American Psycho and it's Social Satire





[In this criticism, the use of social satire is analyzed in its use to fully depict the 1980's upper class as being superficial and empty]


The character of Patrick Bateman, by all means, is not supposed to be taken fully seriously. While murdering numerous homeless people, countless "hardbody" women (a phrase used over and over again in the novel), a couple dogs, and even a child, the amount of sickening violence he instills on other living creatures is indeed hard to comprehend. While being a psychopath for most of his life, ever since being fourteen and raping his maid, he also realized something that most people around him did not. He has recognized that the world he lives in is empty and shallow with nothing special occurring on a day to day basis but the same monotonous lifestyle of superficiality. All he and his friends care about are getting with the hottest women, what the latest fashion is and making sure you have it, and going to the most expensive restaurants while making sure you have a reservation. He, other than the psychotic killings, is the typical yuppie of the 1980's. Occurrences in his life and the people he encounters can truly be viewed as a satire on the consumerist society of that time.


There are numerous times when Patrick Bateman in fact admits to being a deranged killer and no one listens to him, as people are too busy enriched in their superficial and fake life to truly comprehend what he is saying. He says to Paul Owen, the man who he will kill, "I like to dissect girls. Did you know I'm utterly insane?" (206) While Owen is on the verge of being drunk he just laughs at this comment not truly listening and goes right to asking Bateman about his girlfriend Cecilia, since Owen mistook Bateman for Marcus Halberstam who is the one dating Cecilia. Instances like this where men get mistaken for others happens frequently as they all look very alike. Bateman even goes along with Owen and understands why it's so easy to think he's Marcus. At another instance, Patrick is talking to a hardbody and she asks him what he does. He responds with, "I'm into, oh, murders and executions mostly"(206). The women doesn't flinch for a second and thinks he said mergers and acquisitions when he clearly did. Moments like this truly depict how the people is this consumerist society are just going through the motions of interactions and not fully listening to what each another has to say. The interactions are very robotic with the typical questions and topics of fashion, food, clothes, and gossip. People do not stray from these topics and because of this only hear what they want to.


The morning after doing a lot of drinking and drugs Patrick wakes up and goes through his routine of looking as good as possible. He says, "All it comes down to is this: I feel like shit but look great” (106). This is the motto of this society, as no one can be happy knowing that the most important part of their lives is their looks and that's all others care about. The funny part is that all the men look the same and the only thing the men look at in women is whether they are a hardbody. Every time Patrick meets up with someone he goes through in great detail what they're wearing and who designed each part of it. He also comments in every chapter what was on "The Patty Winters Show" that morning which signifies how people at the time would give up time in their life to watch a show which they followed like a ritual while it conflicted with other parts of their lives. For instance, Patrick misses numerous meetings because this show is on and he feels he has an obligation to watch it. Not only this but Patrick knows literally everything there is to know about Genesis, Whitney Houston, and Huey Lewis and the News which shows that while he can list everything about them and his feelings toward all their songs, he still doesn't know his true self and attempts to make up for it by knowing these pointless facts.

Like stated before, one of the major elements which creates the satirical view of this consumerist society is the fact that everyone looks the same. Paul Owen thinks Patrick Bateman is in fact Marcus Halberstam and throughout their relationship Patrick goes along with this and fully understands why this misunderstanding occurred. He says, “Owen has mistaken me for Marcus Halberstam but for some reason it really doesn’t matter and it seems a logical faux pas since Marcus works at P & P also, in fact does the same exact thing I do, and he also has a Penchant for Valentino suits and clear prescription glasses and we share the same barber at the same place, the Pierre Hotel, so it seems understandable; it doesn’t irk me” (89). This description shows that these two people in many facets posses the same lifestyle. In fact, most of them do, as they all wear designer suits, have their hair slicked back, work at the same place, eat at the same restaurants, and talk about the same pointless topics.


After Bateman murders Paul Owen, he makes it look as tough Paul has taken a trip to England. After a few months Owen’s family decides to hire a private investigator named Donald Kimball to investigate his disappearance. Detective Kimball has in fact gotten reports from people who have seen Paul Owen in London, which Bateman knows is impossible since he brutally murdered Owen with an axe to the face. Not only this, but Kimball got information from the real Marcus Halberstam that Bateman was with him and a group of other friends at Atlantis. The fact that these men don’t even know who else they’re spending time with truly exemplifies how similar each of them are to one another and that replacing one wall street yuppie with another will not change the context of the conversation away from women, fashion, restaurants, or business. Another example of how empty and unemotional this class of people really is.


While Bateman was hiding under a desk in his office waiting for the SWAT team and police outside to subside, he called his lawyer admitting to murdering and torturing many people. When Bateman confronts his lawyer later on about this, his lawyer thinks the entire message is a joke and in fact thinks Bateman is a man named Davis who pulled a prank on him. He even says that Bateman was such an unbelievable person to choose that he couldn’t believe it. He said, “But come on, man, you had one fatal flaw: Bateman’s such a bloody ass-kisser, such a brown-nosing goody-goody, that I couldn’t fully appreciate it”(387). Not only does this lawyer not know his own client who pays him handsomely because all the men look and act the same, but he also has no clue what kind of a man Bateman is. This depicts how fake the people are in this high class and how they are not the perfect people they depict themselves to be, but instead have dark secrets they hide from their social peers.

After Bateman implodes on the lawyer telling him it was not a joke and he in fact did all those acts the lawyer still does not believe him as he believes he saw Owen in London just ten days ago and had dinner with him personally. This is another example of how all the yuppie businessmen look the same and their personalities are so similar to one another that it is very easy to mix one up with someone else. This shows that these people who have all the money anyone could possibly need are living in a society so empty and hallow because they act and function in such a manner where there is no individuality whatsoever. Patrick in fact realized his life is empty of emotion by stating, "There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity, something illusory, and though I can hide my cold gaze and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable: I simply am not there...This confession has meant nothing..." (376). While of course his case is overblown with the fact he's a psycho killer, this can be applied to everyone else in his yuppie society who are not living the lives of real people but instead going through the motions of a superficial way of functioning. They are exceptional at making it look like they truly care but in reality they don't because they are not able to comprehend what others are truly feeling. They lack that aspect which makes other people's lives so real and that is compassion and individuality.

As it can easily be seen Bret Easton Ellis throws in countless examples of how not only Patrick Bateman but also everyone else in his 1980's consumerist society are trapped in a cycle of ego and superficiality that they can never run away from. Whether it's using drugs as escape from the pain of nothingness such as Timothy Price and Courtney Lawrence succumb to doing, or trying to sleep with as many hardbody women as possible, many people attempt to drown their pitiful lives with something else. Patrick Bateman's method was torture and murder. He realized his life was in shambles as he was a victim of his society and the only thing he thought he could do was instill the pain he felt onto others. It's a vicious cycle which will never end for him. Unless of course he says, "I have to return some videotapes" (314) which of course always helps him escape from situations, but only for the short term as the trouble will always come back.

(M.P. 2014)