Saturday, October 9, 2010

Monster: The American Psycho Story

"Oh, you're reading that?" is the answer I response I got when a lady asked what I was reading.  I was working in the Eureka, CA Pleasure Center, and she had stepped in to buy who knows what (probably a Pocket Rocket).  She asked what I was reading, and I held up the cover for her to see.  It took a moment because, as you can see here, the title is kind of broken up, and Ellis' name is the same size and in the same font as the title.

Her reaction to my reading of American Psycho told me two things: she had heard of the book and she had never read it.  Yes it is a nasty affair full of sordid images and dastardly deeds.  It is not, however, a full-on misogynistic how-to manual for dealing with women.  The look on her face told me she believed otherwise.

What she, and many others missed, is that like Fight Club, American Psycho isn't primarily about the violence.  It is about consumer culture and what it does to us.  Ellis' yuppie serial killer cannibal Patrick Bateman has all those things that are supposed to make us "happy."  Money.  Women.  Expensive toys.  A good job that he doesn't even need.  Yet he feels isolated and wants nothing more than to fit in.  Towards the end of the book he is losing touch with reality at such an alarming rate that readers can't even tell if the crimes he committed are real (again, much like Fight Club).  It's not a novel about killing women.  It's a novel about culture killing us.

Despite that, controversy lives on.  Some countries only allow it to be sold if it is shrink-wrapped, and only then if you are 18 or older.  (Hell, I want teens to read this.  By the time they reach adulthood the sticky rapist hands of consumer culture are already firmly around their throats.)  Some continue to say Ellis hates women.  I think a far more simple truth, and one that is more disturbing, is that Ellis, when writing this, hated himself and what he was becoming.  He has alluded to that in interviews.  If we accept that answer, though, we have to start seeing all those trappings in ourselves, and that is a very uncomfortable position to be in.  Does that make us just as insane as Bateman?  No.  Bateman is exaggerated for effect.  It does make us understand him better, though, and that is one thing people really hate doing -- understanding the monster.  Once you understand them a bit better, you stop hating them as much.

Bateman wanted to relate to people, but had no idea how to do it, and he ended up killing them (maybe) and doing all sorts of awful tortures.  By destroying them, he was destroying the things he hated about himself in an effort to finally get to that oft-praised plane of self-actualization that is essential to personal happiness.  He was too ill-suited to reach that, however, and went mad (or was mad the entire time).

The end result is not an attack on women but an attack on our current value system.  It's no wonder certain people ignored that and went for the obvious.  We have become so attached to this thing called consumer culture that we can't even recognize valid criticisms of it.  Or we are scared that by recognizing them we question our own existence.  Either way, the attacks on Ellis' work were unwarranted and misguided at best.  At worst they were hypocritical and juvenile.  Peter Sotos he ain't.