Since the appearance of American Psycho, the controversial novel published in 1991 by Bret Easton Ellis and, especially, after the release in 2000 of the film of the same title, directed by Mary Harron and starring Christian Bale, it seems that Patrick Bateman’s character has always been present, in one way or another, in the Western cultural imagination.
The murderer is almost the least of it: yuppie, climber, misogynist, drug addict and consumer, Bateman serves as a reflection of so many things that are wrong in the world that, more than a character, he is almost a symbol.
However, his image has not always been present in Internet forums solely as a parody of ultra-capitalism. At times Bateman has been a role model without any irony. An example of the latter would be the long obsession of the most regulars in the gym to achieve the muscular and sinewy body of Bateman, a difficult challenge to achieve that forced Bale himself to undergo an incredibly strict diet and a severe routine in the gym. At the beginning of 2020, a youtuber named Will Tennyson underwent the same routine as Bale to achieve it. Even from Men’s Health, the bible of normative male bodies, they warned their readers: “We do not recommend that you try this too.” And it was right there, in 2020, when Bateman’s conquest of a new generation began to take shape, which, in full confinement, they saw themselves reflected in it. But first, let’s review a bit of contemporary history.
A superficial sadomasochistic crap
Bateman aroused passions even before the publication of his novel. In an article published in EL PAÍS in March 1991, journalist Jordan Elgably detailed, from Los Angeles, the protests that had broken out in the United States prior to the launch of the book. Feminist groups and members of the publishing industry called American Psycho “shallow sadomasochistic crap” and accused Ellis of writing a book that amounted to a “how-to guide to the torture and dismemberment of women.” “The writer,” wrote Elgably, “replies: ‘I have tried to capture the violence of a wicked decade.’ He was referring, of course, to the eighties.
Neither the author nor his critics were far off the mark. The novel is, in part, all of that (also the film), although it is presented as a first-person account in which, with a devilish, hyperactive and repetitive style, we have first-class seats to see how the mind of a man works. Wall Street investment banker in the late eighties who is also a serial killer (or so he believes, since both the film and the novel offer the possibility that all of this was a mere hallucination of the protagonist).
Before us parade all his hobbies, his hatreds and his obsessions: Armani suits, cocaine, Brooks Brothers shoes, luxurious business cards, the city’s trendy restaurants like Dorsia or Le Cirque, his daily routine of beauty or the music group Huey Lewis and the News. Her horrible crimes committed against men and women (in the novel there is even a child, the film did not dare to go that far) are described without sparing a single detail, probably the element of American Psycho that made her so famous (or so infamous).
The fact that when the protagonist confesses his crimes, the world around him laughs at him or even acts complicit with him, makes this story one of the best metaphors for the savage corporate world ever written. This is how Bret Easton Ellis wanted his book to be understood: as a great metaphor. “I think that what the protagonist of my book has is what many would like: a fit body, a lot of money and expensive tastes,” he told EL PAÍS in 1991. This last sentence, pronounced by Ellis more than 30 years ago, It is curiously premonitory knowing everything that Patrick Bateman has ended up representing, especially in recent times.
A sexagenarian comes to TikTok
Bateman would be about 60 years old today (1962 is his date of birth in fiction). He would probably view TikTok with suspicion, as a youthful exoticism. But his figure began to become very popular on the internet since the birth of this technology and reached a peak of fame in some forums and social networks such as 4chan or TikTok during the first weeks of confinement in 2020. Suddenly, a series began to circulate of memes starring him in which we could see him walking while listening to music on his Walkman, talking on a huge wireless phone exuding self-confidence, with a shiny ax in his hand, or having sex while looking at his muscular body in a mirror.
In those bewildered days, the image of Patrick Bateman became for many, especially young men who spent too much time online, a byword for the purest masculinity, for militant capitalism, for some sort of ideal man. In this sense, the character fit perfectly into the imaginary of the sigma male, a concept similar to that of the alpha male, and which, according to what Günseli Yalcinkaya wrote in an article in the magazine Dazed & Confused, is a new socio-sexual identity that has spread in recent times over the internet, especially among young men.
The term defines a guy who, unlike the alpha, lives outside of society, oblivious to the conventions of our environment, but who is equally powerful. Examples? Some characters from Keanu Reeves or Clint Eastwood, actors like James Dean, visionaries like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk, and fictional characters like Sherlock Holmes or almost all superheroes, from Batman to Peter Parker: loners, outsiders and weird, but at the same time. once victors and capable of conquering.
Millions of young people frustrated with a world that seems to make it difficult for them (during the pandemic it prevented them from leaving home), feeling misunderstood, secondary, isolated, but at the same time still eager to feed their egos, have embraced the ideal of the sigma male, which allows them to exist as a contrast to the alpha males, embodied for them by the popular kids in high school, those who often made them the target of their ridicule.
How do Bateman and American Psycho fit into all of this? As the journalist Shaurya Singh wrote in the newsletter The Digital Native, Bateman’s main characteristics (his sexual insecurity, his insensitivity, his superficiality and his obsession with money) are directly connected to some of the obsessions of Generation Z (and abundant members of some others) during those strange moments.
The media and social networks continued at that time to exert the same pressures on this generation as always: the cult of the body, the obsession with sex, with money and the comparison with the other, but the pandemic and confinement multiplied their effects. . Those shots of Patrick Bateman looking in the mirror with vanity, either just out of the shower or having sex with a woman, are not too far from the type of videos that can be seen on Onlyfans, the platform that has revolutionized the way in which it is produced. and pornographic material is consumed, which has created a new type of specular eroticism (the mobile works as a camera, but also as a mirror for a type of man who adores his own body) and which during the pandemic increased its income by 553%.
Welcome to the white house
From an aesthetic point of view, the fashion of the film also made millions of eyes fall in love with it. Especially thanks to the resurgence of the taste for the old money aesthetic (it would be said in Spanish “old money”, that is, that indisputable wealth already established in a surname for many generations) that dominates the production. Even the design of Bateman’s apartment, luxurious and minimalist, fit with the most fashionable decorative aspirations of the day. Let us remember that it was at the beginning of 2020 when AD magazine published a famous report on the minimalist mansion, almost with the air of a futuristic funeral home, that Kanye West and Kim Kardashian had had built in Los Angeles for an, already then, uncertain future than ever before. happened.
By the way, Kanye West once said in an interview with Ellen DeGeneres that he had found “inspiration” in Patrick Bateman, “who I really identified with while watching the movie,” while the audience giggled. The video has been liked a lot on TikTok, obviously.
Perhaps, among all those that we have just mentioned, the aspect that contributed the most to the non-ironic use of the Bateman character (which, let us emphasize, was created as a parody), was the obsession with money that characterized those beginnings of the pandemic. Pasta became the concern of almost everyone at that time for obvious reasons. It was a moment in which whoever else was sent to unemployment, submitted to an ERTE or was left halfway in a selection process. Making money, and particularly in an easy way and without leaving home, became the main interest of many, who unceremoniously embraced the philosophy of crypto bros, which in record time flooded networks like TikTok with its martial and illogical optimism. or YouTube.
The media glory days of crypto bros may not have been long, but they have been intense. Today, Patrick Bateman is not a metaphor for them, despite the fact that his creator’s goal was to ridicule or represent in the crudest possible way precisely what they glorify. As the journalist Brad Esposito explained in an article for the Australian edition of Vice magazine, in the gallery of idols of these sigma males there is also Tyler Durden from Fight Club, Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker or Jordan Belfort from The wolf of Wall Street. Guys who are outside the system and play “by their own rules”, broken toys who are outside of society and learn to live in a perpetual battle against a world that is alien and hostile to them.
These Patrick Bateman worshipers range from modern day stoics to habit control freaks, militant misogynists, internet trolls, 4chan, Reddit and Forocoches dwellers, anti-wokes, far-right party voters and staunch critics of Marvel’s attempts to diversify its audience. They often use the image of Bateman to represent themselves without worrying for a second about the true meaning of Ellis’s work, who, in a display of intelligence and irony, saw all this before anyone else. “What happened with American Psycho is that it was a very detailed novel,” he told ICON at the beginning of 2020. “Everything was told about Patrick Bateman, about his clothes, his diet, his physical exercises… in a way, the life of Patrick is what you can see today in many social networks: foodies, runners.