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Bret Easton Ellis: ‘My generation wanted to be offended’ He discusses millennials, violence and Kanye West

"I'm just a human being" (JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty)


and
February 4, 2023   15 mins

Earlier this week, Bret Easton Ellis visited The UnHerd Club to celebrate the publication of The Shards, his first novel in 13 years. Below is an edited transcript of his conversation with Jacob Furedi.

 

Jacob Furedi: Bret, you’ve spoken before about the struggle you had writing this book. You first tried in 1981, and then again a number of times in the decades since. What changed that meant you could write it now?

Bret Easton Ellis: I’m old. That’s really why I ended up writing this book. I was 16 or 17 when I started writing Less Than Zero. I was in high school at Buckley, Los Angeles, and something happened in my senior year. The writer in me suddenly got a little out of control. I started to embellish a lot. I started to make up things. I was a fabulist. I believed things were happening that really weren’t happening.

I had a girlfriend, one of the most popular girls in our senior class at Buckley, but I was gay, and only pretending to be a boyfriend. I was having a secret affair with a closeted football player, and that was a whole other drama. (Unfortunately, I told a good friend of mine about it, and he confronted the football player.) I made up stories about an English teacher. I was making up stories about my family. And everything kind of collapsed. Becoming a writer had spilled over into my real life. And it was like an origin story: how do you control this superpower? How do you make it work, and not wreck your life and wreck the lives of others?

This was in my senior year, in 1981 and 1982, and I realised I had to pull back. And that was the moment when I moved from being a teenager to being a man, when the corruption of adulthood happened and moved me into the world of adults.

 

I interrupted Less than Zero and I tried to write The Shards, but it was just too big, too complicated. There were too many characters, too many things that happened to me that I wanted to dramatise. So I forgot about The Shards, and went back to writing Less Than Zero, which was a vibe novel: parties, the beach, nightclubs. It wasn’t heavily plotted, there was very little characterisation. It seemed like the easier book to write. Decade after decade, I would go back to The Shards and try to figure out how to write it, but I never could.

Then the pandemic hit. And the Hollywood dream I had chased for 14 years — of directing the scripts that I had written — died with lockdown. We were all stuck in our apartments. And I found myself doing something that I never did, which was going on Facebook, thinking about classmates from that senior year — a lot of classmates that I had perhaps betrayed.

Jacob: What do you mean by “betrayed”?

Bret: Well, certainly, my girlfriend. And certainly the boy who was closeted. I had certainly made up stories about things I felt bad about. I started looking at these people who I hadn’t spoken to in decades. Some I couldn’t find. They didn’t have any social media presence. And that began to haunt me.

As with every book I’ve written, it starts with a feeling. I was confused about not finding those people. I was feeling nostalgic. I began to look for all the places that we hung out, the coffee shops, the malls, the movie theatres, the restaurants, the nightclubs — they were gone. All of them are gone. I started listening to the music from 1981 and 1982 — Icehouse, Kim Wilde, Blondie — and things began to swirl around me.

The novel just poured out of me, in a way that none of the fiction that I’ve ever written has, and it upsets me now to realise, at the age of 58, that I wasted those key, great years, your forties and your fifties, when a lot of American writers produce their masterpiece. They’re really at the height of their powers. And I had been in Hollywood chasing a mini-series, and trying to get movies made that had just died. This book should have been written 10 or 15 years earlier, and then I could have gone on a book tour and at least been appealing to groupies!

Jacob: So you think you’ve missed your opportunity to write a “masterpiece”?

Bret: I’m not immune to the idea of how people perceive me. I do read my reviews: I know there are a lot of five-star and one-star reviews on Amazon. Some even say DNF — Did not finish!

But at the same time, I’m not a career writer. Books are a hobby. I’m not that writer who works with an editor at a publishing house and says, “OK, I’m gonna have this book in 18 months, and you’re going to publish it.” I don’t really write for an audience. I dedicated my new novel, The Shards, to no one. I didn’t write it for you. I wrote it for myself. And it was a very emotional thing to write. That’s how every single novel I’ve written works.

Someone once asked me why I haven’t written a memoir, a proper memoir. But I have written my memoir, over nine volumes of them — my novels. All have a narrator of the same sort of age as I was, and they are all a reflection of whatever pain, confusion, distress I was going through at the time. And writing each novel helped me move through those problems.

Jacob: What was that catharsis in American Psycho? What did Bret Easton Ellis reveal about himself in that novel?

Bret: The catharsis was that I had moved into a world that I didn’t want to be a part of. I didn’t want to be a man, and I was becoming a man. I was out of college. I was living on my own in Manhattan. I was making money from my books and I wanted to fit into the world of adults. But I just hated the world that was being presented to me.

It was the end of the Reagan era: yuppies, Manhattan, Wall Street. What it meant to be a man, how masculinity was defined, was very different from what I aspired to be. And yet… I wanted to fit in.

I felt, in a lot of ways, like Patrick Bateman, because I don’t think Patrick Bateman is necessarily as insane as people perceive him… He wasn’t wrong about a lot of things that he noticed! There’s a truth to his criticism of the society that he was a part of, which comes out every now and then in the novel.

I was also interested in creating fiction, which is what Patrick Bateman does. Is Patrick Bateman fantasising about all of this? Is it real? Is it not? Is he creating these narratives because he’s so angry, so crazy, so upset about stuff? The only way he can feel anything is to have these insane violent fantasies.

I was also deeply impacted by growing up in California, in the late Seventies and into the Eighties, when it was home base for serial killers. They were everywhere: two or three operating at once. Cults, too — it was just part of the wallpaper. I was five or six when the Manson murders happened. I was talking to Quentin Tarantino about this as well. Because he grew up in California at the same time. And he said: “Man! The Manson murders just really freaked everyone out.” And it traumatised me too.

Jacob: Now you’re 58, do you feel more comfortable than you were when you wrote American Psycho?

Bret: I do feel somewhat embarrassed exhibiting myself now, in a way that I didn’t at 28 or 38. When I started doing book tours, I was the youngest person in the room. Now I’m the oldest. I do feel at 58 that it is kind of unbecoming: you’ve aged out of that notion of having fun on book tours, staying up all night, then doing interviews on Oprah the next day.

I did not do a book tour for The Shards in the United States. I refused to do one, although it was very problematic for my publisher there. But the media in the United States is insane. There’s no reason to try to deal with a fake media that’s really out to get you — and is far snarkier than in England.

But in England, I am also publishing my new novel in a very different way. I have left Picador, which had been my publisher since I was 21. They didn’t want The Shards, so I am publishing it with Swift instead.

I didn’t know anybody at Picador’s new regime. I don’t know why they didn’t want the novel. Maybe it’s because I am a white privileged male, writing a novel with no diversity or inclusivity. I think they wanted me to write more about the Nicaraguan maid that Bret [the character in The Shards] was with. I’m not really joking! I do think that there is something about the tenor of the times, and this book itself, that they didn’t want.

Jacob: While we’re on the subject of publishing, you must have heard about sensitivity readers. Can you imagine The Shards in the hands of a sensitivity reader? Or American Psycho?

Bret: Well, The Shards did get through my publishing house in America, which does employ sensitivity readers. And look, I know they exist. I heard a horrible story about sensitivity readers, and a novel written by a middle-aged woman about middle-aged women. The women want to meet and talk about their problems with their husbands. They are going to go to a Chinese restaurant. One of them says: we probably shouldn’t go there, because of the MSG. And someone flagged that as racist — you can’t have that. So they made the writer move the scene to a coffee shop. I really don’t want to be a part of that.

Maybe part of the reason The Shards got through is just because I’m old — I was grandfathered in. But still I heard the view that there was way too much sex in the novel, and that it was not a “positive” portrayal of homosexuality. I mean, what is a positive portrayal of homosexuality?

Jacob: Ok, but at the same time, if you look at Amazon UK, The Shards is currently sitting at number one… in the section for Gay Biography.

Bret: Did you have to tell me that? It’s not Gay Biography at all.

Jacob: There is a biographical element to it, though. And that seems to be quite common these days. Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans — a lot of fantastic creators are going back to their pasts. By writing The Shards, were you trying to escape the present?

Bret: I think you hit an age where you want to go back into the past, and you want either to romanticise it, or to understand the shadow history of which you weren’t aware at the time. A lot of great film directors have done that. At a certain age, Federico Fellini made Amarcord about his childhood; Alfonso Cuarón made Roma; Woody Allen made Radio Days; Ingmar Bergman made Fanny and Alexander. I’m writing fiction that took place in 1981. I do not want to write anything with a fucking cell phone in it.

Jacob: But you still keep an eye on the present. Your last book, White (2019), was rooted in contemporary politics — on the state of liberalism and Trump.

Bret: It wasn’t about any of those things. It was about Generation X — a cultural examination of Gen X and their attitudes. It wasn’t a defence of Trump (which is what the crazy moment of 2019 thought the book was); it was about the reactions to Trump.

And as a member of Gen X, I was interested in why we had gotten into such a hysterical divide. I think part of the reason why Gen X is the most conservative of the generations — much more than boomers, much more than millennials — is that we had the most freedom. We looked to be shocked. We wanted to be offended. We loved dirty jokes. We loved music.

But today, the world has to be childproof. And you have to think like the better people. I didn’t experience that. So I think part of the reason why Gen X is 10 to 12 points more conservative in the polls in the US is precisely because of this reaction against this kind of authoritarian language. That’s what White was about. It was not a defence of Trump or an attack on liberalism. I was a liberal — what are you talking about? It just so happened that the culture had moved so far over to this other side that I guess I wasn’t anymore. So that’s what that was about and why it was written in a very heated moment in 2019.

I would never write that book now. I was asked recently whether I would write that last chapter again, where I was talking about working with Kanye West for five years on projects that never happened. Kanye is a bit crazy. But the Kanye now is really no different from the Kanye I met in 2013. He is the same person. He is outrageous. He is a provocateur. He is going way too far on the platform he is on now…

Jacob: Is he an antisemite?

Bret: I don’t believe he’s an antisemite. No, I do not believe that at all. I believe that he’s a destroying artist. And I believe that he’s at a point in his career, because I’ve been I’ve been there too…

Jacob: But you’ve never said anything that could be as construed as antisemitic as he as.

Bret: … I’ve had a lot of a Jewish boyfriends. But look, my Jewish boyfriend and I make antisemitic jokes all the time. What’s wrong with an antisemitic joke? But the problem is that with Kanye, he wants to live in a world that is completely free and… To not be able to say that you liked voting for someone or that you like this… And that there’s this entire industry that is trying to shut down free speech and label a lot of stuff hate speech… I think that’s what Kanye is reacting to. I don’t really know why he wants to die on this particular hill, but I kind of get it, knowing Kanye the way that I did. He just wants to say “fuck you” to everybody. “I can say whatever the fuck I want. If I want to say that I like fucking Adolf Hitler, what are you going to do about it?”

My boyfriend’s Jewish. And my stepfather is a Jew who lost his family in the Holocaust… I know, I know. Saying that is so stupid… And he fought in the Israeli war and everything. And he just shrugged and said “Kanye is a moron”. He didn’t turn it into some gigantic tornado of hysteria that the American press liked to do — and that corporate culture likes to now punish. But I would not rewrite that chapter about Kanye or add that into it because that took place in 2018. That chapter was a reflection of that moment, and where we were, and I thought it was a pretty accurate portrayal of who Kanye was overall.

Jacob: I want to pick up on something you said earlier. You talked about that freedom that you and Gen X had, but also how conservative that generation has become. How did that happen? And does that mean you’ve become a conservative?

Bret: I don’t know how to answer that. That is such a millennial question! I don’t even know how to start answering that question.

Jacob: Try and answer it?

Bret: What was the first part of it again?

Jacob: I’ll rephrase it. Are you a conservative or a liberal?

Bret: I’m nothing. I’m not a conservative or a liberal. At least in the US, I can’t agree with either of them. I think they’re both completely bonkers. I don’t watch the news anymore. We have the Food Network on all of our TV screens, or video games. I’m done.

It’s very hard to follow it when it all seems like a simulacrum, a preordained narrative that is being fed to you. The mainstream press in the United States right now just seems so fucking fake.

Jacob: That seems the perfect place to go to the audience for questions.

*

Is anyone going to write the great millennial novel?

Bret: No. Last time I was here, everyone was telling me that Sally Rooney has written the great millennial novel. And I think: she’s fine. Whatever. But I just don’t know whether the novel is vital to millennials as a way of expression. There’s nothing bad or wrong about that — they just won’t write it.

I had dinner about two months ago with three millennial men in their mid-thirties. One was a socialist actor, two were tech bros, who had sold their company for a fick a lot of money. All three of them said they had never read a novel. I said, I don’t know what you mean. You’re all college graduates. How is that possible? Oh, yeah, they told me, we were assigned novels. We just did our essays from articles on the internet. We have never read a novel.

I’m not saying that’s indicative of everyone, but it was telling in terms of what the novel meant to them. Thirty years ago, everyone had read the Pulitzer Prize winner of that year, even if you were not a writer. People then had a different relationship to novels from what they do now.

So how can there then be the great millennial novel? I hope I’m wrong. I’ve read novels by millennials, and some are good. But I just don’t think novels mean as much to their generation as they did to Gen X or Boomers.

*

America’s culture of violence has clearly influenced your novels. What do you see its role being?

Bret: Violence is tense, it’s gripping, it’s dramatic, it’s emotional. Tarantino once said that he uses violence in the way that people use the musical numbers in movies. They’re just there. They’re fun, they’re exciting. They lift the movie up into another tier and they’re integral to his vision of the world.

I feel the same way about my books. I don’t think that the violence is gratuitous, as people would argue about American Psycho. It’s not only part of my sensibility, but also part of the subjects that I write about. It would be inauthentic to write about a serial killer without certain details about the murders.

I never forgot when Jean-Luc Godard was taken to task for having bloody scenes in his movies. And he said: “That’s not violence, that’s red.” Violence is just part of my aesthetic, but then again, I can’t over-intellectualise it. It just seems like an authentic part of some of the books that I’ve written.

*

Sorry to bring this back to politics, but how are we going to get ourselves out of this mess?

Bret: I don’t know how we’re going to do it. In the last two American elections, there were tens of millions of people who thought they were fraudulent. They don’t believe in the process. There is a huge divide in that country. You would be shocked at the percentage of people who said 2020 was an illegitimate election. And then the other side said that Donald Trump didn’t win in 2016, or that the Russians aided him or whatever.

I don’t want to blame the media because, when you look at TV ratings and newspaper circulation, you wonder: where are people getting their information? If CNN has, like, 300,000 people watching it, is CNN really the devil as the Right likes to say? The distrust of elections is out of control. I don’t know what’s going to happen in 2024. But I’m not the right person to ask this because I’ve veered away from politics. You can’t really have that kind of debate, or help people see things in a different light. Talking about America is now like talking into a mirror.

Will I vote? I guess it depends on who’s running. But I am in the majority of Americans who don’t vote. The majority of Americans don’t trust the political system, and they don’t like the people running. And so why would you vote, if you feel that way?

*

When I was in my mid-teens, I wanted to be a writer, and showed my dad something I’d written. He didn’t like it very much, and I’ve struggled to write since. You started at a very young age — did you ever have a moment like that? 

Bret: I’ve noticed that millennials have a huge sense of shame, which my generation simply didn’t have. I did not care what my parents thought about my books. I do know that my parents were not happy with some of my books. I found out after my father died that he described Less Than Zero to my mother as “that dirty little book that our son wrote”. My mother is proud of me, but I don’t think I write the kind of books that my mother particularly likes. That’s fine. They weren’t written for her.

Wanting to be liked was not part of Gen X. But I do think it’s a major — and crushing — part of my boyfriend [musician Todd Michael Schultz]’s millennial generation. He wants to be liked. He wants to be followed. He wants likes on Instagram, a lot of views on his YouTube video. He is exhibiting himself. He’s not a typical millennial — he is very critical of his generation, which might be one of the reasons why we’ve gotten along, and been together for as long as we have. But he wants to be accepted in ways that I just never did, and my generation never did.

A teacher reading something I wrote and slamming it made no difference to me. At college, my professor read one of the first stories I had turned in, and said, why all the brand names? Why are you mentioning the songs people are listening to, or what’s playing on TV? And my reaction was, well, this is part of the wallpaper, the background noise of their lives. That’s life. And he took me to task and said: “You’re going to end up on the ash heap of literature. If you keep writing books like this, you’re going to date yourself.” And I really didn’t care.

*

What are you reading at the moment?

Bret: A collection of essays by David Mamet, the playwright. He’s a big free speech advocate and these essays are a very interesting take: short, to the point. I’m also reading a collection of non-fiction pieces by Michel Houellebecq, which are just absolutely terrific. Mamet and Houellebecq understand our moment better than anybody; they see through the hypocrisy, what they call the “authoritarian liberalism” that has been infecting Europe as well as the United States. They locate it, they decimate it, and it’s pretty great. I’m also reading Great Expectations.

The last great book I read was The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot, which I’d never read before, and it is absolutely amazing — with a spectacular ending, so terrifying. It’s just wonderful. I was also blown away by Lost Illusions by Balzac. I’m disappointed with a lot of contemporary fiction.

*

What would you have been if you had failed as a writer?

Jacob: That’s a great question. Because, Bret, when you were asked this before, you once answered that you would have been a porn star. Were you serious?

Bret: Well, I hope I would have been a successful porn star! But seriously… I don’t know. There are days when I think I am a failure.

As a writer, I’ve had a really strange career in terms of being equally liked and equally hated, never nominated for a prize. The American mainstream literary press thinks I’m a bit of a joke — they don’t really take me seriously. So I don’t wake up in my bed, clutching my Pulitzer Prize, my National Book Award, my framed great reviews in The New Yorker, whatever. I never had that kind of adulation. And I didn’t really care about any of that.

What I do care about are the tactile, tangible, pragmatic things that you have to deal with in your everyday life. You know, I have ageing parents. I have a boyfriend who went through major addiction issues two years ago. I’m really worried that this is the first time I’ve left him alone for two weeks… I’ve had major plumbing issues in my apartment for fucking ages. It’s been a Kafkaesque nightmare of trying to get the plumbing sorted and it’s so expensive. And I’ve been thinking about these things much more than I have about The Shards. That stuff really is the main part of my life and so… Failure? Success? I don’t know. I’m just a human being, with other concerns.

The Shards is published by Swift Press.


Bret Easton Ellis is an author and the host of The Bret Easton Ellis Podcast. His latest book, The Shards, is published by Swift Press.

BretEastonEllis

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Caroline Ayers
Caroline Ayers
1 year ago

..and what everyone seems to not realise about Kanye is that bipolar really does make you say crazy things. I know because my beloved son has the condition. He is well now because he has the right meds. But I remember him telling us when he was in a less controlled state, that we must build an underground Bat Cave (as in Batman) and get my sister in law to design it (as she’s great at interior design). This was dropped into normal conversation. So really with Kanye, I suspect he’s just off his meds, and it’s not fair to draw conclusions about his views based on what he says in those circumstances. I may be wrong though, as obviously I don’t know that.

Caroline Ayers
Caroline Ayers
1 year ago

..and what everyone seems to not realise about Kanye is that bipolar really does make you say crazy things. I know because my beloved son has the condition. He is well now because he has the right meds. But I remember him telling us when he was in a less controlled state, that we must build an underground Bat Cave (as in Batman) and get my sister in law to design it (as she’s great at interior design). This was dropped into normal conversation. So really with Kanye, I suspect he’s just off his meds, and it’s not fair to draw conclusions about his views based on what he says in those circumstances. I may be wrong though, as obviously I don’t know that.

Elliott Bjorn
Elliott Bjorn
1 year ago

‘All three of them said they had never read a novel. I said, I don’t know what you mean. You’re all college graduates. How is that possible? Oh, yeah, they told me, we were assigned novels. We just did our essays from articles on the internet. We have never read a novel.”

Yea, well just look at what has been written since this writer and his ilk took over. I would not read any of this drek either – no wonder even he mentions the Classics with reverence. 1980s was pretty much the last gasp of literature and art; 1990s the death rattle, 2000s, the coroner was wheeling the industry of book writing off to be buried – no one felt an autopsy was needed as smoking guns and bloody knives and garrote ropes and bottles of poison were covering the floor.

And the label on the poison bottles read:

Post Modernism, situational ethics, relative morals, elastic code of honour, and confused genders……

Paul Devlin
Paul Devlin
1 year ago
Reply to  Elliott Bjorn

Rock and pop music and movies have also been dead in the water these last couple of decades as well

Elliott Bjorn
Elliott Bjorn
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Devlin

yes, well, as has society as a whole. Once the Bible was totally replaced with youtube, facebook, instagram, and finally tick-toc and only-fans; as the source of understanding of ultimate ,the world was taken by ‘The Lord of the Flies’ (which is an old name for Beelzebub)

B Emery
B Emery
1 year ago
Reply to  Elliott Bjorn

Or maybe it was the explosion at the start of the 1980s of American consumer culture, you know era of mass produced crap, big brands, killing originality. Media increasingly wanting stuff they can brand and package etc. Big brands squeezing out smaller competitors. Music industry has become similar. Not to do with the bible so much, if anything surely the Internet made it easier to ‘spread the word’?

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Elliott Bjorn

I grew up in the 70s and 80s and don’t recall those times as a cultural wonderland, even in contrast to now. Nor was the Bible, in my recollection, held in general reverence, either in letter or spirit (not that it has in fact been “replaced” with social media).
Are you referring to specific cultural conditions or artistic output in the 80s and before, in literature and music, or just in WF Buckley’s memorable quip: “standing athwart history, yelling ‘stop!'”?. I thought much 80s music was heartless and lame, though some of it holds up and now it’s old enough to be called classic, at least for marketing purposes.
Some of us think that even nostalgia’s not as good as it used to be. Can you name some of the great art and literature that constituted this purported last gasp?

B Emery
B Emery
1 year ago
Reply to  Elliott Bjorn

Or maybe it was the explosion at the start of the 1980s of American consumer culture, you know era of mass produced crap, big brands, killing originality. Media increasingly wanting stuff they can brand and package etc. Big brands squeezing out smaller competitors. Music industry has become similar. Not to do with the bible so much, if anything surely the Internet made it easier to ‘spread the word’?

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Elliott Bjorn

I grew up in the 70s and 80s and don’t recall those times as a cultural wonderland, even in contrast to now. Nor was the Bible, in my recollection, held in general reverence, either in letter or spirit (not that it has in fact been “replaced” with social media).
Are you referring to specific cultural conditions or artistic output in the 80s and before, in literature and music, or just in WF Buckley’s memorable quip: “standing athwart history, yelling ‘stop!'”?. I thought much 80s music was heartless and lame, though some of it holds up and now it’s old enough to be called classic, at least for marketing purposes.
Some of us think that even nostalgia’s not as good as it used to be. Can you name some of the great art and literature that constituted this purported last gasp?

Elliott Bjorn
Elliott Bjorn
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Devlin

yes, well, as has society as a whole. Once the Bible was totally replaced with youtube, facebook, instagram, and finally tick-toc and only-fans; as the source of understanding of ultimate ,the world was taken by ‘The Lord of the Flies’ (which is an old name for Beelzebub)

Paul Devlin
Paul Devlin
1 year ago
Reply to  Elliott Bjorn

Rock and pop music and movies have also been dead in the water these last couple of decades as well

Elliott Bjorn
Elliott Bjorn
1 year ago

‘All three of them said they had never read a novel. I said, I don’t know what you mean. You’re all college graduates. How is that possible? Oh, yeah, they told me, we were assigned novels. We just did our essays from articles on the internet. We have never read a novel.”

Yea, well just look at what has been written since this writer and his ilk took over. I would not read any of this drek either – no wonder even he mentions the Classics with reverence. 1980s was pretty much the last gasp of literature and art; 1990s the death rattle, 2000s, the coroner was wheeling the industry of book writing off to be buried – no one felt an autopsy was needed as smoking guns and bloody knives and garrote ropes and bottles of poison were covering the floor.

And the label on the poison bottles read:

Post Modernism, situational ethics, relative morals, elastic code of honour, and confused genders……

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
1 year ago

I think part of the reason why Gen X is the most conservative of the generations — much more than boomers, much more than millennials — is that we had the most freedom. We looked to be shocked. We wanted to be offended. We loved dirty jokes. We loved music.

As a Gen X-er this resonated with me. I don’t really like dividing generations into ‘groups’, but from my own teenage perspective of the 1990s, it really was a great time to be young. My becoming more conservative has nothing to do with wanting to control others, but more about preserving the freedoms that we enjoyed.
We now seem to be living in a world where causing offense to a stranger on Twitter carries the risk of losing one’s job or reputation.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vbsHox73mRo

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

That comedy clip was really good man! To be honest, I intended to hate-watch it so I could argue with you (in that kind of mood), but I thought it was both funny and sensible. Thanks to you and that longhaired English comedian alike.
I admit there are generational tendencies, I just thought that Ellis leaned on them too hard. Also, suggesting that your own generation was/is the coolest ever is too easy–not a balanced long-view nor a traditional conservatism in the better sense.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

If Brett is 58 years old, he’s technically a Gen X, but right on the cusp as the year of delineation was 1965.
Brilliant video, by the way, thanks for sharing.

Last edited 1 year ago by Warren Trees
AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

That comedy clip was really good man! To be honest, I intended to hate-watch it so I could argue with you (in that kind of mood), but I thought it was both funny and sensible. Thanks to you and that longhaired English comedian alike.
I admit there are generational tendencies, I just thought that Ellis leaned on them too hard. Also, suggesting that your own generation was/is the coolest ever is too easy–not a balanced long-view nor a traditional conservatism in the better sense.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

If Brett is 58 years old, he’s technically a Gen X, but right on the cusp as the year of delineation was 1965.
Brilliant video, by the way, thanks for sharing.

Last edited 1 year ago by Warren Trees
Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
1 year ago

I think part of the reason why Gen X is the most conservative of the generations — much more than boomers, much more than millennials — is that we had the most freedom. We looked to be shocked. We wanted to be offended. We loved dirty jokes. We loved music.

As a Gen X-er this resonated with me. I don’t really like dividing generations into ‘groups’, but from my own teenage perspective of the 1990s, it really was a great time to be young. My becoming more conservative has nothing to do with wanting to control others, but more about preserving the freedoms that we enjoyed.
We now seem to be living in a world where causing offense to a stranger on Twitter carries the risk of losing one’s job or reputation.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vbsHox73mRo

R Wright
R Wright
1 year ago

Rereading American Psycho I was amazed to discover through the preface that at the time of release (well before my time) the book had been attacked en masse by feminists accusing the author of glamourising violence against women. The author claimed when the book came out and depicted the vapid, pathetic life of Bateman the feminist outcry vanished as quickly as it came. It hadn’t occurred to these women that a book about soulless yuppies was not meant to be depicting them positively.
Now decades later one of the last bastions of free thought in the western ‘salon’ offers a home to both Mr Ellis and those same feminists that went after him. History is not without a sense of irony.

R Wright
R Wright
1 year ago

Rereading American Psycho I was amazed to discover through the preface that at the time of release (well before my time) the book had been attacked en masse by feminists accusing the author of glamourising violence against women. The author claimed when the book came out and depicted the vapid, pathetic life of Bateman the feminist outcry vanished as quickly as it came. It hadn’t occurred to these women that a book about soulless yuppies was not meant to be depicting them positively.
Now decades later one of the last bastions of free thought in the western ‘salon’ offers a home to both Mr Ellis and those same feminists that went after him. History is not without a sense of irony.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
1 year ago

There’s a hint of Truman Capote about Bret. I think he knows that.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago

I’d guess he cultivates it.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago

I’d guess he cultivates it.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
1 year ago

There’s a hint of Truman Capote about Bret. I think he knows that.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago

When it comes to generational labels: I’m a Gen Xer, several years younger than Ellis. But can we agree that we’ve gotten carried away with these groupings?
“Wanting to be liked was not part of Gen X”. Bullshit. That is ridiculous. Wanting to seem to cool and too detached to care about being liked was quite typical in the 1980s U.S. high school scene as I experienced it, but most wanted to be liked for that, for being “too cool for school”.
I enjoyed this interview with an intelligent and opinionated fellow-American with whom I disagree about a lot–but I didn’t like or take issue with it because he shares consistent or overarching political and cultural sensibilities with people that are around our respective ages.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago

When it comes to generational labels: I’m a Gen Xer, several years younger than Ellis. But can we agree that we’ve gotten carried away with these groupings?
“Wanting to be liked was not part of Gen X”. Bullshit. That is ridiculous. Wanting to seem to cool and too detached to care about being liked was quite typical in the 1980s U.S. high school scene as I experienced it, but most wanted to be liked for that, for being “too cool for school”.
I enjoyed this interview with an intelligent and opinionated fellow-American with whom I disagree about a lot–but I didn’t like or take issue with it because he shares consistent or overarching political and cultural sensibilities with people that are around our respective ages.

Caroline Ayers
Caroline Ayers
1 year ago

Found this interview surprisingly fascinating! Have never read a Brett Easton Ellis book but I’d definitely invite him to dinner (for his conversation).

Caroline Ayers
Caroline Ayers
1 year ago

Found this interview surprisingly fascinating! Have never read a Brett Easton Ellis book but I’d definitely invite him to dinner (for his conversation).

J Bryant
J Bryant
1 year ago

The transcript of the interview is more interesting than the interview itself, imo. The video is twelve minutes of what seems to have been a longer interview and feels incomplete: no intro, no natural transition into the questions. I hope Unherd posts the full version.

J Bryant
J Bryant
1 year ago

The transcript of the interview is more interesting than the interview itself, imo. The video is twelve minutes of what seems to have been a longer interview and feels incomplete: no intro, no natural transition into the questions. I hope Unherd posts the full version.

polidori redux
polidori redux
1 year ago

“I don’t think Patrick Bateman is necessarily as insane as people perceive him… He wasn’t wrong about a lot of things that he noticed!”
You can be right about the things that you notice and still be insane – It is your response to these things that indicates sanity or a lack of it.
“I have a boyfriend who went through major addiction issues two years ago. I’m really worried that this is the first time I’ve left him alone for two weeks… I’ve had major plumbing issues in my apartment for f*cking ages.” 
Bathos. Though perhaps New Yorkers see plumbing as an existential issue.

Last edited 1 year ago by polidori redux
Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  polidori redux

Scraping the bottom of the barrel rather than plumbing the depths, i’d say.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  polidori redux

Exactly. Thank you calling out this absurd defense of a sex-haunted psycho-killer. Maybe the critical or general readers’ objections to the book were more to do with this underlying excess of sympathy or authorial identification with the murderer?
I’d welcome any reply or pushback from commenters who’ve read American Psycho: I’ve only seen a portion of the movie, a pretty unwholesome viewing experience that I stuck with for quite a while because of Christian Bale’s compelling-if-repulsive performance.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  polidori redux

Scraping the bottom of the barrel rather than plumbing the depths, i’d say.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  polidori redux

Exactly. Thank you calling out this absurd defense of a sex-haunted psycho-killer. Maybe the critical or general readers’ objections to the book were more to do with this underlying excess of sympathy or authorial identification with the murderer?
I’d welcome any reply or pushback from commenters who’ve read American Psycho: I’ve only seen a portion of the movie, a pretty unwholesome viewing experience that I stuck with for quite a while because of Christian Bale’s compelling-if-repulsive performance.

polidori redux
polidori redux
1 year ago

“I don’t think Patrick Bateman is necessarily as insane as people perceive him… He wasn’t wrong about a lot of things that he noticed!”
You can be right about the things that you notice and still be insane – It is your response to these things that indicates sanity or a lack of it.
“I have a boyfriend who went through major addiction issues two years ago. I’m really worried that this is the first time I’ve left him alone for two weeks… I’ve had major plumbing issues in my apartment for f*cking ages.” 
Bathos. Though perhaps New Yorkers see plumbing as an existential issue.

Last edited 1 year ago by polidori redux
cara williams
cara williams
1 year ago

i read american psycho again a couple of months ago. i had forgotten the book and only really remembered the film. but re reading the book almost took my head off. the descriptions of torturing women were so full on. wow. my mind struggled to even process them. and i kept thinking, this guy actually thought this stuff and wrote it down… it’s just horrific.

Caroline Ayers
Caroline Ayers
1 year ago
Reply to  cara williams

Ew, maybe I wouldn’t invite him to dinner then…..

Elliott Bjorn
Elliott Bjorn
1 year ago
Reply to  Caroline Ayers

maybe something you only need a spoon to eat

Elliott Bjorn
Elliott Bjorn
1 year ago
Reply to  Caroline Ayers

maybe something you only need a spoon to eat

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  cara williams

It sounds truly obscene. What is the defensible motive for such luxuriating, pornographic violence other than shock value and bad-boy sales-appeal? I wonder if Ellis being gay is meant to partly excuse the misogyny. The word gets overused, but seems to fit here.

B Emery
B Emery
1 year ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Did you all expect anything but horrific/ obscene? Surely that’s the point of the genre. You can’t make horror films like American psycho without a horrific script or book to base it on. If it wasn’t popular, it wouldn’t have sold. There doesn’t need to be a ‘defensible motive’ for writing a book does there?

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  B Emery

That’s fair enough. There doesn’t need to be one but I’d rather there were. If you’re helping to metastasize the mega-genre of murder-porn, maybe have some psychological insight beyond mere sympathy for the devil? Obscenity itself is the point? I thought/think it is pretending to something more sophisticated or transgressive in a special way. It wasn’t promoted or received as a mere genre novel in the horror category.
Did you like American Psycho? Is it good writing or storytelling and if so, why?
All kinds of crap has a perfect right to exist despite anyone’s huffy objections. But I can certainly criticize it if I find it to be crap. Right?

B Emery
B Emery
1 year ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Yeah sure, criticise away, honestly I’ve not read it myself, my sister has, her review: f*cking dark. But the fact you’d like a ‘defensible motive’ sounded a bit creeping toward ‘authoritarian liberalism’ perhaps. Like people have to give a justification for what they write? Or that some forms of writing shouldnt be allowed?

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  B Emery

That’s further than I intended, and I certainly don’t embrace the label of authoritarian liberal (Who would? It sounds very uncool). Now you want me to provide a “defensible motive” for suggesting there should be standards for things that receive major attention in the form of wide publication, a movie, interviews with the author, etc.?
OK. I’m saying that things put before a general audience should have either a point, a purpose, or an aesthetic value that is isn’t only “effin’ dark”. (Is it funny? though-provoking? insightful? satirical?). I’m not saying they should be burned or banned if they don’t, just not emphasized and discussed to death beyond their merits, when there has been no success or even attempt on the artist’s part to make something good or worthwhile or meaningful–or with redeeming upside.
I do think children and unstable people and even those of us who fancy ourselves smartypants should be better protected from pure garbage with no discernible upside–I’m kind of an authoritarian or self-appointed, powerless Cultural Guardian in that sense. I guess snuff porn can exist if no actual people are killed during its making. But why make or read or watch it? Why write an article about it?
Here’s where I admit as I have elsewhere on this board that I haven’t read it either; saw part of the movie–sickening, not for me. But I’m still somewhat willing to be persuaded of the book and movie’s non-negative value, as something more than snuff porn.
Even as a (partly-recovered) literary snob, I’m ok with people reading pulp trash, but I wish they wouldn’t read snuff porn or deranged manifestos that lack the psychological insight of Dostoevsky or Edgar Allan Poe or Mary Shelley or whomever. Maybe American Psycho is more than snuff porn, but since both of us have had the good sense to spare ourselves from reading it, we can’t make an informed assessment of the work we are vaguely, indirectly discussing.
I’m interested in the more general questions of our exchange, but I guess I’ve expended a lot of time and energy arguing (and complaining) that the trashiest, sickest books (subjective? yes) don’t deserve this much time, energy, or attention, in my opinion.

B Emery
B Emery
1 year ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Well I have to say I thought your reply was brilliant and entertaining.
‘I certainly don’t embrace the label of authoritarian liberal’ – lol sorry, that was unintentional I tend to errr on the blunter side, not always on purpose either, I wish I could write like some on here. I was trying to question the idea of writing needing a defensible motive I suppose.
‘I’m saying that things put before a general audience should have either a point, a purpose, or an aesthetic value that is isn’t only “effin’ dark”’
So bear with me, while I try and get to the point.
I can see your point, but some stuff, especially some art and literature isn’t really ever created for a particular purpose. It’s made because that person has that particular idea and just makes/writes it? So like the author says about his book, he wrote for him, because he wanted to write it, so is that a good enough purpose I suppose? Perhaps not everything has to be good and meaningful? Human nature is not always good and meaningful, so maybe we would be trying to ignore the ‘effin dark’ side of our nature?
Like you say, neither of us has read it, so can’t get too hung up on it 🙂 it’s not my cup of tea to be honest!

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  B Emery

A fair reply. Very true that it doesn’t work to ignore the shadow side or effin’ dark side of human nature, or within ourselves. I tend to not be a fan of work where that darkness is just splattered onto the page or canvas, but that doesn’t mean it won’t have value for some.
I’m interested in how one might defend a work like this against a charge of pointless obscenity, but free speech is critical and while I’m free to skip things I dislike or distrust, I don’t get to “cancel” them. Nor should anything be subject to a ban unless a high bar of harm–like straight-up incitement to violence–has been cleared. See you on another board, probably.

Last edited 1 year ago by AJ Mac
AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  B Emery

A fair reply. Very true that it doesn’t work to ignore the shadow side or effin’ dark side of human nature, or within ourselves. I tend to not be a fan of work where that darkness is just splattered onto the page or canvas, but that doesn’t mean it won’t have value for some.
I’m interested in how one might defend a work like this against a charge of pointless obscenity, but free speech is critical and while I’m free to skip things I dislike or distrust, I don’t get to “cancel” them. Nor should anything be subject to a ban unless a high bar of harm–like straight-up incitement to violence–has been cleared. See you on another board, probably.

Last edited 1 year ago by AJ Mac
B Emery
B Emery
1 year ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Well I have to say I thought your reply was brilliant and entertaining.
‘I certainly don’t embrace the label of authoritarian liberal’ – lol sorry, that was unintentional I tend to errr on the blunter side, not always on purpose either, I wish I could write like some on here. I was trying to question the idea of writing needing a defensible motive I suppose.
‘I’m saying that things put before a general audience should have either a point, a purpose, or an aesthetic value that is isn’t only “effin’ dark”’
So bear with me, while I try and get to the point.
I can see your point, but some stuff, especially some art and literature isn’t really ever created for a particular purpose. It’s made because that person has that particular idea and just makes/writes it? So like the author says about his book, he wrote for him, because he wanted to write it, so is that a good enough purpose I suppose? Perhaps not everything has to be good and meaningful? Human nature is not always good and meaningful, so maybe we would be trying to ignore the ‘effin dark’ side of our nature?
Like you say, neither of us has read it, so can’t get too hung up on it 🙂 it’s not my cup of tea to be honest!

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  B Emery

That’s further than I intended, and I certainly don’t embrace the label of authoritarian liberal (Who would? It sounds very uncool). Now you want me to provide a “defensible motive” for suggesting there should be standards for things that receive major attention in the form of wide publication, a movie, interviews with the author, etc.?
OK. I’m saying that things put before a general audience should have either a point, a purpose, or an aesthetic value that is isn’t only “effin’ dark”. (Is it funny? though-provoking? insightful? satirical?). I’m not saying they should be burned or banned if they don’t, just not emphasized and discussed to death beyond their merits, when there has been no success or even attempt on the artist’s part to make something good or worthwhile or meaningful–or with redeeming upside.
I do think children and unstable people and even those of us who fancy ourselves smartypants should be better protected from pure garbage with no discernible upside–I’m kind of an authoritarian or self-appointed, powerless Cultural Guardian in that sense. I guess snuff porn can exist if no actual people are killed during its making. But why make or read or watch it? Why write an article about it?
Here’s where I admit as I have elsewhere on this board that I haven’t read it either; saw part of the movie–sickening, not for me. But I’m still somewhat willing to be persuaded of the book and movie’s non-negative value, as something more than snuff porn.
Even as a (partly-recovered) literary snob, I’m ok with people reading pulp trash, but I wish they wouldn’t read snuff porn or deranged manifestos that lack the psychological insight of Dostoevsky or Edgar Allan Poe or Mary Shelley or whomever. Maybe American Psycho is more than snuff porn, but since both of us have had the good sense to spare ourselves from reading it, we can’t make an informed assessment of the work we are vaguely, indirectly discussing.
I’m interested in the more general questions of our exchange, but I guess I’ve expended a lot of time and energy arguing (and complaining) that the trashiest, sickest books (subjective? yes) don’t deserve this much time, energy, or attention, in my opinion.

B Emery
B Emery
1 year ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Yeah sure, criticise away, honestly I’ve not read it myself, my sister has, her review: f*cking dark. But the fact you’d like a ‘defensible motive’ sounded a bit creeping toward ‘authoritarian liberalism’ perhaps. Like people have to give a justification for what they write? Or that some forms of writing shouldnt be allowed?

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  B Emery

That’s fair enough. There doesn’t need to be one but I’d rather there were. If you’re helping to metastasize the mega-genre of murder-porn, maybe have some psychological insight beyond mere sympathy for the devil? Obscenity itself is the point? I thought/think it is pretending to something more sophisticated or transgressive in a special way. It wasn’t promoted or received as a mere genre novel in the horror category.
Did you like American Psycho? Is it good writing or storytelling and if so, why?
All kinds of crap has a perfect right to exist despite anyone’s huffy objections. But I can certainly criticize it if I find it to be crap. Right?

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

I guess you haven’t delved into the snuff film genre, then?

B Emery
B Emery
1 year ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Did you all expect anything but horrific/ obscene? Surely that’s the point of the genre. You can’t make horror films like American psycho without a horrific script or book to base it on. If it wasn’t popular, it wouldn’t have sold. There doesn’t need to be a ‘defensible motive’ for writing a book does there?

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

I guess you haven’t delved into the snuff film genre, then?

Caroline Ayers
Caroline Ayers
1 year ago
Reply to  cara williams

Ew, maybe I wouldn’t invite him to dinner then…..

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  cara williams

It sounds truly obscene. What is the defensible motive for such luxuriating, pornographic violence other than shock value and bad-boy sales-appeal? I wonder if Ellis being gay is meant to partly excuse the misogyny. The word gets overused, but seems to fit here.

cara williams
cara williams
1 year ago

i read american psycho again a couple of months ago. i had forgotten the book and only really remembered the film. but re reading the book almost took my head off. the descriptions of torturing women were so full on. wow. my mind struggled to even process them. and i kept thinking, this guy actually thought this stuff and wrote it down… it’s just horrific.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago

This is the second time in a week or so that I’ve had this guy staring at me when I opened up Unherd. Same pretentious stare. What is the fascination at Unherd with him? He’s not exactly “unherd”. Do they have his stock in their portfolio? Is there a conflict of interest we should know something about? I read the first article. And though I read a great deal of fiction I saw nothing even remotely of interest. He seems like a flaming narcissist to me. Get some different material if you want me to keep subscribing.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago

This is the second time in a week or so that I’ve had this guy staring at me when I opened up Unherd. Same pretentious stare. What is the fascination at Unherd with him? He’s not exactly “unherd”. Do they have his stock in their portfolio? Is there a conflict of interest we should know something about? I read the first article. And though I read a great deal of fiction I saw nothing even remotely of interest. He seems like a flaming narcissist to me. Get some different material if you want me to keep subscribing.

Ira Perman
Ira Perman
1 year ago

DNF

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
1 year ago
Reply to  Ira Perman

Hahaha! Good one!

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
1 year ago
Reply to  Ira Perman

Hahaha! Good one!

Ira Perman
Ira Perman
1 year ago

DNF

Josie Bowen
Josie Bowen
1 year ago

No thank you. Five minutes was enough time to give this man. The laughter from the audience sounded ingratiating to me.

Saul D
Saul D
1 year ago

A suggestion. At the weekend I have time to dig into some stuff. To read something a bit more profound than mid-week, with a bit of meat and bone to chew on. Something that generates some good free-thinking in the comments that makes it worth coming back over a couple of dead days while the main writers are taking their leisure. Most importantly that makes us think, question and investigate something a little off-beat while we have the time to spare. Too many weekends are just a bit dull compared to the rest of the week.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Saul D

Seconded. All Weekend Longreads or something in a more-searching mode like Food for Chat or Submitted for Your Perusal. Those pun-happy categories are general hints for things that are engaging and challenging–perhaps even fun at times, but not trivial. The better articles on this site–and even some of the lesser ones–tend to generate thoughtful, lively responses and exchanges.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

Another tedious uphill gardener…