Tomorrow, Terror House Press will release its 27th book: Welcome to Hell by “Bad” Billy Pratt, a trippy, hypnagogic meditation on modern dating, the nature of identity in our atomized society, and other topics. Known for his incisive essays and funny Tweets, Pratt’s debut book explores sexuality, authenticity, and more through both the lenses of his personal experiences and through his analyses of pop culture. Mencius Moldbugman, a contributor to Ending Bigly: The Many Fates of Donald Trump, describes Welcome to Hell as written “in the mold of Delicious Tacos midway through an existential crisis.” I recently sat down for an interview with Pratt to discuss his book, sexual sadism, social atomization, and other topics.
Matt Forney: You’ve been a fixture in this corner of the Internet for a while now thanks to your incisive essays and Tweets. What inspired you to write Welcome to Hell?
“Bad” Billy Pratt: I think like a lot of people’s first novels, or an artist’s first record, you spend a lifetime subconsciously writing your first draft and about six months bingeing stimulants and turning it all into a book. I think the true conception date for Welcome to Hell was getting slipped a tiny folded-up note in 11th grade by one of my friends in our second period theology class. This guy never looked like he fit in with our friend group; I mean, he looked like he was 25 in ninth grade. Looked good from a distance, but he was just as beta as the rest of my friends. No father, you know? But you can get away with that kind of shit in high school as long as you look good. He slips me this note telling me how I have nothing to worry about and that he wasn’t interested in screwing my girlfriend.
I had been dating her for about a month. And on the note, he tells me how she called him the night before her and I got together, to make sure he wasn’t interested. I mean, that was it! I was 16 and I was already thinking that it’s all bullshit! Your girl is only with you because she thinks it’s the best she can do, so I was very aware of that early on. That people come up with these elaborate stories as a kind of pleasant-sounding narrative glue, instead of saying something like, “well, I guess she’s cute, but I didn’t think I could do any better.”
MF: As a writer, you’re often compared to Delicious Tacos; in fact, one of the chapters in the book is titled “You’re Just Like Delicious Tacos.” What influence did Delicious Tacos have on your work and how do you see your book in relation to his?
BBP: I still remember the first Tacos piece I read, from a Cernovich re-Tweet in 2014. I was at the gym and had to take a minute to sit down. It was about how every woman with a dating profile is just nauseatingly positive; about how her life is perfect, and she’s loving every minute of it. Like her shitty office job, she feels this compulsion to talk about how much she loves her career. “I’m an assistant accounts billing manager and I’m loving it.” I hadn’t really read anyone who talked about dating honestly, with a sense of humor about it.
When I got home that night, I was clicking around his site and reading different posts, and what stood out to me was an essay about girls with herpes. I had just talked to a girl—on the phone, didn’t meet—who told me she had herpes and said everything Tacos had written about. Almost word for word! It was amazing! That I “probably already had it,” and that I’d “never get it” from her, anyway.
I knew at that point that I needed to push harder as a writer. Tacos is great because his writer’s voice is so strong and distinct. I think he achieves that by writing with no pretentions—he’s not posturing, he’s not trying to seem like this cool guy—you can tell immediately that, for better or worse, he’s being genuine. When you get to that point, as a writer, it doesn’t matter what you write about. Tacos writing about getting jerked off by massage girls is just as captivating as his clogged toilet or defrosting a turkey in his bathtub. The writing makes you invested in the person, not the subject.
I think Welcome to Hell reads like a funhouse mirror version of The Pussy. It’s about getting laid, but it’s gritty and distorted; there’s a sadness to it. Tacos is screwing barely legal teenage girls—and that’s great, God bless him—but I think there’s something very different about dating older women. When people start losing hope, or they foresee the end of the line—the true wall, a time when they’re not getting as much attention—that’s when things start to get ugly. It’s like rats on a sinking ship. You see the dark side of people, and it manifests in all different ways. I wouldn’t say they’re necessarily bad people, but desperation will bring out an ugly side of anyone, and that’s what I wanted to capture, that kind of ugly sadness.
MF: Reading or editing your book was a joy; your writing style has a clear headed and frank nature, reminding me of Richard Brautigan or Bradley Smith. Which writers and thinkers have had the biggest influence on your writing and ideas?
BBP: Reading Pynchon’s Inherent Vice had the biggest influence on me. Inherent Vice will never be as critically regarded as Gravity’s Rainbow or Mason and Dixon, but I consider it Pynchon’s best. With Inherent Vice, he was able to retain what makes reading Pynchon great—the depth of his writing, the rabbit hole of references and allusions, maddening stuff, but the kind of stuff that makes literature beautiful—while being enjoyable for someone who doesn’t care about any of that. You could have a great time reading Inherent Vice without getting it, without spending even a second thinking about any of it; it’s just enjoyable to read. But, if you want, the depth is there.
I wanted Welcome to Hell to emulate that approach. I think you could pick it up, read it through once, and have an enjoyable experience. But for the reader who wants to go further, I think there’s a lot of meat on the bone to explore. I wanted depth to the writing, but not depth that’s alienating, or meaning for the entire work contingent on obscure references, but if you’re the kind of person who likes that kind of thing, I think you’ll enjoy trying to figure out the different references. I think my book definitely rewards re-reading.
MF: Something I really liked about your book is how it effortlessly connects your personal experiences to broader pop cultural trends, allowing people to see the cultural context in which you made your various choices. In some ways, your work reminds me of Stefhen Bryan’s Black Passenger Yellow Cabs, which is a memoir of a Jamaican man’s experience teaching English in Japan (and sleeping with countless women) combined with his observations on post-WWII Japanese culture; like that book, Welcome to Hell transcends its narrative to become a more complete cultural critique. What inspired you to take this approach as opposed to simply writing a straightforward memoir or roman à clef?
BBP: A real turning point for my writing was including myself in the story. I never set out to write a memoir. I’m a pretty average guy who’s had pretty average experiences. I never would have thought anyone would care! I started from a place of cultural critique. Kill to Party, my blog, was not only inspired by Casey Anthony, but Jodi Arias, who killed the guy she was seeing when he wasn’t interested in getting serious with her. It wasn’t so much the crime, but the reaction to it; how people considered it a matter of two wrongs, both Jodi killing Travis but also Travis leading Jodi on. People would seriously group the two together! It was as if women could do no wrong or ever be held to a standard of responsibility. Lifetime did a very sympathetic movie on her with the title Dirty Little Secret which was more a reference to how Travis treated her rather than her murdering someone!
There was a guy around the same time who killed his parents to have a house party; could you imagine? We are hitting levels of frivolity not previously thought possible! So Kill to Party was started with the idea in mind to do cultural critique essays…but I couldn’t stop thinking about the different ways I related to all of this. Not that I’d ever kill anyone, but how frivolous and indulgent have I been? How much responsibility have I avoided? Petty decisions made? Time devoted to hedonistic bullshit?
We live in a sick society, and none of us are innocent. To act pious, that you’re above any of that, is dishonest. Who wants to read a dishonest writer?
MF: One of the overarching themes of Welcome to Hell is authenticity and society’s perception of it. In your essay analyzing The Cable Guy, you remark that “there is a decadence to this obsession with authenticity,” as people can no longer enjoy pop culture or even create it without having the appropriate “cred.” This fixation on authenticity spills over into personal relationships; as you and other writers have touched upon, women are resistant to “PUA” advice because they believe relationships should “just happen” and that a man who consciously changes his behavior to become more attractive is “inauthentic.” Where do you think this fixation on authenticity stems from?
BBP: I think religion existed, in part, to prevent people from becoming so self-obsessed. You know, humility before God. Anton LaVey, as much of a corny huckster as he was, was onto something with Satanism as the new religion when he wrote the Satanic Bible in 1966: the individual has replaced God. Add that kind of self-obsession to a capitalistic society, where pleasure-seeking has become the top priority, and of course we’re all suddenly jockeying for position in the social hierarchy.
When man is all that exists, we all compete to be the top man. And why wouldn’t you? Only the guys at the top are getting sex for free; everyone else is paying for it some way or another. Putting the work in, you know? Pedal boats and wineries. Marriage. “Game.” It’s all smoke and mirrors because you’re not the guy at the top of the hierarchy, the guy women throw themselves at.
Without God at the head of the table, women exist as sexual objects and men are slitting each other’s throats to get it. Calling someone’s authenticity into question is, more or less, trying to win the game by disqualification, or women disqualifying men from competing at all. Could you imagine, a hundred years ago, taking a smoke break in the coal mine and caring about any of this shit?
MF: One of the many topics you bring up in the book is the natures of Generation X and the millennials; in “Underachievers,” you examine GenX’s fixation on being “cool” and their ”slacker” nature, while in “Elizabeth Warren and the Death of MTV,” you describe how millennials can’t relate to aspirational figures worthy of admiration and prefer to take their cues from “admirable loser[s].” The Fourth Turning posits that the differences between generations are a product of the societies in which they were raised. Generation X, which the books call the “Nomad Generation,” grew up with one foot in a stable society and one in a decaying world, while millennials, the “Hero Generation,” grew up in a world that was already ruined. GenX pessimism and defensive irony. How much of GenX’s nihilism and cynicism do you believe stems from their upbringing in a fragmented society, and do you have any other thoughts on GenX, millennials, or zoomers (aka late millennials; sorry, kids) and their beliefs, behavioral patterns, and way of viewing the world?
BBP: While it’s fun watching the world burn through the lens of generational differences, the big picture is the increasing leftward momentum stemming from Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation. Mass media turned up the pressure tenfold, kind of hacking the brain’s subconscious urge to fit in socially as a means of survival. Instead of picking up on the basic etiquette of polite society—hello, how are you? please and thank you—you have an increasingly rigid set of beliefs to signal in order to gain social approval. That’s all anyone wants, and I get it. People aren’t willing to become social lepers for the sake of truth. I mean, autism is a funny Internet meme, but it’s true that only autists aren’t willing to go along with the modern bullshit. They physically can’t. Their brains won’t allow it.
But most people aren’t going to care; they’re going to go with whatever the current set of social guidelines exist and that’s it. Comparing the generations is taking a look at how that programming is being updated. Generation X was ultimately transitional, and they’ll be forgotten. The boomer’s legacy was anti-racism, and the millennial was about intense promiscuity; homosexuality, strongly anti-marriage, the emergence of truly bizarre sexual fetishes’. And here we are, right? People thinking the zoomer will be an exception to the rule are out of touch with the bigger picture. They will be the most militant of all; the most sexually dysfunctional, the lowest birth rates, the most cities destroyed. They will be the ones to truly end history.
MF: Much of Welcome to Hell is dedicated to your relationships with women over the years. Early in the book, you express regret at not marrying young; that was something I related to because I was in a similar situation when I was in college. A common misconception among “manosphere” types is that men can play the field indefinitely, but the problem is that serial dating leaves its scars on men as well as women; cynicism, baggage, and changing mores in the sexual marketplace weigh a man down over the years. Delicious Tacos’ The Pussy is framed around the same notion. Do you think it’s possible for a man in this situation to shake off his cynicism and get married (assuming he finds a good woman, of course)?
BBP: Maybe. I think people need to marry young. Marry young and stay married. You get too old, and suddenly, there’s too much second-guessing. Thinking, is this really the best I could do? Is this how I want to cash my chips in? Then again, in our toxic world, people think that anyway. But it’s too easy to live on the Internet and not think people still are able to get married and stay married. They are; they do. Maybe we’re the fucked-up rejects after all?
MF: An interesting takeaway I got from your book is how casual sex leads a man to enjoy degrading or humiliating women more than actually having sex with them. There’s a certain frisson to forcing a girl to repeat “I’m just a filthy fucking whore” during foreplay that’s more thrilling than banging her, and a lot of extreme sexual acts are less about pleasure and more about humiliating the woman in some fashion. The appeal of anal sex was that it was forbidden and potentially painful for the woman; threesomes have an undercurrent of forcing your girl to share you in bed. I’ve even joked in the past that men want big dicks not to please women, but to hurt them. What are your thoughts on this? Do you believe this dynamic is inherent to relationships between men and women or is it fueled by the dysfunctional nature of modern dating?
BBP: I think an antagonistic dynamic is inherent to sexuality, but like everything in modern society, it’s turned up to ten. Every sexual relationship you’ve had is competing with pornography, whether you still watch porn or not. The expectation it sets is that sex and sexuality need to be the bulk of a relationship and exist to fulfill the extreme end of pleasure seeking. Modern marriage, as defined by love is love, sets the expectation that passion—what was once a byproduct in the process of procreation—should be at the forefront of any relationship. “Once the passion goes, that’s when you know to end things,” is the modern thinking. A dead bedroom was once the natural evolution of a marriage, but now it’s meant to be some indicator of a toxic relationship. Kind of ridiculous.
But everything starts with antagonism. It’s all an extension of pulling pigtails on the playground. Teasing a girl is natural. Men like to exert dominance. Men get off on ownership, even if it’s only temporary. I think men have a subconscious understanding that a woman will only respect you—truly respect you—if she thinks you’re the best she could do; the most valuable male. The extreme end of dominance ends up dysfunctional: humiliating a girl just to feel respected by her.
What’s the other end of that? The cuck. Knowing he’ll never be respected by his woman, he goes in the complete opposite direction, getting off on watching her with a man she actually respects, the guy with the bigger dick.
MF: Do you have any advice for young men seeking to navigate the hell (heh) of modern society?
BBP: I do, but they won’t want to hear it. A friend who managed to get married—a good guy; Catholic, you probably follow him on Twitter—gave me a bit of advice the other day that hit me hard. If you want to meet a nice girl and have a healthy relationship, you need to stop trying to get laid. You know, stop going on dates with the idea to get the girl in bed. This will be a long, painful process with a lot of wasted time. I think about any time I’ve tried to have a genuine conversation with a woman I just met. And you know how that goes: she loses attraction, you never screw her, and she’s onto the next guy who will play the game. You kick yourself for missed opportunities and learn to stop having genuine conversations! But, trying to get laid, you’ll never meet a nice girl, and that’s the truth. Is anyone going to take that advice? Am I going to take that advice? Well…welcome to Hell.
MF: Finally, do you have any other books or big projects planned for the future?
BBP: For years, I had wondered what my first book would look like. I had all these hacky ideas; total shit. And I’m glad I didn’t pursue any of them, because Welcome to Hell is exactly what my first book should be; I think it’s perfect, I think people are gonna love it. But finishing your first book is like passing through a wall of fire; it takes forever, but you learn a lot about who you are as a writer, especially when you’re reading your own manuscript hundreds of times during editing. Now I have all these ideas for what should come next and a very clear vision of what they should look like and how to bring them to fruition. It’s exciting! I want to do a follow-up to Welcome to Hell, a kind of Master of Puppets to Metallica’s Ride the Lightning; I want to take the style I developed for Welcome to Hell and perfect it, bring it to its logical end. I want to get my hands dirty with fiction; I think the challenge there is to balance my style while telling a larger story. But that’s gonna take a while the project I want to work on next, I might as well announce here.
Inspired by Terror House’s Ending Bigly, I’d like to edit a collection of essays from our sphere’s best writers, examining the positives and negatives of all things pop culture. I think back to the movies coming out of Hollywood from the early 1930’s and the messaging was so wholesome; I mean, The Wizard of Oz was about gratitude, appreciating what you already have as a way to cope with the Great Depression. Those Universal Monster movies all had very practical messages; as a male, don’t be dominated by your sex drive, was the lesson from The Wolfman; Dracula was advice for women to stay away from the cad player who will use you and leave you dead inside. Both certainly applicable today, probably far more than they were then! There are other examples of positive, masculine, and esoteric pop culture artifacts that definitely warrant a deep examination.
Today’s pop culture—movies, TV, music—is the polar opposite. All social programming and propaganda. When did this switchover happen? What is our popular culture really telling us now? Does anything positive slip through? And what about the stuff that’s somewhere in the middle; the nostalgic stuff we fondly remember, but is ultimately bad for us? I think all of this stuff is really interesting to explore at length, and I know a bunch of our guys would love to be given a platform to do so.
MF: Thank you for your time.