad drunk circumstance then you may know the difference between “interested in me” and “interested in my boobs” in theory, but you also are at a point where you just do not care. OR SO I HAVE HEARD!
Paul Rudd’s entire career is built on negging. In his first role of note, Clueless, he insulted Alicia Silverstone until she was so quiveringly hot for him that she forgot he was her stepbrother. In The Object of My Affection, he played a gay man, which is actually a highly recommended neg. (The line endorsed by Mystery is, “if I weren’t gay, you would so be my type,” which I guess works on the theory that you can later surprise her with your boner? I don’t know.) In Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, he was wasted as the dicked-over nice guy Paris, but he recovered his Shakespearian credentials as Duke Orsino in Twelfth Night, who negs so masterfully that Viola actually helps him seduce another lady. This is unintentional – Viola is dressed as a dude – but it still works! To watch Rudd in Wet Hot American Summer is to watch a performance built entirely on Neg, a study in Neg, in fact, which is transcendent in its mastery. To see him tonguily macking on a lady, then (literally!) pushing her away, whirling giddily around a pole while giving the finger to his girlfriend, or dismissing another girl mid-makeout with a bored, “you taste like hamburgers, I don’t like you any more,” is to come to a new understanding of the neg and its powers. It is, to my mind, his finest work. 
Then, of course, there are his contributions to the Apatovian canon, most notably his performance as the neg-addicted spouse of Lesley Mann in Knocked Up. He ignores her, subtly implies that she is beneath his notice with every statement he makes, and ditches her to go watch Spider-Man and play fantasy baseball. I basically broke up with a dude because of Paul Rudd in Knocked Up – well, Paul Rudd and the moment where a heavily pregnant, obviously exhausted Katherine Heigl sits on the kitchen floor, surrounded by bongs and toys, and asks of a random object, “what is this?” “It’s a ninja weapon,” Seth Rogen replies, and I knew in that moment that I was seeing only the best possible version of my future. I could also be the girl on the lawn, tearily pleading, “I like Spider-Man, too.” I started crying on the way home, and although it took a while for that particular relationship to wrap up, Knocked Up represents the moment I realized I was going to leave. 
Which brings us to another point: negging, in the real world, gets old fast. As a form of flirtation, it is tolerable and occasionally intriguing; as a device to keep ’em coming, not so much. Paul Rudd is only charming and funny because, like that other cinematic neg-master Neal Patrick Harris (who is gay IRL, and so gets bonus points) he manages to portray both the elusive too-cool-for-you charm of the neg and its inherent cruelty, and does so with a little twinkle and a slight (or major) over-the-topness that lets you know he knows how ridiculous it is. You get the sense that he is not a jerk but a “jerk,” that he’s satirizing the jerk modus operandi; you get the corresponding sense (well, I do, and I know it to be pretty much baseless) that he is funny as a fictional prick because he’s observed real pricks, and thinks as little of them as you do. 
In conclusion: dudes should not neg. This will eventually result in them being tossed to the curb, like a camper thrown from a speeding van in Paul Rudd’s Wet Hot American Summer. They should, however, pretend to neg, for it is surprisingly darling. Also, that dude from my English Lit class? The possibly gay one with the peacocky three-piece suits and the “because I am a man” one-liners? That dude wanted me bad


  1. The Sexist wrote:

    Oh, my god, this post reads as if it were delivered straight from the part of my brain devoted to relationships and directly published to the Internet. I too, have fallen for the neg, but I’ve also neg’d (?) many, many times. I think it comes from a need to be with someone who is very clever and very challenging, but I’ve found that I can satisfy my need to neg and be neg’d through constructive sassy banter and not through inexplicable mind-fuck cruelty. All by which is by way of saying, I am hopelessly in love with Paul Rudd and his entire body of work, and that you should go see “Role Models” if you haven’t yet. Also, I wanted to talk to you about something, will you e-mail me?

    Friday, January 2, 2009 at 2:34 pm | Permalink
  2. Sady wrote:

    I, too, neg about as often as I am negged. It’s a weird little dance, and I think its enduring appeal has to do with the thin line between fascination and frustration – the difference between “what are you thinking?” and “WHAT are you THINKING?!?” Also the pervasive and deleterious effects of Sarcasm Face: “ha, ha, what a convincingly mean statement! Surely that was a joke… OR WAS IT?” Also, the fact that every single human nurtures a desire to make out with Paul Rudd. That last one, we probably can’t do anything about.

    Saturday, January 3, 2009 at 1:08 pm | Permalink
  3. Kelly wrote:

    my undying love for paul rudd now has a very logical and entertaining explanation. Thank you for allowing me to move on with my life 😉

    Sunday, January 4, 2009 at 11:03 am | Permalink
  4. Blue Sky wrote:

    Hmmm… this is a strategy? In the UK they call it banter, but I think it only really works if both people are involved and enjoying it in a fun back and forth (my fave form of flirting, usually)… but when one-sided, it is just being mean!

    I went on a date once with a guy who was using what I believed to be PUA strategies. I started a convo about PUA and got him to admit (I’m cagey that way) that he had paid for a day long PUA workshop. Yikes. INeffective.

    Sunday, January 4, 2009 at 4:47 pm | Permalink
  5. Sady wrote:

    @Blue Sky: Okay, first of all, that is HORRIFYING. Also, hilarious. That poor, sad, terrible man.

    I think the reason I am so obsessed with PUA stuff is that it actually seeks to codify misogyny and to create a methodology for implementing it. “Neg” is basically just another word for denigrating someone; the fact that it’s supposed to be employed specifically on female sexual partners or potential sexual partners would seem to veer very close to mandatory psychological abuse. (I can’t decide if manipulating someone by seeking to make her feel bad about herself is technically psychological abuse, but I figure if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is probably trying to drive you insane to make itself feel better about its various childhood issues.)

    The whole “women love jerks” and “women love what they can’t have” has been mere sexist stereotype for a long time, but PUAs actually act on it, and PRODUCE misogynists by encouraging lonely, vulnerable men to (a) reduce women to “points” in the “game,” thereby dehumanizing them, and (b) use them, abuse them, and exploit their vulnerabilities in order to get what they want from them. Scary. Scarier is the fact that we might all have gotten so used to social and sexual inequality that it could, in some cases, work. I know enough women who are drawn in by “bad boys” to worry.

    I personally think the “bad boy” thing, along with the “macho” thing, is almost laughably unsexy. However, I’ve fallen for the neg before. I have (I’m told) a strong and aggressive personality, so if a dude needs me to be softer than he is, things don’t work out. If he’s equally stubborn and opinionated, and can enjoy that tension, then we actually stand a chance. The challenge for me has been differentiating “strong” from “domineering” and “self-confident” from “selfish.” Now that more dudes are negging, I guess I feel it is harder than ever to figure that out!

    So, the whole PUA thing. In conclusion, it is gross and weird, and maybe makes the world less safe for girls who are single? Boo.

    Monday, January 5, 2009 at 11:12 am | Permalink
  6. emylie_bo_bemylie wrote:

    I don't know if you've seen this, but this is a spoof with Paul Rudd playing a Mystery-like character.

    Saturday, July 18, 2009 at 10:06 pm | Permalink