Monday, May 28, 2012
Why You Are Sad With Your Career (aka My American Psycho Review)
I think a lot has been said about Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho both in the novel form and in the film adaptation starring Christian Bale. It has even been reviewed on a parody of Reading Rainbow on FunnyorDie. While I decided not to review the film (that will be for later), there is a lot to be said about Ellis' novel that doesn't involve a comparison.
American Psycho traces the life of Wall Street yuppie Patrick Bateman and his extravagant lifestyle as a member of the privileged elite. As we progress deeper into Bateman's life, we see that he is not all the promising young man we are first led to believe that he is.
A lot of the narration and dialogue focuses on the brands, types of alcohol, clothing, electric toothbrushes, and other accessories that Bateman cherishes.
As anyone who has seen Mad Men can tell you, what you own determines your lifestyle. Bateman finds more value in his consumer goods than he does the people around him.
The sad part is, most of Bateman's colleagues, with their backstabbing corporate ways, would probably look down on Bateman if he were to be compassionate.
He even joked about saving the whales to his friends, only to be jeered in response. His colleagues see empathy as a sort of weakness. As we progress into the story, we see that Bateman is in fact a serial killer who kills with a diversified portfolio's worth of weapons.
There's a reason why Patrick Bateman is not the sweetheart we wish for him to be.
Bateman has been rewarded his entire life for his behavior, and encouraged to see others as worthless if it helped him compete.
There's even a real life counterpart to Patrick Bateman. Wasted: The Preppie Murder by Linda Wolfe details the real account of the murder of Jennifer Levin in Central Park by prep school burnout Robert Chambers. While Chambers, who dropped out of multiple prep schools, can appear to be more like a cocaine addicted Holden Caulfield, there is a lot that happened in the case that echoes of the work of Bateman.
Chambers had everyone protecting him from his friends to his mother and their deep denial of events is something that they both share with Ellis' novel. Bateman's open declarations of violence are met with silence and quick changes to other subjects. The denial that the Chambers family had in face of these allegations show the coverup mentality the elite feels when faced with their own dysfunction.
Patrick Bateman has the need to acquire his surroundings and control them in his own image. Gordon Gekko said it best in Wall Street "I don't create things. I own". Bateman utilizes this ethos not only in his work but in his way of living.
He needs to dominate things and control them. Only by controlling things does Bateman show release. He can't make music, so he will go into minuscule detail deconstructing Genesis albums or the career of Huey Lewis and the News to show his worth.
He can't love, so he will kill to control it.
With all of the parables of restrained primitive violence, consumerism, and hallucinatory self-worth Patrick Bateman has a lot in common with Tyler Durden, the "protagonist" (if you will ;) of Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club.
In a way, it feels like Patrick Bateman and Tyler Durden are the same person separated by a tax bracket.
Now, I will admit that I am in the middle of reading Fight Club as a novel, I only have the movie as a real reference point. Same way I haven't seen the movie adaptation of American Psycho as of this moment.
Tyler Durden spent a good portion of his time questioning life, about what happens when we do good, go to school, and get a good job. He always asked "Now what?". In a weird sense, Patrick Bateman is the demented answer that Tyler Durden could have been looking for.
Bateman went to a prep school, graduated Harvard, and worked at a great job.
There was nothing left for him to accomplish.
Both Bateman and Durden are reactions against the advertising-as-lifestyle consumer culture that they were born in. They both have violent impulses from the attempts at social engineering to silence their primal needs.
Both have problems feeling other people and need to do drastic things to achieve their sense of fulfillment. While Durden felt that society ignored him and he had to do things to be noticed, Bateman created acts of violence only for the world to be in denial of it.
Durden thought he was part of " a generation raised by their mothers" and we see Bateman talk to his mother, not entirely sure what his relationship with his father was like.
It can't help but be wondered if Bateman would stop going around killing people if Durden asked him to be a part of Fight Club. It couldn't help but be wondered if Durden might have stopped Project Mayhem if Bateman could have talked him out of it.
Tyler Durden would probably make the soap that Patrick Bateman would wash himself with as part of his morning ritual.
Since the soap was made from a sinister means, he might have taken even more joy bathing in it.
David Fincher said it himself "We're designed to be hunters and we're in a society of shopping". Patrick Bateman decided it would be better to kill when he ran out of things to buy.
If we can get even deeper, it seems that both characters were created by LGBT writers and elements of homo-eroticism occur in both works, whether with Tyler Durden and male bonding with the narrator or Bateman's relationship with Luis Carruthers. Chuck Palahniuk is said to be influenced by Ellis, so the parallels might even be intentional.
Consumerism plays a big part in both stories.
Whereas Durden revolted against the consuming culture society presented him, Bateman embraced it. Bateman's love of ownership got to the point where he saw people as something to be owned, an accessory to be put in a locker to make him feel better about himself.
Durden is the product of self-loathing while Bateman is the product of constant admiration all throughout his life.
In a sense, the end result is disastrous in both works but the approach couldn't be further apart. I wouldn't be surprised if there's fanfiction out there pitting these two against each other.
Don't think lifestyle advertising isn't some paranoid delusion either. It's real. Companies that want to connect customers with their brand go to extreme lengths to present how they should live.
Beer commercials for example.
A false sense of lifestyle helps one brand of toothpaste sell over the other even though they're both basically the same thing.
Patrick Bateman associated himself with his brands more than he did with other people. That was okay when he was wearing expensive Armani suits. Not so okay when he was renting violent movies from the video store. He became what he associated himself with.
Sort of reminds one of cosplay gone wrong. Dress up is fine, but have some respect for yourself. Cover bands don't change the world.
If anything, Patrick Bateman serves as a bizarre marketing fable.
A lot has been said of violence in culture. There's been a lot of fear about this. On the surface, conventional wisdom says that the fear is regarding protecting "the children" and how we could encourage bad behavior through culture. But the root of the problem has never been openly addressed for the repercussions that could occur if it was openly discussed.
It is rather simple: Place your product in our outlet and people will go to you.
There's a lot of examples where this works. When people think E.T. they are reminded of Reese's Pieces. Shawarma restaurants got an 80 percent boost from Tony Stark's endorsement.
It can work.
I'm hoping you'd check out my ebook when this review is over.
However, this can be a problem with sex and violence, because advertisers wonder "If I place my product out there in hopes that people will buy it, wouldn't people kill each other if violence is also advertised?"
Culture makers must always play this balancing act between both extremes.
Things can get complicated when you realize sex and violence is an attractor for ratings and people will pay more attention when you raise primal urges.
But there's a difference between buying candy in a vending machine cause you saw it in a movie and killing people cause you watched Sylvester Stallone do it as Rambo.
Most portrayals of violence show that negative consequences can occur to people who act in that manner.
So, getting back to the title of this post, what does this have to do with you?
I'll tell you.
The world we live in is evolving. I probably won't be on Blogger ten years from now. Google will probably force me to engage in something else. There will probably be a struggle, and I will reluctantly agree in the end because there's nothing I can do about it at this point. My audience and my "brand" will have to change.
I don't know. I don't like the term "brand" for this reason. I like doing different things. I'm not Mike Tyson. I'm not a fan of pigeonholes.
Branding is for cattle. I could mention the term for lack of finding better words to connect with the audience as far as identity goes, but "brand" sounds like all creative decisions were made by marketers to squeeze out the last cent.
Weight Loss Terrorists was not approved by a focus group, and no matter what I do in the future, right now I will enjoy it because of that.
There's footage online of Drake talking about how he would love to work with Sade. He talks about Sade declining for whatever reason, and he points to the fact that Sade needs to "respect her brand" and how he respects that. Now, I wasn't there. Maybe Sade really wants to keep her brand intact. Maybe all those songs about heartbreak are done to promote the "Sade lifestyle".
I'm all for an artist understanding the business side of things, but being that this is an article about books about unstable men reacting to consumerism, there's a time to do things and there's a time not to do things.
If the suits can't understand this, I will speak in MBA talk: it's not good business to make your customers feel like a cog in the machine. Might work for people you pay, but not so much for the people who pay you. Doesn't it piss you off if something you like was part of some marketing scheme?
Like all those kids who realized the 1986 Transformers movie killed off all their favorite characters so they could be forced to buy the toys of all the new characters. Did they buy the new ones? Nope. They had to bring Optimus Prime back from the dead in order to bring business back from the dead.
When you get to the root of it, this is why people don't like corporations in the first place. Little shops where the owner and the manager are one and the same in the front line (as Seth Godin explained in Linchpin) are much better at addressing the immediate needs of the customer.
Giant bureaucracies that raise ticket prices, get rid of the ability to sell used games, and do other things without caring too much about the customer because "those idiots will keep coming anyway" often find their big heads on the chopping block.
The same can be applied to what can only be called mainstream superhero comics in the 90s. When diminishing returns hits, it hits hard. Combined with backlash, it makes for a bad combination.
When we think about the positive competitive nature of capitalism, we like to think about two companies working hard to find the cure for a disease.
When we think about the negative competitive nature of capitalism, we tend to think about two companies working to sabotage cures in hopes that they can profit more from treatments.
There really is no way for the rebellious at heart to stop their lifestyles from being capitalized on. Rebellion can be a lifestyle that is ripe for marketing to disillusioned youth. It's impossible for a movement of substance to move forward without the suits seeing it as an opportunity.
Some might even find being off the grid as a welcome invitation to grab more resources from the so called "voluntary poverty".
So, to anyone who finds themselves disillusioned with the world at large, now is the time when it's important to look inside and figure out how you want to live the rest of your life.
Both Durden and Bateman struggled to find identity in a world that didn't want them to have identity on the grounds that it interfered with their ability to consume. Having a sense of who you are and what constructive goals you wish to accomplish helps make things better.
A lot of violence in the world occurs when people don't have an identity. When you don't know who you are in life, you'll join a gang, whether it's Project Mayhem or something more real and deviant. Extremists of religion want to show their devotion by doing drastic actions as a way to prove who they are.
You shouldn't be depressed if your life doesn't match up to the image of life portrayed in beer commercials. Ever play the Fight Club video game? It's not as good as the movie.
Unfortunately, if you want fans by the teen idol volume, it seems that you have to make some fake fanfare archetype for your audience to handle. People can't handle the truth, that's why writers make up stories for a living.
It's weird to think of being depressed over something that doesn't exist. If James Bond were real, he would be in a VA hospital struggling with syphilis and alcoholism.
While the media projected a desired target of a life to make you consume, social media seems to amplify this in its extreme till you succumb to a depressing effect. It's important to understand that a lot of people do feel this way from time to time, and what you're going through is not an individual case. You can't be everywhere at once.
As you miss out on their fun, they miss out on yours. Sit and ponder on that one. Green grass growing greener.
Technological connection can lead to emotional disconnection.
Bateman serves as a personification of all that could be seen as an evil of the 80s. Bateman's actions have been said to be "alien", which is funny considering John Carpenter saw most yuppies as aliens.
It's interesting to think about where a person like Patrick Bateman would be in regards to modern society. All of the things that Bateman worked hard to possess: giant cell phones, VCRs, stereo systems are all in a way obsolete. You can go to used electronics store and find everything you need to feel like Patrick Bateman.
It doesn't cost a lot to be 80s rich nowadays, as far as the technology is concerned anyway.
And all the while showing how silly the shallow world he represented really was. What was deemed so necessary a couple decades ago is now shown to be laughable. And where would they go from there?
It's weird to think that someone who has achieved what most people dream of would succumb to misery and violence as they went through with their lives.
There shouldn't be a lot of tears she for the ones who got everything they wanted, but it is a question that should be pondered when thinking about what you desire out of life.
The Charlie Sheens and the Lindsay Lohans of the world seem to be in this stage in life. Now, Sheen might have never got to be a baseball player, and Lohan never had parents who she could depend on (and Charles Foster Kane never got his sled) but society sees them as pretty well off. They get paid to show up at parties, and people wonder why they don't show up to movie shoots.
The money that people save to retire and live the rest of their lives in bliss is only a fraction of what people like Patrick Bateman make in a year, if that. And the money most people make is much more than what a lot of third world families accumulate in a year.
A lot of the working up to achieve your dream can give you purpose in life, as long as you can one day accomplish it.
There's a lot of drama on the way to your goals.
Planning, action, setbacks, and adversity are all things to be expected in the path to your dreams. Some people sabotage themselves for fear of reaching their dreams since it can change their life and what they're used to. But when someone reaches their goals, as Bateman did, the result is to want more. Only thing was, he already had everything society could give him.
Homeostasis can be a drag to a lot of people. Some people would rather die than be bored.
All entertainment, especially when it deails in fiction, is built around conflict and drama. There have been a lot of theories to why people act this way. Freud came up with the theory of the death drive, the idea that we all have a yearning to not only handle death, but welcome it. Entertainment might be seen as a form of that.
I guess life comes down to finding a way to do what you love for the longest time possible, and hopefully getting paid for it.
It's when people don't know what they find joy in that things start to come apart. That's when people start committing felonies in the hopes that it will entertain them.