American Psycho * Bret Easton Ellis – 1991

Because I read Dexter recently, and it’s the scariest month in the year, I decided to pick a book from my bookshelf which I’ve been avoiding for quite some time – an all-time American Classic, banned from the publisher for extreme violence and torture scenes – eventually allowed and then made into a movie.

Disintegration—I’m taking it in stride

This is the story of Patrick Bateman (remember Bateman – the original Psycho – that killed women inside a shower with his dead mother in the other room?). Patrick Bateman narrates this story and as we slip into the book, we slip into his skin. His perfect, flawless, 26-year-old skin. Patrick is a psychopath. Patrick just wants to fit in. But Patrick can’t as he also has a Dark Passenger – one that drives him to murder and sadistically torture people.

Personality profile. Is he a psychopath?

If he were to be properly psychoanalyzed, he would be deemed as suffering from “Borderline Personality disorder” because of the insecure attachments he has in his life – his relationship with his fiancee being one of them. He is also very aggressive – both verbally and physically. And he also believes that he has a destiny to fulfill. He is defined by his work (he keeps telling people that he works at Pearce and Pearce and he is a brand addict, being obsessive what he wears, what other wear, how others see that he is wearing what he is wearing. I know – self-absorbed 21st century Kanye West 🙂

The novel American Psycho openly satirizes the shallow, smug consumer lifestyle of its era—it’s specifically rooted in the materialism and accompanying frustration that Ellis was seeing in his own life when he wrote the book in the 1980s. In those scenes where Bateman goes on about his skin products, his workout regimen, his expensive Cerruti sheets, his “decent table” at Espace, his “Valentino suits and Oliver Peoples glasses,” and so forth, he’s revealing how products, and brand-based prestige define his life.

He is also very impulsive & reckless, deciding on the spur of the moment that he wants to kill Owen – who had a better account at work, who had better business cards, who was blazĂ© about the restaurant he could not get reservations to, who bested him.

This is a society of people entirely distinguished by the things they purchase and present to represent themselves, and it’s never possible to be rich enough or to buy enough things, because someone else is always coming along with a newly purchased card, now on a thicker cardstock, or with an unavailable-until-now watermark. The standards for what’s trendy are always shifting (“Nobody goes there anymore,” Bateman sneers about the restaurant that’s so in-demand, he can’t get a reservation there), and it’s impossible to keep up, which makes the whole pursuit of quality through ownership impossible and empty. As Bateman keeps saying, he has physical presence but doesn’t really exist himself. That’s because he’s an amalgam of purchased products, none of which ultimately mean anything.

Bateman also suffers from “Shizotypal behavior” – showing attention to detail and repetition, uses vocabulary and speech comparable to unemotional, non-personal reports.

He also shows signs of “Histrionic personality disorder“: attention seeking – his need for attention from his co workers, fiancee etc, high sensitivity to criticism and praise – the business card scene, rapid emotional change – his outbursts at perceived insults, risky behavior – dragging a body through the lobby?

Psychopathy is a personality disorder that has been variously described as characterized by shallow emotions (in particular reduced fear), stress tolerance, lacking empathy, coldheartedness, lacking guilt, egocentricity, superficial charm, manipulativeness, irresponsibility, nonplanfulness, impulsivity, and antisocial behaviors such as parasitic lifestyle and criminality.

He fits more into Anti social personality disorder than a psychopath:

  • No social norms
  • deception and lying
  • impulsiveness
  • irritability and aggressiveness
  • reckless disregard for safety
  • lack of remorse

He also exhibits sadistic violence, while lacking the self – injury behavior typical in many of these disorders. So text book psychopath? Yes.

In reality though, a person displays multiple traits and disorders across the spectrum and cannot be put under just one category. Serial killers in real life are highly manipulative, intelligent and diagnosis is mostly be self admission than observed behavior. But by Bateman’s portrayal in the book and the movie, he fits under all the categories described above to various degrees. As I pointed out before, nothing is black and white in diagnosis of a person displaying so many characteristics.


Is he a product of society?

 

“Where there was nature and earth, life and water, I saw a desert landscape that was unending, resembling some sort of crater, so devoid of reason and light and spirit that the mind could not grasp it on any sort of conscious level and if you came close the mind would reel backward, unable to take it in. It was a vision so clear and real and vital to me that in its purity it was almost abstract.

This was what I could understand, this was how I lived my life, what I constructed my movement around, how I dealt with the tangible. This was the geography around which my reality revolved: it did not occur to me, ever, that people were good or that a man was capable of change or that the world could be a better place through one’s own taking pleasure in a feeling or a look or a gesture, of receiving another person’s love or kindness. Nothing was affirmative, the term “generosity of spirit” applied to nothing, was a cliche, was some kind of bad joke.

Sex is mathematics. Individuality no longer an issue. What does intelligence signify? Define reason. Desire- meaningless. Intellect is not a cure. Justice is dead. Fear, recrimination, innocence, sympathy, guilt, waste, failure, grief, were things, emotions, that no one really felt anymore. Reflection is useless, the world is senseless. Evil is its only permanence. God is not alive. Love cannot be trusted. Surface, surface, surface, was all that anyone found meaning in…this was civilization as I saw it, colossal and jagged…”

I think he is. He is a product of a society who values masculine aggression, and the victim of consumerism. The book makes fine satirical hash over Bateman and company’s petty oneupmanship, but it’s all an extreme version of a common phenomenon: We’re not Vikings, we’re “civilized,” and in lieu of settling beefs with swords and fists, it comes out in another form. The book sometimes sounds banal and boring, like eavesdropping on a bunch of strangers trying to make polite conversation without listening to each other; it’s all name-dropping and food orders, dull social planning and business-world repetition. It’s why he feels so empty and why he likes the body double. He’s not him and if he’s not him, why not be someone else, the worse that he can be?

 

I stare into a thin, web-like crack above the urinal’s handle and think to myself that if I were to disappear into that crack, say somehow miniaturize and slip into it, the odds are good that no one would notice I was gone. No… one… would… care. In fact some, if they noticed my absence, might feel an odd, indefinable sense of relief. This is true: the world is better off with some people gone. Our lives are not all interconnected. That theory is crock. Some people truly do not need to be here.

“…there is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity, something illusory, and though I can hide my cold gaze and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable: I simply am not there. It is hard for me to make sense on any given level. Myself is fabricated, an aberration. I am a noncontingent human being. My personality is sketchy and unformed, my heartlessness goes deep and is persistent. My conscience, my pity, my hopes disappeared a long time ago (probably at Harvard) if they ever did exist. There are no more barriers to cross. All I have in common with the uncontrollable and the insane, the vicious and the evil, all the mayhem I have caused and my utter indifference toward it, I have now surpassed. I still, though, hold on to one single bleak truth: no one is safe, nothing is redeemed.

Yet I am blameless. Each model of human behavior must be assumed to have some validity.

Is evil something you are? Or is it something you do? My pain is constant and sharp and I do not hope for a better world for anyone. In fact, I want my pain to be inflicted on others. I want no one to escape. But even after admitting this—and I have countless times, in just about every act I’ve committed—and coming face-to-face with these truths, there is no catharsis. I gain no deeper knowledge about myself, no new understanding can be extracted from my telling. There has been no reason for me to tell you any of this. This confession has meant nothing….”

What I liked about the book

The book has been deemed as misogynistic and there is a lot of abuse towards women. While the torture of the prostitutes, the flesh hacking and the coathanger scene left me slightly nauseous, I realize the intent of the author was to shock and show the true vileness of this man.

BUT, and I say BUT – the women in the book are terrible! They are presented as shallow gold-diggers, ready to drop plans to see a band just to go to a new and exclusive restaurant – after they initially cancelled the date. Bateman calls them Restaurant Whores and he’s right. They would do anything to eat at the most expensive place.  They wear expensive clothes and eat expensive salads and drink expensive water. They spent some time listing out bottled water brands.

When a couple breaks up, his fiance exclaims: “How sad – they had that lovely place in the Hamptons!”. It wasn’t a cry for a lost relationship, it was a cry for the lost property. Also Evelyn wants to marry Patrick – even though she does not love him or is loved by him – just to throw a wedding, to invite people, to get recognized. It made me think of that Black Mirror episode where people are ranked from best to worst based on Social Media Likes.

I also liked the lists and lists of possessions a man has – from the perfume to the trousers, turtlenecks, suits. It’s a materialistic approach in trying to fit in with the rest; and how many of us didn’t purchase things to fit in? Or worried and agonized that the things we are wearing would make us outcasts? It feels like an overly accurate description of High School.

I also had to laugh (bad chuckle) at the way the homeless people are treated throughout the story. The guys get a quarter or bills burned in their faces while they are spending 450$ on a lunch. It reminded me of the term Money To Burn

Cambridge University student who burned ÂŁ20 note in front of homeless man says he ‘abused his privilege’

Hunt for ’emotionless’ suspect who lured homeless man to his truck, set him on fire and ‘watched him burn’ in San Diego

All these things are still happening today! And they are not imaginings of an author looking for a scare

What I didn’t like about the book

Let me think:

  • Murder 1: His co-worker who had The Famous Fisher Account
  • Murder 2&3: The two prostitutes: the coat-hanger and the knife, the drilling machine and then the flailing and murders in the end
  • Attack 4: The stabbing of the homeless person & the breaking of the dog’s paws
  • Murder 4: The child in the park that he throws in the bin after slashing his throat

I didn’t remember the movie having so many gruesome murders – just the nail guy and the scene in the apartment. I had to watch fluffy kitten videos between the scenes.

 

The breakdown

American Psycho Thug Notes

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