American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman is More Relatable Than You Think
American Psycho is a novel written by Bret Easton Ellis, that was subsequently adapted into a film in 2000. It is famous for its protagonist Patrick Bateman, who takes pleasure in brutally torturing people around him in New York City. Both the novel and the film are shocking for the portrayal of such a heinous psychopath, however, I’d like to suggest that we are more like Bateman than we’d like to admit.
Bateman takes on the position of voyeur, yet due to the highly modern world he lives in, this voyeurism is digital. Bateman’s obsession with pornography is evident in the novel with repeated instances of Bateman watching pornography, and even stating that ‘last night I had dreams that were lit like pornography’. His livelihood surrounds voyeurism-from whilst he is dressing, ‘the TV is kept on to The Patty Winters Show’, to the fixation he has with ‘returning videotapes’, or even the viewing of the murderous scenes he creates himself when torturing his victims.
The novel explores Bateman’s satiation of his perverse desires involving sex and violence, yet even in the face of the horror of the murderous scenes, it was the sexually graphic nature of the novel which first made the publishers hesitant to take on this novel. It is evident when reading that the ‘most gruesome passages of the novel turn out to be the ones that involve acts of sexual violence’, which is stated by Vartan Messier in his book Violence, Pornography, and Voyeurism as Transgression in Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho.
Messier explores the position of the reader to the text, and the pleasure one gets from reading these instances of horror. The text not only explores sexual taboos within Bateman, yet through the reader too. We are essentially a voyeur, a participant in pornography when reading the starkly graphic scenes.
The novel is rather boring and monotonous at times when discussing business, dining and shopping, yet it is laced with very graphic descriptions of both murder and sex, which the reader longs for in the face of the monotony of the other parts. Is Ellis asking the reader to question their own desire to indulge in Bateman’s perversity? The reader, as Laura Tanner suggests in her book Intimate Violence: Reading Rape and Torture in Twentieth-Century Fiction, ‘imaginatively becomes the violator’. Messier questions whether humankind has become so desensitised, that we are ‘only compelled by representations of radical extremes such as the cold visual aesthetics of pornography and ultra-violence?’. Bateman, like the reader, must become increasingly more perverse and sadistic in order to satiate his increasing desires.
So why is it, that as humans we are drawn to violence and gore? Why do we have to fill the monotony of our lives with the fascination of murder and crime?
Crime documentaries and TV shows are incredibly popular and have become increasingly more so in recent years. And it’s not just TV, some of the most popular video games are violent and simulate warfare and killing. So why is it that innocent people with no history of crime are so fascinated with such perversity and darkness? The answer is that we watch these shows, read these books, and play these games to fulfil the fantasy of taboo.
We live through characters, who achieve things that we couldn't. We dream of being insanely wealthy when we watch Wolf of Wall Street, but surely we don't dream of murdering innocent people when we see Patrick Bateman? Whilst most people do not have a conscious desire for murder, even sane people will have some small allure to chaos and destruction.
Like Patrick Bateman, many are sick of the tedium of day to day life and crime gives us an insight into a world that goes against the order of society. Whilst we may not actually want to torture others like Bateman, I think that most of us subconsciously long for the freedom to break the rules of society. Like our sadistic protagonist, we are searching for anything to satiate our desire to break free from our humdrum lives.