American Psycho is a brilliantly satirical and comical view of the toxicity of consumerism and masculinity. Bateman is an absurd villain that's remarkably not too far from the truth. Gabe discusses the outrageous villain and Kat explores the science of wealth's impact on our brains.
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American Psycho (2000)
A wealthy New York City investment banking executive, Patrick Bateman, hides his alternate psychopathic ego from his co-workers and friends as he delves deeper into his violent, hedonistic fantasies.
Directed by Mary Harron
Consumerism, Toxic Masculinity & the Insignificance of Patrick Bateman by Gabe Castro
RED: Quotes, someone else's words.
American Psycho is a brilliantly satirical and comical view at the toxicity of consumerism and masculinity. Mary Harron’s film is an adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis' controversial novel of the same name. Christian Bale plays Patrick Bateman, said to be heavily inspired by the insincerity of Tom Cruise. The film follows Bateman, a successful Wall Street investment banker by day, who leads a sinister double life as a sadistic serial killer by night. As we spend time with the baffling mind of Bateman, we find that beneath his polished exterior lies a deeply disturbed individual who embraces violence as a means of asserting dominance and control. Harron is hilarious, creating the blurred world for Bateman that has him unable to distinguish between his graphic fantasies and his toxic life of wealth and vanity. But she also designs a world of people so engrossed in their own identities and status they are blind to the violence and harbored thoughts of a psychopath seated across from them.
American Psycho like Fight Club has some of the most misguided fans. In those who’ve completely missed the point. One day we will cover Fight Club and Chuck Palahniuk to discuss how a story written by a gay man that is an obvious critique on toxic masculinity can be so completely misunderstood that men label themselves as Tyler Durden-types in their online dating profiles. The same can be said about American Psycho where men leap entirely over the point and land on “This is my identity now,” idolizing the problematic and laughably absurd masculine monster that is Patrick Bateman. In an interview with Bale, he mentioned how uncomfortable some of these fans made him, not understanding how anyone could idolize this monstrous idiot.
But for those of us who got the point, American Psycho is a brilliant feminist film. Bateman is so excruciatingly pitiful, socially inept, and pathetic. We can roll our eyes alongside the sex workers just doing their job to catch a bag. We can smirk at his exhaustive morning skincare routine, his excessive grooming, and the deliberate clothing choices he makes with the intent of convincing us and himself of the very manly man he is. An ideology that is harmful even to himself. And we can understand the confusion between him and another co-worker. All these men are the same man and they are all the vice-president.
Patrick Bateman and his Wall Street colleagues are in constant pursuit of the latest fashion, high-end dining experiences, and status symbols. Each man is void of their own personality, defined only by their status and the items they surround themselves with. They are indistinguishable from the next if not for their specific suit or access to exclusive restaurants. The meticulous attention to detail regarding fashion labels, business cards, and even superior taste in music becomes a reflection of their identities and a way to establish dominance over one another. Status is such a crippling obsession to Bateman that all of his decisions are wrapped in the pursuit of elevation, caught in an endless dick-measuring contest. One of the best scenes in arguably, all of cinema, is the infamous business card scene. It's a brilliant example of the absurd lengths these characters go to for superiority. The laughably absurd severity of focus on the color, font, and weight of the business card highlights their shallow preoccupation with appearances and the desperate need for validation.
The film confronts our own obsession with status and in the exaggerated portrayal of these wealthy monsters, do we not see some truth? We’re left questioning whether consumerism has become the new religion, where people worship brands and possessions rather than seeking genuine connections or personal growth, and leaving husks of humans in its wake. Through the film's violence we find an expression of frustration and a release from the pressures of consumer-driven society. Bateman's murderous tendencies, seemingly driven by his dissatisfaction with the world around him, represent a darker consequence of a society that values superficiality above all else. His acting-out is the destructive nature of unchecked consumerism. It shows the lengths to which individuals might go to escape the monotony and hollowness of their lives and identity. In a twisted way, Bateman's acts of violence become a rebellion against a world that has reduced humanity to mere commodities. Each part of his intricately designed persona and existence is with specific intention to be something he can never actually be. He has left humanity behind and become a commodity himself, unable to connect with other humans in any genuine way. He has separated himself so severely from reality and his own self that he views his life like a film.
The relentless pressure to conform to societal expectations of success, power, and dominance leaves no room for vulnerability or emotional expression. American Psycho exposes the emotionally stunted nature of toxic masculinity and the toll it takes on individuals' mental and emotional well-being. Even his sexual exploits are influenced by the violent nature of the porn he watches while working out. The women in his life, much like the men, are objects to be used to work towards the perfect life he believes himself deserving of. He is so obsessed with his own appearance that during the sex scene, he’s more captivated by his own body than those he is with. In each of his interactions with other humans, he is inauthentic and smug. He imposes his superiority on them by inquiring on their knowledge about, arguably completely mundane music, and impresses upon them his own importance and status. But while he, as narrator, insists on his own importance we are inundated with interactions that paint him as forgettable and dismissed. Everyone around him may be a tool but to everyone, he is nothing.
Now let’s get into explicit spoilers about the end of the film and the throughline of his monstrosity. In the film, Bateman has an upsetting interaction with Jared Leto Paul Allen who confuses him for another man who in Allen’s defense looks just like him. Further, Bateman explains the mistake is understandable as both these men do the same job and are essentially the same in every way that counts. This exchange coupled with Allen’s superior? business card unleashes a rage in Bateman that has him using Allen’s confusion to his advantage. He invites Allen out to dinner as Halberstram, the man Allen mistook him for. After many drinks, he brings him back to his apartment covered in plastic sheets and newspaper. Allen is too intoxicated and so secure in his own status that it doesn’t occur to him that he’d be in danger. Bateman murders him and works to cover it up. He sneaks into Allen’s apartment and leaves a new voicemail message about Allen leaving for London. Eventually, he begins using Allen’s apartment, far nicer than his own (I guess???) for his other desires (murder, sex, and status). Now the ending, as I had first interpreted it was that Bateman had imagined all of this violence and chaos. That he was so wrapped in his own potential and selfish being that he believed himself to be capable of these horrifying acts but in reality, he is pathetically simply someone with a great imagination.
However, thanks to Youtuber Allerix Films in their video American Psycho: A Message on Consumerism, I have found that that is not the case. Harron herself has mentioned that it was her approach to the end that has inspired these interpretations. Rather, she hoped the end would be vague and left to interpretation. Allerix Films explained the truth of that perplexing ending and it was so helpful. In the end, after a descent into true madness, Bateman goes on a killing spree and eventually calls his lawyer to leave a message admitting to all the horrors he’s committed. When he finds his lawyer the next day, he is first mistaken for someone else and when he explains who he is, is laughed off for his absurd joke. Bateman tries to convey the truth of the matter but is dismissed. The lawyer explains that he had seen Allen recently in London, an idea that the detective of the case shared previously and is heavily influenced by Bateman’s message on Allen’s phone. Panicked, he runs to Allen’s apartment where he’d been storing the gruesome corpses of his victims. Only the apartment is immaculate. Pristine, white walls and a chipper real estate agent are there instead of blood and regret. We would then be led to believe none what we’ve seen has happened. But instead, if we consider that Allen’s family was investigating his disappearance and keeping it underwraps, we could understand that perhaps the family discovered the violent aftermath and thought it to be committed by Allen. His disappearance a result of him fleeing the scene of the crime. Leaving even this, the only act that was truly Bateman’s, to be erased and rewritten as someone else. Even his villainy is not his own as he is condemned to forever be mistaken for someone else, so terribly forgettable and unoriginal that no one will remember his name.
The Psychological Impact of Wealth: Money Makes Monsters of us All
by Kat Kushin
RED: Quotes, someone else's words.
This film is a commentary on many things but most glaringly the ego of a rich white man who has never experienced consequences for his actions, and struggles to grasp reality. The world of American Capitalism rewards men who act like Patrick Bateman, and protects them even after they’ve committed heinous and blatant atrocities. The character of Patrick Bateman embodies the intersections between consumerism, capitalism, white supremacy, and toxic masculinity.
In an article titled How Money Changes the Way You Think and Feel on Berkley.edu’s Greater Good Magazine, they outline the ways wealth impacts the human mind. The article outlines that because of the privileges that wealth affords, wealthy people generally have less empathy for their fellow human, have clouded moral judgment, are more likely to exhibit addictive behavior, more likely to pursue wealth at a compulsive level, that children who grow up wealthy are often more anxious, depressed and isolated emotionally, that in general wealthy people experience social isolation, and that the achievement of economic success often times brings people further from happiness and love.
The lack of empathy ties back to the absence of the need to depend on other humans for basic everyday survival. Operating in a lower economic bracket often necessitates an “it takes a village” mentality, working with your fellow human to achieve survival and safety. Money removes the necessity for dependence, and because of this, the acknowledgement of others fundamentally changes. Understanding the facial expressions, body cues and other physical indicators of the environment are not relevant to wealthy individuals who because of their wealth are not faced with the active threat of death. The influence of wealth also changes the understanding of needs vs wants, and because of this many wealthy people prioritize different and sometimes more superficial things. This detaches them further from the understanding of other humans whose actions are motivated by survival instead of indulgence. “A lot of what we see is a baseline orientation for the lower class to be more empathetic and the upper class to be less [so],” study co-author Michael Kraus told Time. “Lower-class environments are much different from upper-class environments. Lower-class individuals have to respond chronically to a number of vulnerabilities and social threats. You really need to depend on others so they will tell you if a social threat or opportunity is coming, and that makes you more perceptive of emotions. Psychologists who study the impact of wealth and inequality on human behavior have found that money can powerfully influence our thoughts and actions in ways that we’re often not aware of, no matter our economic circumstances… UC Berkeley research found that even fake money could make people behave with less regard for others. Researchers observed that when two students played Monopoly, one having been given a great deal more Monopoly money than the other, the wealthier player expressed initial discomfort, but then went on to act aggressively, taking up more space and moving his pieces more loudly, and even taunting the player with less money.”
In another article that covers the same monopoly experiment, they elaborate that the root cause of the social aggression that took place in that experiment can be explained by a theory called social class essentialism. The article I learned this term from was titled: How Money Affects the Psychology of the Extremely Rich on The Swaddle. In essence it’s Patrick Bateman’s whole deal, and when applied to an inherently racist capitalistic system, Social Class Essentialism explains the danger of the wealthy lacking empathy, because it translates to bigotry and harm. Social Class Essentialism refers to the belief that social classes or economic classes are inherently fixed and unchangeable, with inherent characteristics and traits associated with each class. It suggests that individuals' social class positions are determined by their innate qualities, abilities, or inherent characteristics, rather than external factors such as social structures, economic opportunities, or systemic inequalities. It is a white supremacist viewpoint that fed into the toxic consumer culture of the 1980s and led to the “I don’t see color” movement of the 90s and early 2000s. It is the reason for the nonsensical rant Bateman delivers before murdering the homeless man in the film. In this rant, it is clear that Bateman believes in Social Class Essentialism.
When applied to social class, essentialism assumes that people's class positions are predetermined by their essential nature, such as intelligence, talent, work ethic, or inherent qualities. When applied to the egos of rich white men, in believing they are inherently or divinely given the power, wealth and status they enjoy, inversely, that other individuals are placed elsewhere because they are less. This understanding of wealth and how it impacts the human brain even further validates the fact that trickle down economics would never work in practice. There has to be care at the top for those at the bottom, which wealth removes, on a scientific level. Also if they believe that their class position is fixed and unalterable, they have no incentive to want to help others rise up to meet them. This viewpoint often implies that social mobility or movement between social classes is limited or impossible because it disregards the impact of external factors such as education, economic policies, structural inequalities, and historical circumstances that shape class divisions. It suggests that individuals in lower classes are inherently deficient or lacking the qualities necessary to move up in society, while those in higher classes are inherently superior and deserving of their privileges. This is not to say that all rich people believe in social class essentialism, but that they are, because of social isolation, privilege, and lack of meaningful connection to others outside their class, more likely to struggle with supporting others. As humans are programmed to try and understand their surroundings, the belief in social class essentialism is a way wealthy humans could rationalize their surroundings, behaviors, and the world they live in to be “fair” or “just”.
Looping back to the article titled How Money Changes the Way You Think and Feel
Batemen’s sense of entitlement is given a bit more context. His pursuits are him just taking what he’s “entitled to” like the reservation at that restaurant that all the other rich men love. His obsession with having the most luxury items, the most expensive apartment, among other things, furthers his detachment from ethical choices and care for others. In a UC Berkeley study they found that in San Francisco—where the law requires that cars stop at crosswalks for pedestrians to pass—drivers of luxury cars were four times less likely than those in less expensive vehicles to stop and allow pedestrians the right of way. They were also more likely to cut off other drivers.
Another study suggested that merely thinking about money could lead to unethical behavior. Researchers from Harvard and the University of Utah found that study participants were more likely to lie or behave immorally after being exposed to money-related words.
“Even if we are well-intentioned, even if we think we know right from wrong, there may be factors influencing our decisions and behaviors that we’re not aware of,” University of Utah associate management professor Kristin Smith-Crowe, one of the study’s co-authors, told MarketWatch.
Now, to tie in toxic masculinity to this picture. Toxic Masculinity defined: a set of attitudes and ways of behaving stereotypically associated with or expected of men, regarded as having a negative impact on men and on society as a whole.
Under toxic masculinity men are expected to exhibit:
Toughness: This is the notion that men should be physically strong, emotionally callous, and behaviorally aggressive.
Antifeminity: This involves the idea that men should reject anything that is considered to be feminine, such as showing emotion or accepting help.
Power: This is the assumption that men must work toward obtaining power and status (social and financial) so they can gain the respect of others.1
The intersection that Batemen deals with is how his own perception of masculinity intersects with his whiteness and his class. Because of his status, his perception of masculinity is tied to his wealth, and his idea of what society expects from other white men like him. He struggles with the two ideas of fitting in and being remembered. In cloning himself to fit the expectations of and the approval of the other white men around him, he becomes obsessed with having the exact same privileges, but to be at the top. It kind of ties into the whole “alpha male” ideology, where he wants acceptance from the men around him, but also superiority and power. His pursuits of blonde women have nothing to do with the women themselves, but of the approval from the men around him. He has no care for Reese Witherspoons character, but only cares for what the men around him think of that match. His obsession with blonde women, sex and violence is a reflection of what heteronormaltive white men are supposed to pursue. His pursuit of any and all blonde women, but especially the blonde women that the other white men around him “have” is his way of “dominating” the other men around him. He sees his ability to collect blonde women as a direct reflection of his status and power. His capacity for violence and anger is something that ties into his ingenuine emotional expression, which men are socialized to exhibit. With the way that toxic masculinity impacts men, it stems from being socialized to suppress all emotional expression, and prioritizes conformity. His expression of violence through murder is just another flex of his power and what he thinks he should be doing to achieve higher status.