American Psycho


Within about thirty seconds on a Google search, I discovered at least seven copycat killers inspired by Bret Easton Ellis’ notorious 1991 novel American Psycho. (I won’t name these monsters, all it takes is a Google search anyway to find their grisly “achievements”.)

In an interview with Kevin Jackson, Taxi Driver screenwriter Paul Schrader addressed the topic of copycat crime inspired by art:

“These characters are running around and can be triggered by anything, most often by advertisements or innocuous images. A few years ago they did a study about incitement to rape, and one of the things that cropped up most often was the old Coppertone suntan oil ad – it had a little puppy tugging at a girl’s swimsuit. It had just the right mixture for these rapists of adolescent sexuality, female nudity, rear entry, animals, violence… so I think that if you do get involved in this kind of censorship you will end up having Raskolnikov, you just don’t have Crime and Punishment.”

Schrader of course was the director of the appalling Ellis-written “The Canyons”, one of the worst films (arguably) ever made, and made seemingly for Lindsay Lohan to display her naked body, and attempt to make a star out of BDSM porn star and alleged rapist James Deen.

As bad as Ellis has been historically at filmmaking, he is regarded by most US literary critics as a genius. In Irvine Welsh’s introduction to the Picador Classic version of American Psycho, he writes early on:

“Ellis’ novel is one of the two zeitgeist pieces of fiction that defined America at the end of the last century and the start of this one, the other being Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club.”

I read Fight Club (before I saw the now badly dated movie) when I was 15, and clocked the split personality twist within about 40 pages. This is a zeitgeist defining novel? If so, what does that say about the literary criticism of Irvine Welsh? And what does it imply about his judgement on American Psycho? Let’s quote from one of the unbearable murder sequences: “While she’s still conscious, I roll her over, and spreading her ass cheeks, I nail a dildo that I’ve tied to a board deep into her rectum using the nail gun. Then, turning her over again, her body weak with fear, I cut all the flesh off around her mouth.”

The 1990s, when both Welsh and Ellis had rockstar credibility (no longer possible for a writer, unfortunately) they hung with DJs, famous actors, beautiful women (and men) and earned envious wage packets. In fact, both were famous for being intellectual party animals, the coolest cats in the club. Champagne socialist Welsh writes: “But now we come to what I believe is the main source of unease concerning the novel. Despite his deliberate portrayal as superficial, pompous, lying, misogynistic, racist, and narcissistic, the story-telling style of American Psycho forces the reader to adopt Patrick Bateman’s point of view. As happens in present-tense, first-person narrative, the reader generally assumes the protagonist’s concerns: the ‘how to get rid of the body’ syndrome. Thus, by becoming a mentally active participant, we are implicated in both the violence and the objectifying processes of consumer society. But this participation also crucially demands that the reader makes some kind of moral judgement on the nature of these acts.”

Written as a conflicted 26 year old, Ellis has now, in his early 50’s, come out publicly as a homosexual, and whilst more power to him, to any new readers of American Psycho (and a little advice to Mr Welsh, whose own novels have often been written with the same careful aestheticism but unbearable cruelty) the savage female torture scenes that run through the novel like a stick of rock, are surely as a result of homosexual misogyny, Ellis’ own gender identity problems, and not some “end of empire” American satire, despite it now being hailed as a prescient warning about Donald Trump (who features repeatedly). For a novel about a deranged serial killer, surely this makes more sense? Ellis angrily claimed in numerous interviews in the early nineties it was about “Male Vanity”. In reality, it is about the aesthetics of homosexual murder, which is why it remains such an insidious influence on modern sex killers.

Follow Andrew Moody on Twitter @VoguishFiction