Is There A Bit Of Patrick Bateman In All Of Us?
Mr Christian Bale in American Psycho, 2000. Film still. Photograph Landmark Media
Why we all want a body like American Psycho Patrick Bateman (other than the one with the axe wounds in the plastic sheeting).
On YouTube, there’s a video called “The Real Bruce Wayne Revealed: The Power of Intermittent Fasting”. It’s a portentous title – but not nearly as portentous as the video itself. As the camera pans down over treetops to reveal a millionaire’s mansion, we meet Mr Gregory O’Gallagher. “I’m 24 years old,” he tells us in the voice-over. “I believe in taking care of myself. In maintaining a lean and powerful body and striving each day for self-improvement.” O’Gallagher crosses the bedroom in his tight underpants and takes a shower. The video is really an advert for a bodybuilding/fat-reduction programme. But with its lingering shots of Mr O’Gallagher’s lavish pad, his Lamborghini parked outside and the blonde draped around his neck, the film's really an advert for a kind of aspirational lifestyle. It’s shot in 4k and has 10.5k likes.
Yet thanks to Mr O’Gallagher’s uncanny resemblance to Mr Christian Bale, and his cold, detached narration, it’s not Bruce Wayne this video most obviously conjures up, but American Psycho. Bateman, not Batman. With American Psycho – The Musical newly arrived on Broadway in a bigger, bloodier incarnation after its sell-out London run in 2013, we might ask ourselves whether Patrick Bateman hasn’t become a kind of role model. It shouldn’t need pointing out that Bateman, the original Wolf of Wall Street, was a product of the pre-crash “greed-is-good” 1980s and supposed to be a satire.
“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,” his creator Mr Bret Easton Ellis recently explained.
American Psycho is 25 this year. It feels remarkably prescient. Not only of greedy bankers, but of male self-regard, which has magnified spectacularly since the early 1990s. Certainly, Bateman would have approved of the rise of the spornosexual, a phrase invented by the writer Mr Mark Simpson to describe the hyper-lean, jacked male physique that demands to be ogled at all times. That tribe replaced Mr Simpson’s previous invention – the groomed, fashion-literate metrosexual, a consumer market that now sounds positively prehistoric. Elsewhere, NutriBullets, protein shakes, SoulCycle, UberBLACK cars, personal trainers, selfies, Tempur-Pedic mattresses, stand-up desks, Bluetooth headphones, CrossFit and Instagram have become the Bateman-esque trappings of the successful young man about town. What is Tinder if not dating for the Bateman generation? (The person behind the @TinderBateman Twitter account certainly sees a link. He interacts with women using only quotes from American Psycho.) Indeed, the phrase “my boyfriend's a bit of a Patrick Bateman” – used to describe a partner who spends too long getting ready – has become a sort of a badge of honour. Patrick Bateman action figures sell very well online. Then there’s Mr Donald Trump. The president-in-waiting was Batemans’s hero and name-checked throughout the book, the perfect role model for a character who’s racist, homophobic and misogynist. It was a good joke – right?
Sitting by yourself staring at a glowing screen while having access to the intimacies of countless other lives is an idea that mirror’s Bateman’s loneliness and alienation
None of this has been lost on Mr Ellis. “Isolation, alienation, the consumerist voice incredibly in thrall to technology, corporate corruption,” still hold sway today, he says, noting that we are in a time where the one per cent are richer than any human has been before. “Sitting by yourself in a room staring at a glowing screen while having access to the intimacies of countless other lives, is an idea that mirror’s Patrick Bateman’s loneliness and alienation, everything is available to him and yet an insatiable emptiness remains.”
But surely we are smart enough to see it as a warning from history? Perhaps not. On the opening night of American Psycho – The Musical in New York, the theatre manager was forced to pay a dry-cleaning bill for someone in the front row. They were furious about the fake blood spatters – and the mess they'd made of their designer handbag, cashmere scarf and sweater.