Monthly Archives: October 2011

American Psycho: Maybe Not The Book You Think It Is

(note: though I include no part of the explicit violent and sexual sections of the book, some of the quotes from the book do contain language that will be very offensive to some)

A two decade old novel might seem appropriate now, of haves in glass towers and have nots protesting in the streets, a book which is supposedly either a literal story of an investment banker who is a serial killer, or an investment banker who only imagines that he kills a series of men and women, his murder spree a “metaphor” for his profession’s indifference to larger society and the damage he does to it. Curious about whether this book would shed light on the turmoil now, I found a third theme – the book is a cryptomorph, its subject neither mass murder, or a metaphor for the financial world, but about being gay and closeted during the first years of the AIDS outbreak. This is not a case of a symbolic undercurrent; almost all the male characters, including Patrick Bateman and Timothy Price are gay closeted men, with that aspect of their lives, off-stage and unspoken directly of, but most certainly there.

Though almost all the men are gay, they all try to hide their orientation from others. Many of the women are paid by the men to be their beards; the coveted Fisher account is obtained through blackmail over a character’s sexual orientation. This is also why they try so very hard to appear as manly as possible, and do the things that heterosexual men are supposed to do. You’re supposed to talk about women as objects. Listen to Genesis and Huey Lewis. Call gay men faggots. If they want to really feel manly, they fantasize about killing men, about having sex with women and killing them afterwards – especially if they hate women for reminding them that they aren’t heterosexual at all.

A few of the cast, chiefly Price and Bateman, also have AIDS. The book’s serial killer theme is another kind of sick joke. So many popular movies and books, then and now, have made the center of their stories a deviant maniac and his grotesque achievements; the suffering and death caused by a disease that was a far more effective and massive killer go unspoken.

Psycho is a book of missing pieces and emphases on what appear to be innocuous details. They barely stick out in a book where long detailed passages are given over to clothing and work-outs, they may be intended to add to a sense of vertigo of a killer, but I believe their intent is otherwise – that they make no sense at all except to give hint to hidden lives.

That I seem to see this rather clearly is puzzling to me – as a straight man, I cannot say the book “speaks” to me, any more than any book does – only that what the writer Bret Easton Ellis has done here seems undeniable, a very thoughtful and interesting prank.

I split this very lengthy examination into four parts:

I. Patrick Bateman
II. Timothy Price
III. Blackmail: Paul Owen, the Fisher Account, Evelyn, the cab driver, etc.
IV. A few last notes: Robert Hall, tanning, etc.

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Herman Cain, the appearance of virtue, and koshering the goyim

I think at least some of what can be said in response to this column by David Weigel on Herman Cain`s rise overlaps with this Bradford DeLong summary of a discussion of Tea Party minstrelry rituals. I believe a key point is in Jonathan Bernstein’s A Plain Blog Abut Politics:

Racism (as Matt Yglesias correctly reminds us over and over) isn’t, for some conservatives, the problem; it’s accusations of racism against innocent Americans that’s the problem.

I don`t think Republicans who support Cain think of themselves as prejudiced, or want to be seen as prejudiced. The practical effect of A black man as front-runner in a Republican primary should be that a party that has been perceived as racially exploitive, wants instead an equitable America without discrimination, that what is wanted in the party is wanted for the country. This, I believe, is not the case.

To pick the most obvious examples: Cain’s statements that he would not appoint any muslim to his administration or that communities should be able to ban mosques, claims which drew no outrage from his supporters (it drew a great deal from without) – though his attempts to retract those statements did. This suggests that his supporters have no problem with an inequitable society, with discrimination – though of course, this discrimination is not arbitrary, there is some practical “basis”, as there was a basis in the past for not hiring or renting to blacks, mexicans, chinese, jews, etc. The most urgent and coveted practical effect of this appears to be to allow a voter who may well wish for an earlier america, a whiter america, a more christian america, to be able to say that they are not prejudiced – not to make the country closer to a democratic ideal, or draw in any non-white voters through such an effort, to provide the appearance of virtue rather than the actions of virtue.

This is all obvious stuff that has been said before. The only note I add is an interesting place where these ideas have shown up in the past; it comes up in Philip Roth’s “The Plot Against America”, where Rabbi Begelsdorf speaks at a rally for Charles Lindbergh as president of the United States, despite Lindbergh’s past statements about jews (uncomplimentary) and Nazis (complimentary, very). No, I don’t equal the Republican party with the American Firsters at all. I do think, however, that Roth’s novel, though very flawed, has a few interesting obserrvations on american political foibles, and this is one of the best.

Part of Begelsdorf’s speech at the rally:

“This is not America’s war,” Bengelsdorf announced, and the crowd at Madison Square Garden responded with a full minute of applause. “This,” the rabbi told them, “is Europe’s war.”

“Of course, the Nazi harassment and persecution of its German Jewish population is a cause of enormous anguish to me as it is to every Jew…But how will this cruel fate that has befallen them in their own land be alleviated by our great country going to war with their tormentors> If anything, the predicament of [i]all[/i] of Germany’s Jews would only worsen immeasurably – worsen, I fear, tragically. Yes, I am a Jew, and as a Jew I feel their suffering with a familial sharpness. But I am an American citizen, my friends” – again the applause – “I am an American born and raised, and so I ask you, how would my pain be lessened if America were now to enter the war and, along with the sons of our Protestant families and the sons of our Catholic families, the sons of our Jewish families were to fight and die in the tens of thousands on a blood-soaked European battleground?”

The reaction from the Roth family at home:

“What the hell is going on?” my father began to shout. “What the hell did he do that for? That stupid speech! Does he think that one single Jew is now going to go out and vote for this anti-semite because of that stupid, lying speech? Has he completely lost his mind? What does he think he is doing?”

“Koshering Lindbergh,” Alvin said. “Koshering Lindbergh for the goyim.”

“Koshering what?” my father said, exasperated with Alvin’s seemingly speaking sarcastic nonsense at a moment of so much confusion. “Doing what?”

“They didn’t get him up there to talk to Jews. They didn’t buy him off for that. Don’t you understand?” Alvin asked, fiery now with what he took to be the underlying truth. “He’s up there talking to the goyim – he’s giving the goyim all over the country his personal rabbi’s permission to vote for Lindy on Election Day. Don’t you see, Uncle Herman, what they got the great Bengelsdorf to do? He just guaranteed Roosevelt’s defeat!”

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