YouTube pickup artists coming to UC Berkeley generate controversy

The announcement that a group of self-proclaimed pickup artists will be performing live at UC Berkeley has generated controversy among concerned students and staff, who have expressed anger and disgust at what they perceive as the group’s message.

The group “Simple Pickup” intends to hold its first live performance on campus March 8 in Wheeler Auditorium. The group initially gained acclaim from YouTube videos it posted that show shy men how to be confident, as well as the members’ ability to “pick up” and talk to women, according campus graduate Jimmy Chen, an organizer with VentureChimp, the group putting on the event.

According to Chen, the purpose of the videos is to teach men to be confident and to be considered attractive by women and the social world.

“You always see there are people who are afraid to raise their hands in class because they are scared they will be wrong or  be judged,” Chen said. “I am sure a lot of guys feel the same way about approaching beautiful women.”

The videos — which went viral — show the three pickup artists approaching women on the street and asking for their phone numbers in what Chen describes as “a humorous and outlandish fashion.”

However, Billy Curtis, the director of the campus Gender Equity Resource Center, said that the content of the group’s videos is offensive. He added that he is encouraged that students are planning on speaking out against the content of the videos.

“In one of the videos, one of the men kissed a woman without her permission,” Curtis said. “It was sexual battery, and I will say it to their faces. In another clip, one of the men says to a Latina or Chicana woman, ‘You must make a mean pink taco,’ and that is disgusting and it pissed me off.”

According to Antmen Mendoza, an intern at the center, the message being portrayed by the videos is “problematic” and “perpetuates street violence (and) harassment.” Mendoza added that the center and other campus groups are working together to respond to the event.

“We realize that education about sexual violence and rape culture is the response that is needed to create a space for dialogue for people who are not okay with what is being advocated in these videos,” Mendoza said.

While the videos have generated considerable controversy, Chen maintains that the purpose of the videos is not to offend.

“People see the videos and think that it is vulgar, but it is meant to attract college students — the purpose is not to insult or offend but to inspire guys and change how they view the world and people in general,” Chen said.

Ian Norris, a campus electrical engineering and computer sciences major, said he understands having an introverted personality but added that there is a difference between being confident and ignoring other people’s boundaries.

“That’s when you get into sexual harassment and violence,” he said.

Despite the contention surrounding the videos, according to UC Berkeley School of Law professor Jesse Choper, the content is protected by the First Amendment.

According to Choper, it would be an “uphill battle” to prove that using pickup lines in public constitutes harassment .

“If you see a murder in a movie, there is a long distance between someone who would watch it for entertainment and someone who would act out on it,” he said when asked if he thought the videos might lead to an increase in harassment.