Hawkpanther (a guerilla marketing campaign from EA Games) is a parody of a self-help program for romantically frustrated men. In video clips, Hawkpanther’s “creator” and spokesman, Les Singer, pads around his penthouse apartment, sipping wine and promoting his modern, douchebag approach to love.
What if we combine the freedom and majesty of the hawk with the strength and the instincts of the panther to overcome society’s stranglehold on our institution of mating? Then everyone would become available—your friend’s girlfriend, your coworkers’ fiancees… your brother’s wife.
What’s he driving at? A book, of course. The Hawkpanther philosophy is laid out in a fictional book by the fictional Les Singer, as if the only thing more hilarious and gratifying than his spiel is the thought of owning it in hardcover.
On the TV show How I Met Your Mother, Neil Patrick Harris plays Barney Stinson—basically a younger, besuited version of Les Singer. For every conceivable situation in the dating life of a heterosexual male, Barney has already thought of a rule, a strategy, and/or a credo. Although he’s tech-savvy, Barney writes down his wisdom in old-fashioned books—like his (not so little) little black book of phone numbers, and his playbook of dating maneuvers. For most of us, the “little black book” and the “playbook” have passed into the realm of metaphor. But on How I Met Your Mother they’re still physical objects. And Barney’s association with printed books extends to real-life bookstores. Two of “Barney Stinson’s” books (The Bro Code and The Playbook) have been published, and a third (Bro on the Go) is forthcoming in November.
The tradition of the book as a mystical repository of sex knowledge goes back as far as the Kama Sutra and Song of Songs. But for today’s young men it probably starts with American Pie, the 1999 coming-of-age movie and its seven (seven!) sequels. In the original movie, Kevin receives a gift from his older brother in the form of a sex “Bible” that describes a new technique that Kevin needs to master in the quest to lose his virginity. Ten years later, in the sequel Book of Love, the next generation of would-be-Lotharios has to trace the origins of the sex Bible, which has been handed down since time immemorial by the men at their high school.
In the American Pie series, a book is the key to understanding sex, but sex is never the goal itself. The goal is to pass from boyhood to manhood, with sex acting as cinematic shorthand for coming of age.
Real young men don’t really need a book to teach them about sex. They have the internet. But in fiction—online, on TV, and in the movies—the book remains a symbol of the shared, forbidden knowledge that sex education represents. The fictional sex guide for men is our last holy book. And it has to be fictional, since the real books that purport to “educate” men about sex and dating—like the Tucker Max oeuvre and The Complete A**hole’s Guide to Handling Chicks—are so deliberately gimmicky and trashy. It’s only the imaginary books that we still believe in.