American Psycho is one of the most notorious books and films of the 90s and with good reason due to its horrific depictions of sex and murder.
Its author Bret Easton Ellis has never revisited the character of Patrick Bateman in any of his novels since – except a deliberately misleading appearance in the mock memoir Lunar Park, probably because he doesn’t want to tarnish his legacy. But, because it was the 25th anniversary of the publication of the book yesterday, he was asked what he thought Bateman would be up to now – or more specifically if Bateman was written in the decades proceeding the novel’s publication – and provided the following tidbit of information:
For a while during the mid- to late ’90s–at the height of the dotcom bubble, when Manhattan seemed even more absurdly decadent than it did in 1987, before Black Monday–it was a possibility that Bateman, if the book had been moved up a decade, would have been the founder of a number of dotcoms.
He would have partied in Tribeca and the Hamptons, indistinguishable from the young and handsome boy wonders who were populating the scene then, with their millions of nonexistent dollars, dancing unknowingly on the edge of an implosion that happened mercilessly, wiping out the playing field, correcting scores.
While twirling through that decade myself as a youngish man, I often thought that this was a time Bateman could have also thrived in, especially with the advent of new technologies that could have aided him in his ghoulish obsession with murder, execution, and torture–and in ways to record them.
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And sometimes I think that if I had written the book in the past decade, perhaps Bateman would have been working in Silicon Valley, living in Cupertino with excursions into San Francisco or down to Big Sur to the Post Ranch Inn and palling around with Zuckerberg and dining at the French Laundry, or lunching with Reed Hastings at Manresa in Los Gatos, wearing a Yeezy hoodie and teasing girls on Tinder.
Certainly he could also just as easily be a hedge-funder in New York: Patrick Bateman begets Bill Ackman and Daniel Loeb.
So yeah, he’s pretty much exactly the same character as he was back then – it seems like the themes that define him are universal throughout the current spectre of American life. Indeed, Ellis himself expands on this point later in his essay for Town And Country:
The rage I felt over what was being extolled as success, what was expected from me and all male members of Gen X–millions of dollars and six-pack abs–I poured into the fictional creation of Patrick Bateman, who in many ways was the worst fantasy of myself, the nightmare me, someone I loathed but also found in his helpless floundering sympathetic as often as not. And he was completely correct in his criticism of the society he was a part of. American Psycho was about what it meant to be a person in a society you disagreed with and what happens when you attempt to accept its values and live with them even if you know they’re wrong. Well, insanity creeps in and overwhelms; delusion and anxiety are the focal points.
In other words, this is the outcome of chasing the American dream. Isolation, alienation, the consumerist void increasingly in thrall to technology, corporate corruption–all the themes of the book still hold sway three decades later. We are in a time when the one percent are richer than any human has been before, an era when a jet is the new car and million-dollar rents are the reality. New York today is American Psycho on steroids. And despite the idea of interconnectivity via the internet and social media, many people feel more isolated than ever, increasingly aware that the idea of interconnectivity is an illusion. Especially when you’re sitting by yourself in a room staring at a glowing screen while having access to the intimacies of countless other lives, which is an idea that mirrors Patrick Bateman’s loneliness and alienation, everything is available to him and yet an insatiable emptiness remains. This mirrored my own feelings during those years in the apartment on East 13th Street I was living in as the ’80s came to an end.
In the period when the novel takes place Bateman is a member of the as yet unnamed one percent, and he would probably still be now. But would Patrick Bateman actually be living somewhere else, and would his interests be any different? Would better criminology forensics (not to mention Big Brother cameras on virtually every corner) allow him to get away with the murders he tells the reader he committed, or would his need to express his rage take other forms? For example, would he be using social media–as a troll using fake avatars? Would he have a Twitter account bragging about his accomplishments? Would he be using Instagram, showcasing his wealth, his abs, his potential victims? Possibly. There was the possibility to hide during Patrick’s ’80s reign that there simply isn’t now; we live in a fully exhibitionistic culture. Because he wasn’t a character to me as much as an emblem, an idea, I would probably approach him the same way now and address his greatest fear: Would anyone be paying any attention to him?
One of the things that upsets Patrick is that, because of a kind of corporate lifestyle conformity, no one can really tell the other people apart (and what difference does it make, the novel asks). People are so lost in their narcissism that they are unable to distinguish one individual from another (this is why Patrick gets away with his crimes), which ties into how few things have really changed in American life since the late ’80s; they’ve just become more exaggerated and accepted. The idea of Patrick’s obsession with himself, with his likes and dislikes and his detailing–curating–everything he owns, wears, eats, and watches, has certainly reached a new apotheosis. In many ways the text of American Psycho is one man’s ultimate series of selfies.
Deep, but pretty much spot on in its analysis of modern life and a Patrick Bateman esque character’s role within it. Let’s hope such a character forms the basis of Bret’s next book, which surely must be due out soon? I suppose that’s if he ever finishes his TV show with Rob Zombie first though.