Book Reviews / social issues

American Psycho and the 2016 Electi0n

My copy of American Psycho is well-worn; the pages are full of underlines and marred by wine stains*. It is a nasty book, but a great one–and very relevant in 2016. Patrick Bateman is a materialist narcissist. Bateman and those in his orbit are all about wrapping paper and not what lies underneath. They are superficial by design. The brand names and digressions about styling products can get numbing but that seems the intention. Bret Easton Ellis perfectly satires the late 1980s and I feel that his third novel is his finest work. I miss that decade, to be honest. It’s not just because I was young and had a full head of hair and an unscarred heart–life wasn’t as brutal then, at least not in the United States. There was still innocence and optimism**. People didn’t seem so desensitized to violence and other acts of cruelty or at least capriciousness. Back in 1991, Patrick Bateman was a monster. In 2016, however, he’d probably have a huge following if he–for example–ran for political office. He’d take the stage with an aura of expensive cologne and push our buttons: Your suffering is not your fault. Some would say the problems of this country are complicated but I say it is very simple–it’s those people. If we make them go away all of your suffering will end and this will be a happy land full of cheeseburgers and unicorns.

I remember when the film came out. I thought it was brilliant and was the only one who laughed in the theatre. I felt safe in laughing because I believed that the narrative was all Bateman’s imagination–none of those horrible acts against women or bums were committed; no cats were fed into ATM machines. Was I still wrong in laughing? I’m not sure. Part of me recoils at how politically correct things have become, a larger part understands that certain groups of people have always been harassed and that needs to stop including jokes at their expense. We live in challenging times. It’s not just Trump, it’s not just Clinton, it’s much bigger than two people. Few things are more dangerous than believing complex issues have simple solutions. This situation isn’t isolated in the United States: Look at Brexit. Look at the aftermath of the shootings in Paris. It’s happening all over the world.

This is not a political blog. I am a writer and this is about a favorite book of mine. One reason I treasure American Psycho is because it transcends the time it was written about. The story and the characters fit in 1987 as they would fit in 1780s France or the 2016 elections or the Gilded Age of the late nineteenth century.

I’m the devil and I’m just like you.*

Patrick Bateman is drawn into Bono’s charisma and imagines the Irish singer sending him that message: I am just like you. I feel your pain. I will pass my power to you and we can make things right again.

It will never be that simple, but we can daydream–just like Patrick Bateman when he imagines murdering all the pain and anxiety in his life. Maybe secretly I feel empathy for Patrick Bateman because he is just a sad little man too scared to face real life. He understands that he is an empty suit and only has his job because his father gave it to him. We see him as the devil but he’s just like us.

This is an exit.

*I really enjoy, and can quote verbatim, when Bateman goes to a U2 concert and imagines that Bono is communicating with him. Also, I am quoting from the book and acknowledging all copyrights.

** Okay, I grew up north of San Francisco which is a safe and beautiful place. I wasn’t in the slums of Philadelphia or the rural poverty of Mississippi.

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