I first found my way to the work of Bret Easton Ellis when I was about 18. As I often did and still do, I was in my local library judging books by their cover and came across ELLI on the shelf. I still remember the pale blue paperback cover I pulled out featuring a bad 80s looking design of a boy looking out over a highway. This was Less Than Zero.
Along with getting into the films of Michael Haneke, the work of Ellis started a dialogue in my head early on. As time passed and I read more, the discussion concluded that violence wasn’t necessarily about guns, knives and fists. It was actually more about my everyday than I could articulate at the time. That is, until I finally opened up American Psycho. That’s when all the pieces fit together and my brain played out a montage of pupils dilating and atomic bombs dropping. I was 22 by that time and working til ungodly hours in the cloakroom of a club. I used to bring books with me to pass the time and American Psycho was easily the worst choice. It’s not a book to read for long lengths of time and especially when the alternative is watching or interacting with drunk and partied out clubbers. One night I witnessed two men being separated by security and one was brought into the cloakroom. Blood was splattered on his white shirt and he informed me the other male had stabbed him.
And that’s the weird thing about the violence in American Psycho. It’s not fueled by red-blooded anger, but rather that inner psychotic anger that passively chills. The kind that introverts your understanding that other people have been wounded in life too. The violence that American Psycho opened my eyes to was the violence of exclusion and particularly the violence of entitlement. Which is why I was affected by American Psycho as a satire of all that, as much as I dropped the book in fear. I am a psycho and so is the entire fucking society I interact with.
The character of Patrick Bateman believes in social status and pursues it with a dedication that both excites and disgusts him. It’s easy and it also eludes him at times. Killing is really the only thing he is in control of. To feel entitled yet never get any physical or mental satisfaction from it would be maddening indeed. It has to be forced, and violent examples of this continue in both tiny and gross amounts. Like when you’re trying to have a conversation with someone but they’ve got one eye on the event photographer, or when a guy tells you he’s had multiple threesomes when you’re pretty sure he’s just had multiple bad tabs of acid. Maybe nakedness was involved, and maybe you were seen at that cool new gallery, but there’s also something undeniably dull in it all too. Which is why the stories have to be coloured with ‘sluts’ and ‘so many free drinks’ to even make them remotely interesting. Yet they’re acceptable and signs of status in our culture; illicit incidents, guestlists, followers, connections.
When I bring up American Psycho, most of the time I’ll get the same response from those who have read it – ‘Just pages of descriptions of Bateman’s clothes and where he eats’. Well, did anyone ever think that’s all they talk about too? It’s actually one of the creepiest parts of the book, because Bateman’s clothing often didn’t piece together. Lots of logos but pinstripes and Pucci don’t exactly match.
It amuses me to think of the way some guys dress now that is so similar. Like beanies and t-shirts on a warm day, or bucket hats and Kathmandu windbreakers – implying adventure and travel but actually equaling a two-week break to New York for a Supreme tee and credit card debt. You’re only in safe company with these types if you look good smoking weed on their blog.
A lot of males idolise the Patrick Bateman character. Which is lame, because hiding under his privilege, Bateman is a total loser. He doesn’t even know how to cook. Something he realises after trying to fry the remains of a woman he’s killed. Christian Bale is a babe but the real Patrick Bateman is barely a human being. He’s just perfected the façade, so it’s interesting that so many males connect with that, even the one that’s on t-shirts and posters covered in blood. Bateman isn’t a protestor or even a scorned lover to motivate his murders, he’s just never had to do anything to achieve what he has and he wants everyone to feel as empty as he is. Which could be the best active definition of Psycho: being stuck unable to act genuinely for the image you need to project. It’s subtle because hipsters aren’t exactly murdering each other, but we all have those moments of trying to work out the formula. This diet will equal that many extra dates, or these shoes are that much newer than your friends or this rapper only rhymes about cough syrup and his bitches so being a fan shows that you’re down to fuck and not really wanting more from someone. Inevitably though, you become disconnected from any kind of engaging life because waiting on good capital for your social/mental investment never banks in your favour.
It’s so easy to grow bitter, because we know we’re about more than that right?
I wonder sometimes what generation fell for the pyramid scheme we’re all now in debt to and why it’s so hard to sell our real selves. I’m creeping myself out now though because I know that Bateman would be able to give me the answer. He’d give a perfect answer and we’d both know that it wouldn’t mean anything. Entitlement, even in the smallest doses, enables you to be aware of everything but tricks you into doing nothing. Share news stories, become enlightened and find a partner to live ‘this life of sin’. Then sit across from each other at Dorsia and scroll through instagram, looking for what you can copy and paste.
Words by Hannah Joyner
Artwork by Ben Frost