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American Psycho vs. Wall Street

In: English and Literature

Submitted By mpxlax
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The “Reagan 80s”, a Wall Street bull market and excess for the sake of excess. During this decade, the economy was coming out of a severe recession after 1982 and it exploded shortly thereafter. It seemed out of nowhere, people were getting rich by investing in the stock market. The 80’s was the decade of the corporate raiders. Powerful, money hungry investors would buy companies when their values were on the line and dismantle them, selling off the assets piece by piece and becoming filthy rich off of it. Clearly, these investors had to have had the education and long career in the financial industry in order to have the knowledge to pull off maneuvers like this. This whole idea of excess that ran rampant in the 80s leads us to ask the question “when is enough, enough?” This paper is going to compare and contrast the 1987 film Wall Street and the 1990 novel American Psycho. Out of both texts, there are common elements and themes found throughout. These themes include capitalistic greed, vanity and morality during the Reagan 80s. The paper will also touch on common perceptual elements seen throughout both texts, such as the perception of “yuppies” and the perception of Wall Street type professionals. After two successful books which detailed the life of rich, sexually ambiguous teenagers during the 1980’s, 27 year old Bret Easton Ellis developed a character that in some sick, twisted way can be relatable to by most people today. Patrick Bateman is a young Wall Street executive who lives a lifestyle anyone would want. He has a job that pays him plenty of money, all American good looks, a graduate of Harvard Business School and he is only 27 years old. There are two things about him though that people are unaware of though; he is a brutally insane sociopath that murders, tortures and kills people for fun, and he is obsessed with vanity. That latter part of the character of Patrick Bateman is that relatable portion of him that people possess today and have throughout time. Obsession with vanity and capitalistic greed were a focal point of society in the 1980s. Before Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho was even released, the original publishers, Simon and Schuster decided to back out and cancel the book due to portions of it being leaked to the press (some of the most violent portions to be precise). During the final stages of the book, the most violent and notorious passages of the book made there way around Simon and Schuster’s offices. The theory is that someone from the offices leaked the passages to the press. Two articles were written, one by Time Magazine and the other by Spy Magazine. The leaked portions included when the main character skins one woman alive and then removes another woman’s head and proceeds to sodomize it. Needless to say, various women’s groups protested strongly in front of Simon and Schuster’s offices and the publisher decided to pull the book before the release date. Ellis spent three years writing the manuscript for American Psycho, which if someone looked at the entire book, could see its satirist nature. The violence and graphic sex fits into the context of what Ellis was attempting to communicate across to his readers. After the fiasco with Simon and Schuster dropping the book, Vintage Books picked it up and released it, completely unedited and against strong protests from various groups, including NOW (National Organization for Woman). When the book was released it made Ellis a multi-millionaire over night (just like when his first book, Less Than Zero was released). To this day American Psycho is still banned in certain countries and sold in shrink wrap in others. A film version came out in 2001 starring Christian Bale and directed by Mary Harron. In Bret Easton Ellis’s 6th book, Lunar Park, he explains how he was essentially portrayed when American Psycho came out.

“I was taken seriously. I was a joke. I was avant-garde. I was a traditionalist. I was underrated. I was overrated. I was innocent. I was partly guilty. I was considered the most misogynist American writer in existence. I was the victim of the burgeoning culture of the politically correct. I had more money than I knew what to do with. It was the year of being hated.”

Wall Street has been touted as one of the most accurate portrayals of Wall Street culture and recently spawned a sequel Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. The character of Gordon Gekko and his obsession with greed is still prevalent today, especially during the fall of Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns in 2008. Many of the executives of those firms as well as Wall Street executives in general were referred to as being the “Gordon Gekkos” of our generation. Most news coverage regarding government intervention in the economy has been about Wall Street intervention as of the past few years. There are so many events in American Psycho that have been left open to interpretation, but the most popular being that Bret Easton Ellis was commenting on morality within society and its obsession with vanity and greed. Wall Street is a much more straightforward text which shows the deep roots of greed in the business world. Oliver Stone modeled Gekko after several notorious Wall Street executives who were arrested for trading scandals as well as his father (who was a stock broker) and himself. Both characters (Gordon Gekko and Patrick Bateman) were developed so that they have no redeeming qualities (especially Patrick Bateman). One of the big controversies over American Psycho was how Bateman is a completely empty character whom offers no room for redemption or sympathy. You are not supposed to like these characters; they both live in another world and only interact with people for their own personal gains. There is an important question to be asked with the character of Patrick Bateman. Why did Bret Easton Ellis choose a Wall Street executive (I use the word “executive” because we really don’t find out what Patrick Bateman does) as his profession? Is this type of profession supposed to make it more believable for the character for what he does to people? Does it make it more believable that he is so obsessed with himself, vanity and greed as opposed to say, a doctor? What if everything about American Psycho was the same, except it was a doctor who tortured and killed his patients as opposed to strangers and prostitutes?

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