When "Malcolm powder" gets in your eyes

The Daily Beast says "Outliers" author Gladwell is an inspiration to aspiring Casanovas, whether he likes it or not

By Kate Harding
Published September 14, 2009 7:15PM (EDT)

Today in "I Can't Believe This Got Published": Sean Macaulay examines "Outliers" author Malcolm Gladwell's love life at the Daily Beast.

[B]estselling author Malcolm Gladwell has dissected many inspirational underdog victories, but his own triumph over the opposite sex could well be the most inspirational of all. Since moving to New York in 1996, he's cast his net wide and deep to amass a staggering tally of conquests. There's been the poetess, the psychotherapist, the photographer, the filmmaker, the fact checker, the writer at The New Yorker, the bisexual literary siren.... And these are seriously attractive women, too.

To quote both the inimitable Shark-Fu and one of Gladwell's bestsellers: Blink. How, exactly, is this a "triumph over the opposite sex"? Well, Gladwell's nerdy. Ergo, being seen in public with beautiful women makes him, in Macaulay's words, "his own outlier, a statistical anomaly too great to ignore." And this, apparently, translates to having bested womankind.

Confused? So is Gladwell. "This is utterly ridiculous. I mean, I don't know you. How would you know such things?" he says, when Macaulay reaches him by phone. "I write books. I'm a private person ... No, no -- I don't think I want to participate in this at all." But that doesn't stop the intrepid Macaulay from digging to the bottom of this very important topic. Over two pages, he recounts gossip about Gladwell's dating life, theorizes about the writer's apparent transformation from weird kid to hip famous dude, and informs us that Gladwell's "Friends have a phrase for the bachelor maestro's pixie-dust magic: They call it having 'Malcolm powder' sprinkled in your eyes." Yikes. However fabulous Gladwell's love life is or is not, I'm thinking maybe he needs some new friends.

I'm trying to figure out what on earth would possess Macaulay to go ahead with this piece, even after Gladwell told him in no uncertain terms to piss right off (albeit more politely than that). Realistically, I don't know any more about Sean Macaulay's motives than either of us knows about Malcolm Gladwell's love life; it might all have been an excuse to use the phrase "The Schtupping Point." But I will say the whole thing reads like a slightly more sophisticated twist on a bog standard Askmen.com article about those dratted beautiful women, forever rejecting the "nice guys" of the world, unless said guys are A) wealthy, or B) equipped with special, secret, woman-dazzling skills (Malcolm powder?) that they in turn have an obligation to share with less romantically talented schlubs.

"He seemed so comfortable in his own skin, so authentic. He had this eerie feline self-assurance, and it was hypnotic," Macaulay writes of an encounter someone -- he doesn't say whom -- witnessed between Gladwell and a woman, eight years ago. "Forty minutes later, they were back at his place." What? How? Teach us, O Great One! Then, while on the phone with Gladwell, Macaulay offers his theory that the author's "success with women was a tribute to the fact that he embodied his own principles for late bloomers (10,000 hours of practice minimum!); that he gave hope to lovelorn dweebs everywhere." You already know how Gladwell responded, but hey, who cares? It's still a fresh -- if bizarre and invasive -- hook for a tired old story: Nerds can totally get hot chicks, if only they... something something.

Here's some better advice for the lovelorn: Nerds can totally get hot chicks if they bring something to the table -- like, say, a willingness to engage with women as individuals, rather than seeing them as an alien race to be conquered with magic seduction techniques. I have no idea whom Malcolm Gladwell is dating or how well it's going, but I can pinpoint one quality about him that many fine people would find highly attractive: He had zero patience for Macaulay's "love guru" bullshit. Learn from the master, guys. 

Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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