Bret Easton Ellis – Pop Culture King

March 23, 2012 Categories: ALL ARTICLES, BOOKS, CULTURE, FILM & TV, MUSIC, STUFF by 3 Comments


We live in a world where Kanye describes his sartorial superiority in relentless, irrelevant detail down to his monogrammed socks, where every stare, blink and perfectly pouty punctuation pause by those Hills girls have taken on some kind of existentialist meaning and have seeped into our very being. Where internet trolls feast on the vulnerable, adding disturbing comments to tribute Facebook pages of the recently deceased, the relentless, faceless, desensitised, cyber bullying from the comfort of your own home.

We live in an age where Twitter squashes all news together and timelines feature the latest from Syria spilling over someone from The Only Way Is Essex having trouble eating a kebab. Everything is equal, everything is relevant and meaningful. Where Skins ran the full Bacchanalian sub Less Than Zero gamut and teen froth 90210 featured a skewed business man named Patrick, amongst whose special peccadilloes was teen girl on girl sex (minus the rusty coat hanger and rat one would hope). This is a world where salacious gossip sites spread the darkest of rumours about the bleakest celebrity scandals and imagine a well known actor as their trusted informant. Robert Downey Jr. may have played the morally annihilated Julian but is he really willing to truly inhabit the space of the soulless or is this the work of another actor adroitly prepping themselves for an Imperial Bedrooms movie?

Have we crossed some kind of crass divide or have we just caught up with Easton Ellis’s terrifying vision of mankind? In his coined ‘post-Empire’ world that we now inhabit, Bret Easton Ellis is king.

He heralded the arrival of snark with his cast of emotionally unresponsive teenagers, dumb girls and their even dumber male counterparts. Apathetic, vicious and unforgiving, we squirmed at a world half recognised but a world we would all soon inhabit, where nobody ever really grows up and nobody ever really wants to be seen as concerned.

Most importantly he understood the importance of pop culture in our lives and elevated it to such an extent that it was sewn in throughout all his texts, as background noise, as conceited conversation fodder, as the very life blood of his character’s consciousness. The distant, deranged teen brains of Less Than Zero drench themselves daily in a wave of INXS, the Psychedelic Furs, the Go-Go’s and Elvis Costello, the T.V plays out a cycle of meaningless MTV images as they become more numb and lost before disappearing completely into their own vacuous existence.

From Victor’s endless, almost addictive roll call of celebrities in Glamorama to Patrick Bateman’s pop culture obsession, his mania merging into fantasy with the plastic and superficial, his internal downfall, the depraved sensory overload measured out in trash culture engrossment.

Whereas Ellis’s literary peers doused their characters in opera and the New York Times, Bateman is the facile beacon of the mindless with his helpless almost subconscious devotion to the Patty Winter’s show and its ever more bizarre topics, his talismanic sightings of Ivana Trump, his diatribes on Huey Lewis, Genesis, Whitney Houston, it is the bricolage of modern life writ large, more meaningful, relatable and therefore all the more chilling as we don’t have to search too far to attune ourselves with the Bateman cultural mindset.

Therein lies the crux of his pop culture references, we all share the same landscape. Pop music, from the taxi stuck in downtown traffic booming out Like A Prayer to the random compilation Clay’s ex made him featuring Bat for Lashes, it is the soundtrack of our lives, all our lives, the brutal as well as the beautiful moments. It bleeds out everywhere through everything, an uncontrollable mass that we can’t escape from. Bret Easton Ellis understands this sonic, visual, wallpaper effect and weaves it everywhere until it feels less like self conscious posturing and more like the movie camera of the mind capturing every unique moment however mundane or horrific.

This unmoved, undeterred stance, the repeated cast of characters and willingness to incorporate the latest and hippest acts gives his novels not only a sense of a firmly rooted reality but also makes them ideal, if not disturbing filmic territory. Only four films have been made of his novels and most lack the sarcastic, comedic bite within the prose, with only Rules of Attraction driving the ultra-cynical edge.

The sticky problem Easton Ellis caused was the question of how far were the film representations willing to fully inhabit the world of the novels. Downey Jnr. may have made a convincing, self absorbed Julian but the film version of Less Than Zero suffered from being too glossy with Andrew McCarthy performing a Brat-pack -goes to- rehab version of Clay and a misguided Hollywood narrative mutating it beyond recognition. Christian Bale hammed it up to pantomime campness as Bateman in the ‘Carry On Killing’ version of American Psycho over egging its comedic pudding.

The soul dissolving bleakness, nihilism and narcissism is never properly captured it’s as if the movie business has been to afraid to expose the uncomfortable reality and utter teeth gnashing mundanity enmeshed in his work.

Another issue that has never truly been perfect is the soundtrack. For a writer who understands the importance of pop music in our lives his film adaptations soundtracks have suffered from severe neglect, never attempting to build around the ready-made playlist provided by Ellis.

If only Nicolas Winding Refn hadn’t have stolen A Real Hero for the sublime Drive, it slots into the Easton Ellis aural aesthetic so perfectly it sounds like it was made especially for the Less Than Zero crew to dissolve in a ‘lude haze to (with disastrous results) If there ever is a decision made to make a newer version more faithful to the book or the rumours of the Imperial Bedrooms film are true he should look no further than the keyboard led disco depression of  Twin Shadow whose tales of destructive melancholy are the unused soundtrack to the misspent youths featured in Easton Ellis’s novels.

The snap and slap of Slow with its whirring guitars, dappled keyboard line and almost ghostly, howling refrain about a desire to be emotionally dead sounds like Clay’s theme tune. The eerie shimmer of Tyrant Destroyed its distorted vocals and menacing undercurrent shifting between the sensual and the traumatic is the worm hearted blackness unearthed in any Ellis anti-hero.

With his Twitter led churn of ideas for a possible American Psycho sequel it will be fascinating to find out Patrick Bateman’s new obsessions: Coldplay? The Kardashians, Keane? With this tantalising information and before the text has even been written the inevitable question of another movie has been mooted but who to direct and what tone to take?

Maybe now as we have reached his predicted post-Empire apex, where film and television blast taboos daily and the internet has completely dissolved any remnants of shame or embarrassment we may see a truly unflinching adaptation of his work.  If we still possess enough reflexive empathy to consider flinching in the first place that is…




3 Responses to : Bret Easton Ellis – Pop Culture King

  1. Pingback: Robert Downey JR − Bret Easton Ellis – The Post-Empire Pop Culture King — jennpops …

  2. eilish says:

    Wow, Jenn this is a fantastic piece of writing. And to top it off a Twin Shadow track – you’re right it would have been the perfect accompaniment to a open top driving scene in Less Than Zero.
    Keep this shit up!

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