Academic journal article Outskirts

'Sex Sells, Dude'1: A Re-Examination of the Mass Media Feminist Critique of American Psycho

Academic journal article Outskirts

'Sex Sells, Dude'1: A Re-Examination of the Mass Media Feminist Critique of American Psycho

Article excerpt

The story of the reception of Bret Easton Ellis's scandalous 1991 novel, American Psycho, is one of extreme responses, whether critical or defensive. Writing at the time of the novel's publication, feminist Naomi Wolf critiques American Psycho because of the pornographic way it depicts misogynistic violence towards women, and the powerful lesson in conditioning this delivers to the reader (Wolf 33). While Ellis's publishers and editors insisted Ellis excise four particularly horrific scenes from the manuscript prior to publication, Ellis refused. Most journalistic reviews concur in broad terms with Wolf's critique, although many fail to identify precisely that it is the sexualised misogynist content that makes the novel so problematic for its primarily mainstream readers. Despite this initial critical trend in newspaper reviews, early scholars like Elizabeth Young defend the novel on aesthetic grounds, claiming it is postmodern and misunderstood (Young 86). Next, Mary Harron's film adaptation American Psycho in 2000 removes three of the four problematic scenes from the screenplay and reframes the fourth so that the parody is more clearly signalled for the viewer (Harron and Turner 188). Finally, in spite of the implications for the novel of Harron's adaptation, recent scholars continue to minimise the effect of the four scenes.

The analysis below will challenge most scholarship about the novel, will argue that pornography and violent anti-women sentiment are inseparable in the text, and will claim that the four particularly horrific scenes aesthetically dominate the novel to such a degree that many view it as a "ruined" "project" (Harron and Turner 188). In so doing, this essay represents a counter-point to two recent scholarly books, Bret Easton Ellis: American Psycho, Glamorama, Lunar Park (2011), edited by Naomi Mandel, and Sonia Baelo-Allué's Bret Easton Ellis's Controversial Fiction: Writing Between High and Low Culture (2011), both of which fail to critique the novel's women-hating contents and, for the most part, ignore the abhorrent scenes.

This essay will begin by re-examining Wolf's argument and comparing it to other reviews. Next the recency effect will be employed in order to demonstrate how the novel's pornographic elements become fused with its horrific elements. Overall, the present study aims to arrest the current trend whereby scholars gloss over the extremity of the sexualised hatred of women depicted in Ellis's novel.

American Psycho is an impossibly ambiguous story narrated by an impossibly unreliable protagonist, Patrick Bateman, a serial killer who works on Wall Street. By day, so Bateman claims, he avoids work, preferring to flirt with and insult his secretary, and by night he by turns provokes and avoids his fiancé Evelyn, at the same time as juggling an affair with his colleague, Luis's fiancé, Courtney. But when his alleged attempts at heterosexuality fail and infuriate him, Bateman takes revenge on Manhattan's sex-workers and single women, acting out pornographic scenarios with them before restraining, torturing, raping and killing them, and finally masturbating with their body parts. When Bateman isn't thus engaged he is partying with his Wall Street peers, pursuing his elusive friend Price and avoiding the homosexual advances of Luis. While the novel is unquestionably postmodern, contrary to the belief of most scholars, no amount of textual deconstruction can contain the problematic scenes which utterly dominate the novel and spoil its otherwise humorous satiric and parodic aspects. Four excessive scenes include, but are not limited to: the Christie and Sabrina scene, see pages 173-6; the Christie and Elizabeth scene, see pages 288-291; the Torri and Tiffany scene, (which was excerpted in Time and Spy), see pages 303-6; and the scene with the rat and the anonymous "girl," see pages 326-329. It is the combination of the extreme ambiguity with the extreme misogyny that is at the centre of the debate about the novel. …

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