‘Andrew Tate is scum – but I see the appeal’: the author on a mission to clean up the ‘manosphere’
As you might expect from a man who built an empire on radical, sweary acceptance, Mark Manson isn’t generally given to worry.
In politics, for instance, the Texan writer and self-help guru identifies as a conservative, with the smallest possible “c”, but that’s about as far from the fence as he’ll go. In work, too, he declares he is in “build mode” after a period of relative inactivity, but what exactly he’s building isn’t clear, and he’s fine with that. As for money, well that stopped being a concern a few years ago, when his 2016 guide The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F--ck: A Counterintuitive Approach To Living A Good Life became a publishing phenomenon.
To date, some 12 million copies have been bought by readers eager to learn how they can care less (“Chapter One: Don’t Try”), as Manson wrung its success for all he could, including a sequel, online courses, a new documentary adaptation and, for some reason, 1,111 NFTs “for the Historic Opportunity to Collect an Idea from this #1 NYT Bestseller.”
So no, Manson doesn’t normally have a worry – sorry, a f--cking worry – in the world. Get him on the topic of teenage boys growing up online, however, and all that changes. He’s not just worried about it, he’s worried we’re not worried enough.
“In general, yes, absolutely I am,” he says, speaking over Zoom from his home in California. Manson, 38, started his writing life in the noughties as a “pick-up artist”, sharing tips on how to seduce women, using the less-than-sexy pseudonym “Entropy”. In doing so, he spent almost a decade as an inhabitant of the so-called “manosphere”, a network of blogs, forums and videos promoting “traditional masculine values” (but often just chauvinism).
Lately, he says, he’s been watching the mainstream world wake up to the notorious influencer Andrew Tate, a self-declared misogynist whose videos racked up more than 11 billion views before he was banned from numerous social media platforms last year. Tate is currently detained with his brother in Romania over allegations of rape and human trafficking.
“The thing that is kind of missed by the Tate phenomenon is that, yes, he’s a scumbag, but I don’t think anybody is really asking why he appeals so much. Why are tens of millions of young men drawn to this guy in the first place?”
Manson has some theories, of course. When he was 20 he read The Game, Neil Strauss’s 2005 book that popularised the pick-up artist industry. “My instant reaction was, ‘Ah! This is it, this is the answer.’ Obviously that was wrong, and I figured it out. A lot of people will figure that out about Tate.”
Tate reminds Manson of the “creepy and weird” figures he used to meet in the noughties, “but the difference is that he’s just way more charismatic, and for lack of a better term, comes off as cool. He’s a kickboxer. He has Lamborghinis. If you’re a 16-year-old male feeling lost and confused, that’s appealing.”
He begins building a thesis on the fly. “I think it’s probably reasonable to say that a lot of these young men feel like there’s a lack of other strong male role models for them. [And] the elephant in the room no one wants to talk about is that the amount of kids – men and women – growing up without a father in the home is at an all-time high in most of the Western world. So I think there’s a broader social issue here,” he says.
“It’s very confusing to be a 16 year old boy, period. There’s a lot of angst and anger and confusion [...] We’ve had some movements in the last 10 years, like #MeToo, which are very powerful and important, but if you’re a teenage boy growing up in that environment, it’s very confusing. So I can start to see why somebody like Tate might appeal.”
Manson talks in much the same way as he writes: didactically freewheeling from idea to idea with such haste that you’ve little choice but to accept it. Part of his attraction (to publishers, at least) is that he has the style of a man who corners you at 4am in the kitchen at a party to tell you about something he saw on Reddit. And he’s well aware of this: the new film adaptation of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F--ck has him speaking from a set mocked up to look like a New York loft covered with the detritus of a big night. Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski is an obvious reference point.
“Yeah, I get that,” he says of his afterparty bore reputation. “I think I’m at peace with it.”
Directed by Nathan Price, the film was made during lockdown in New Zealand, and is less of a documentary and more a visual book adaptation. In it, Manson tells us about his upbringing in the Austin suburbs, where his parents divorced during his teens, through to a business degree in Boston and his early blogging years, which were driven by a bad breakup with his high school sweetheart.
Between this and all the disappointments and friendships that have shaped his life, we’re offered a chaotic mash-up of historical footage, animation and re-enactments to underline the general point that, well, “s--t happens, it’s all part of the journey.” If you’ve read the book, it’s a fairly unnecessary way to spend 97 minutes. But if you couldn’t, well, be f--cked, consider the film the Sparknotes version. There are less entertaining lectures out there, I suppose.
The book originally went from a blog post to become one of the best-selling books of the last decade. Millennials gobbled up its blend of vague Eastern wisdom and vague Western swearing (one chapter ends with “Namaste, f___face”), while its title made it a perfect statement-making prop. Everybody from Chris Hemsworth to Democrat politicians have used their copies for photo opportunities.
“I see this film as the final statement of the Not Giving a F--ck era. The book became so huge, and gave me so many amazing opportunities. But I started writing it in 2014, so these ideas are eight years old for me,” Manson says. “I’ve been explicit with my audience that this is kind of it.”
In the years after its release, Manson toured the world, bought, regretted and sold a 5,475-square-foot penthouse in New York with his Brazilian wife, Fernanda Neute (they met in 2012, just as he was evacuating the manosphere in search of a broader, mixed audience, and married in 2016), wrote a sequel, Everything Is F--cked: A Book About Hope, suffered from burnout, ghost-wrote Will Smith’s autobiography and had a small identity crisis. Essentially, he didn’t want to be “the f--ck guy” anymore.
But he’s honest about that, because he believes honesty is the key to fulfilment, especially if you’re a millionaire self-help guru hoping others will consider you trustworthy. So he will admit to embarrassments, like his pick-up artistry background – “not the most savoury thing in my life, but it’s part of who I am”.
It’s partly why he believes cancel culture, which hardly fosters an atmosphere of forgiveness in the public eye, is a “terrible” thing. “But we’re in a bit of a backlash [against it] now, and part of that is that the more offensive a person is, the more a group of people will like them,” he says. “That partly explains the Trump phenomenon, a lot of people who voted for him didn’t like what he said, they just liked that he was willing to say something offensive. That’s an unintended side-effect.”
That tactic is particularly effective in the manosphere, which is a sprawling, move-fast-and-break-things environment which often blurs with tech trends like NFTs (Manson’s didn’t do well, he launched them “just as the market crashed into the side of a mountain”) and crypto.
“Yeah, there’s definitely some overlap. Crypto, manosphere, alt-right, free speech, poker players, Wall St bets… But I will say this: there are more women than I expected [at crypto events] now.”
Were it not for his mainstream publishing success, Manson could have resorted to using internet controversies in order to establish a fanbase. “Well there’s a bit of a Faustian bargain, being an online personality. Extreme statements are a shortcut to building an audience, but the more extreme you get, the more you run the risk of being cancelled.
“I’ve tried to avoid the temptation. I don’t really have those controversial views, like someone like Jordan Peterson, but a lot of those opinions should be allowed to be aired in public and debated and refuted, or supported. I’m very wary when people want to remove the ability to discuss ideas.”
Will Smith knows about fighting against cancellation, of course. He approached Manson with an intention to show the world the unvarnished, “real Will” that was so long hidden behind what Smith admitted was a “PR project”. Over more than two years, they met in person all over the world, before Manson, following an outline he created based around different emotions, rattled off a complete first draft. Smith then went through it making changes and sprinkling Smithisms.
The resulting book was Will, which Oprah Winfrey called “the best memoir I’ve ever read”. It succeeded in its aim, with stories about Smith’s troubled childhood, open marriage and 14 ayahuasca trips – one of which caused him to envisage his career falling apart. Will had been out for about six months when “the slap” happened at the Oscars last year, which definitely showed the rest of us, but especially Chris Rock, a different side to Smith. Was Manson surprised?
“Surprised it happened? Yes. Surprised he was capable of that? No. But he grew up in a very violent environment, there is a whole chapter called ‘Violence.’ And there’s this other running theme in his life of protecting the women in his life. As the oldest child he always felt a duty to protect his mum, and he has that same thing with Jada and Willow,” he says.
“You can make fun of Will all day and he’d laugh, but as soon as you attack one of the women in his life, that’s his Achilles Heel. So in that sense I was like, ‘I see why this happened.’ That doesn’t make it OK. It’s an explanation, not an excuse.”
Successful as it was, he didn’t get the bug for ghost-writing. He wasn’t in the running for that other ayahuasca-laced soul-bearer, Spare, then? He laughs. “I would’ve taken the meeting, sure…”
Instead, Manson will just stay in build mode. Some kind of new media company, he hopes, but he’s sketchy on the details. F--ck it, really. All that matters to him is it's something new.
“You know, when the book blew up, I thought it might be my 15 minutes, so I might as well err on the side of saying yes to things. But the movie’s the last project from that. It’s over now. I’ve got open space in front of me.”
The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F-ck is available to stream on Amazon Prime now