A psychopath on TikTok: why is the social network of generation Z obsessed with ‘American Psycho’?

Since the appearance of American Psychothe controversial novel published in 1991 by Bret Easton Ellis and, especially, after the premiere in 2000 of the film of the same title, directed by Mary Harron and with the protagonist in the skin of Christian baleIt seems that the character of Patrick Bateman 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 banner.

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 follow 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 since Men’s Healththe bible of bundled bodies, they warned their readers: “We don’t recommend you try this too.” And it was right there, in 2020, when Bateman conquered a new generation who, in full confinement, saw themselves reflected in him (without a hint of irony, in most cases). But first, a little 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, the 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 the novel “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.’

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 1980s who is also a serial killer (or so he thinks, the movie and the novel offer the possibility that all of that part was a hallucination).

The writer Bret Easton Ellis, author of the novel ‘American Psycho’.WWD (Penske Media via Getty Images)

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 are described without sparing a single detail, probably the element of the novel that made her so famous (or so infamous).

The fact that when the protagonist confesses his crimes, the world around him laughs or even acts complicit makes this story one of the best metaphors for the savage business world ever written. This is how Bret Easton Ellis wanted his book to be understood: as a great metaphor. “I think what people in my book have is what many would like: a fit body, a lot of money, and expensive tastes.” told EL PAÍS in 1991. This last sentence, pronounced by Ellis more than 30 years ago, is curiously premonitory knowing everything that he has ended up representing his protagonist, 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. 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 malea concept similar to that of the alpha male, and which according to what Günseli Yalcinkaya wrote in an article in the magazine Dazed & Confused, It is a new socio-sexual identity that has spread in recent times on the Internet, especially among young men. The term would define 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 like 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 rare, but at the same time successful 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 it allows alpha males to exist as a position, embodied for them by the popular kids in high school.

How do Bateman and American Psycho? According to wrote journalist Shaurya Singh in the newsletter The Digital NativeBateman’s main characteristics—his sexual insecurity, insensitivity, shallowness, and obsession with money—are directly connected to some of Gen Z’s (and plenty of others) obsessions during those strange times.

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 (and that during the pandemic increased their revenue by 553%).

The White House

From a more 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 production. Even the design of Bateman’s apartment, luxurious and minimalist, fit with the most fashionable decorative aspirations of the day. Let’s remember that it was at the beginning of 2020 when AD magazine published a famous report about 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 that never happened.

He had a perfect body and loved radio pop music: Patrick Bateman (pictured, played by Christian Bale in the 2000 film) would have been TikTok fodder.
He had a perfect body and loved radio pop music: Patrick Bateman (pictured, played by Christian Bale in the 2000 film) would have been TikTok fodder.Hulton Archive (Getty Images)

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 almost everyone’s concern 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 such as TikTok or YouTube with its martial and illogical optimism. Investing in those risky assets became almost a form of religion and “hold with balls” in a new commandment.

The crypto bros’ media glory days may not have been many, but they’ve been intense (the crypto crash wiped them out of the modern day spotlight), but they’re still there, checking charts and formulating optimistic theories all over the internet. , dreaming of their future earnings in the darkness of their rooms (real or imagined), like some kind of modern Gollums, caressing a ring that shines less and less.

For all of them, who were already born with the internet and smartphones and for whom the eighties are a decade away, Patrick Bateman is no metaphor. He doesn’t care that his creator’s goal was to ridicule or represent in the crudest possible way precisely what they glorify. Bateman, for them, is part of a gallery of idols in which, as explained by the journalist Brad Esposito in an article for the Australian edition of the magazine ViceThey are also Tyler Durden’s Fight clubthe joker of Joaquin Phoenix or Jordan Belfort of 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.

The adherents of this religion are a chaotic tribe that mixes everything from modern stoics to gym freaks, obsessed with controlling their habits, militant misogynists, trolls of the internet, inhabitants of 4chan, Reddit or Forocars, anti-wokes, voters of far-right parties or staunch critics of Marvel’s attempts to diversify its audience. They are the ones who are using 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, seeing what was coming after the appointment of Donald Trump as president from the United States, ended up auctioning on his website posters of the film signed by him and with the slogan: Make America Great Again.

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A psychopath on TikTok: why is the social network of generation Z obsessed with ‘American Psycho’?