We are now Living in American Psycho
Bonnie Greer finds clarity about the desecration of US society under Donald Trump in the premise of Brett Easton Ellis’ famous 1991 novel.
About two weeks or so ago, I can remember sitting down and trying to understand why anybody would kill people in a house of worship in America.
I had not really thought about it before, having just seen it as a kind of normal representation of American violence. Most gun deaths in the US are suicides and nobody cares about them except family, friends and co-workers. Mass shootings are horrific, but if you put them up against suicides, although terrible, they are rare events. Yet, the lone shooter who bursts into churches and synagogues was what I was trying to figure out that day weeks ago.
America is a very religious country, ostentatiously so, and the number of people who believe in heaven and hell is quite astonishing. Americans will talk to you about the Day Of Judgement in just about any context you like. Their complete commitment to life after death is no joking matter. For a nation founded on freedom of and freedom from religion, this is astounding. But the US is a contradictory place and, if you live there long enough, you just get used to it. But the synagogue murders, the church assassinations – this is new terrain.
When I thought about it, I felt that the rise of Donald Trump had something to do with it, but dragging him into every horror is counterproductive. And boring. So I looked for other sources, other reasons.
One Man’s World
These shootings have been going up for years, but suddenly they have increased, literally bursting into the fabric of society since Trump’s election in 2016. Or do we simply notice them more now?
Then I remembered the Brett Easton Ellis novel American Psycho.
Like many women, I did not want to read it nor contribute to its sales figures. The violence against women, I had been told and also had read about, was inexcusable. But what I did know about the protagonist – the serial killer and rapist yuppie nut-job Patrick Bateman – was that he worshipped Donald Trump. The New York City that Bateman lived and killed in was the Manhattan that I had finally had enough of. This was the New York City of the 1980s – a greedy, sprawling, crazy kind of beast slouching toward a Bethlehem that was not cool.
I lived then in what was called Alphabet City or Loisaida by the Hispanics – on the Lower East Side near Thompkins Square Park. In those days, it was a good place to be an artist or to hang with them. The East Village, as opposed to Greenwich Village or the West Village, was where everything was just that much more real: the art, the clothes, the sex, the music, the drugs, the people, the hate and the love.
But it did matter that on some mornings you could find some kid from the Upper East Side dead from an overdose and slouched next to a garbage can. It did matter that homeless African American men were rounded up in yellow school buses at sundown and bussed to shelters more dangerous than living on the street. It did matter that Hispanics suffered horrific discrimination in housing and that Little Italy was shrinking. It did matter that it was becoming more and more impossible to find a cheap space to make art in or just to live.
At the other end of this was the new phenomenon known as the “yuppies” and their king was the real-estate mogul and celebrity Donald Trump. He was on everything and was everywhere, along with his first wife Ivana. It was big hair, big cars, big mouth. Everyone called him “Don the Con” and he hated it – because he was just a guy from the suburbs who wanted to be part of Manhattan Island. He was a “bridge and tunnel” person. He still is.
But the point is this: Trump lived his imaginarium and this world was about his omnipotence. Sometimes you had to laugh at the guy. He was such a “mook” – New York Italian street-slang for a “loser/jerk”. He was also a racist, with he and his father getting done for racial discrimination in the 1970s. But, Trump was not a racist if you were a celebrity. Celebrity mattered to him. It still does.
Trump set out back in the 1980s to alter reality. He used to call up Page Six, the gossip column, and pretend to be his PR guy, somebody called “John Barron”. He did not even bother to change his voice. He just set out to make the world into his own shape, I guess like God does.
In American Psycho, Patrick Bateman’s Christmas list includes “to get myself invited to the Trump Christmas Party aboard their yacht”, although we never know whether what Bateman talks about ever really happened. In other words, the novel is about a kind of reality shaped by the consciousness of one man. We are, now, living in American Psycho.