What motivates Patrick Bateman

American Psycho

Hellfire of the vanities

Book review by Holger Wacker Mar 2007

Patrick Bateman, a 27-year-old Wall Street investment banker, spends most of his time and income on clothing, drugs, pornography, fine dining, and going to clubs. He and Evelyn Williams are a couple, and he has an affair with Courtney Rawlinson, the fiancé of his colleague Luis Carruthers. He also frequently uses prostitutes. In his imagination, he likes to murder friends and competitors.

After a meeting with his colleague Paul Allen about a bigger budget got him very upset, he takes out his anger with the knife on a homeless man. He develops a plan to kill Allen with an ax. He breaks into Allen's apartment and manipulates the answering machine to create the impression that Allen is temporarily in London. Surprisingly, however, the private detective Donald Kimball investigates Allen's disappearance. In Bateman's mind, events are spiraling out of control. He wants to kill his secretary Jean, but is disturbed by Evelyn. In Allen's apartment he has sex with his girlfriend Elizabeth and the prostitute Christie. In the end, he murders the women in a blood frenzy. When he shoots an old woman, the police chase him. Bateman kills the cops and flees to his office. To confess the deeds, he calls his lawyer. When he later visits Allen's apartment, it is tidy and is for sale. While reading through Bateman's diary, Jean finds evidence of psychosis. Bateman meets his lawyer, who mistakes him for someone and tells him Allen is in London.

A brutal improvisation

From 1995 to 2001 "American Psycho" was indexed in Germany as a font that could endanger young people. In February 2001, the publishing house Kiepenheuer & Witsch achieved the lifting of the indexing before the Higher Administrative Court in North Rhine-Westphalia.

"American Psycho" shows a world in which humans are predators, prey or scavengers. The concept of predatory capitalism is consistently thought through to the end in this horror novel, which is not only expressed in the practice of cannibalizing acts. The novel can well be read as a commentary on reactionary politics and economics (Reaganomics) in the USA in the 1980s. It can also be read as a brutal improvisation on Tom Wolfe's purgatory of vanities. Bateman works for Pierce & Pierce, the company where Sherman McCoy works for Tom Wolfe. In Oliver Stone's film WALL STREET (1987) we are reminded that stock exchanges are redistribution machines and that the money that the winners pocket is not printed especially for them, but comes from the losers, who are often only losers because they have a naive trust in the institutions and their agents. Wall Street is a symbol of a sphere of values ​​in which, to put it badly, executions are carried out on a plane.

Basically, Bateman does nothing more than transfer his behavior at work to the private sphere, which is logical, since both areas coincide with him. Bateman's life can be described using a few parameters. In the mornings, he lovingly deals with his body and its care. We can compare the amount of time Bateman spends applying face creams and slaughtering people who cloud his field of vision. Bateman is a narcissist and a fetishist. If he organizes group sex, then he staged it down to the last detail. He observes his body movements, his muscles in the mirror and records the entire event on video. The lifestyle of the male decision-maker in business is explored as exemplary. For once, Bateman and colleagues passionately compare their business cards, their lettering, typographical design, material and much more. It resonates with the statement: This is how men discuss their phalluses in other contexts. Something like card envy can be observed. In some scenes, Patrick and his competitors try to get reservations for the most exclusive restaurants at the last minute. For a man it is all about the reservation, which, because he does not want to go out to eat, completely removes it from its original purpose. The parameters for carrying out rivalries are diverse: clothing, office equipment and size, preferential treatment in important restaurants.

If office equipment is an important status indicator compared to investment bankers, it does not matter what happens in these offices. Nobody seems to be working in them. The work takes place in the secretariats.

Nothing can be verified in Bateman's apocalyptic world

Bateman constantly argues in categories of comparison and similarity (someone looks like ..., something is like ...) in the absence of the object of comparison. There are hardly any linguistic conventions of which one is aware, and conversations rarely take place on the same object or topic. In a world like this, it doesn't matter whether the murders actually take place, whether Bateman fantasizes or carries out them. The functionality of the murders lies in showing how male territorial thinking can lead to excess when the thinker becomes frustrated. Bateman is a sharply drawn figure in all its emptiness. He is the representative of an ideology that requires an inferior life in order to secure one's own cultural place.

The first victim is an African-American, a homeless person. He's sitting on the street with a paper cup, hungry, when Bateman lures him with money. Before Bateman stabs the man, he asks him why he's not looking for a job. No longer integrated into the capitalist reproductive system, he has lost all right to live. Such victims are outside the system and therefore cannot, therefore, must not be consumers.

In "American Psycho" the economy is the determinant of social (and individual) life, not the state. Community norms are no longer negotiated at the political level, but are dictated by economic "necessities". Logically, the state is absent or incapable in "American Psycho". This is exemplified by the one moment of the emergence of state power, in which Bateman kills all police officers who are chasing him.

The fact that "American Psycho" aims at trends of the eighties of the twentieth century, on hairstyles, greed, Genesis, Whitney Houston, Huey Lewis and the News, Schlitzerfilme, AIDS and Ronald Reagan, should not lead to the short circuit, the topics of the Films are fixed in the past. Greed, money and greed are still central motives and motivation in human activity.

The novel begins with a quote. On the wall of a bank someone has smeared the words: "You who enter here, let go of all hope". Obviously, with this quote, Ellis opens the gates of hell (Dante, Inferno III, 9). The novel ends on p. 549 with the words: "NO EXIT".

When the novel asks at the end: "And how was I?", Then some turn away with horror, while the others answer: "One of the best, yet."

(Holger Wacker, October 2011)