American Psycho Essay

Pages: 8 (2804 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 8  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Literature

In this way, Ellis is playing off of the "1980s financial narratives in fiction, autobiography, and economic journalism" that sought to portray the new generation of financial brokers as representatives of a new kind of masculine power, a white-collar predator to counter the perceived emasculation which occurred as a result of the gradual transition from a manufacturing to information and service economy (La Berge 273). Bateman exists not as the result of the interpersonal relationships of one family, but is rather the child of an entire culture, a culture that he reflects in every aspect of his being, including his appearance, his job, and his masculinity, which is "anachronistic, intolerably volatile, and in crisis" (Schoene 379).

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Thus, the reader is forced to consider Bateman's character, and in particular his sexual potency and violence, not as the perversion of standard social norms, but rather the natural progression of the standards implicitly maintained by society. This is best exemplified by the practice of calling sexually attractive women "hardbodies," because although nearly all of Bateman's male associates use this term, it carries an additional connotation with Bateman, since he actually sees other people merely as bodies to be used and abused. Thus, when Bateman says "I'm bored so I go for the bar without excusing myself to ask the hardbody I want to cut up for some matches," the casual misogyny his male colleagues is easily and seamlessly amplified into the murderous misogyny of the serial killer, demonstrating that Bateman's perception of the world merely represents the next point on the spectrum of acceptable social convention (Ellis 61). In some ways, John Wayne Gacy's crimes can similarly be considered as the natural amplification of preexisting social standards regarding sex and gender, but in this case Gacy proceeds from homophobia, rather than misogyny.

Essay on American Psycho in His Seminal Assignment

Perhaps one of the most shocking things about John Wayne Gacy's killings is the fact that there were a number of "living victims," that is, young men who very well might have become another of the bodies stashed in the crawlspace beneath his house had they not, for one reason or another, been able to escape their encounter, and furthermore, that these victims frequently did not come forward until after Gacy had been caught. This is likely because the majority of Gacy's encounters with his victims contained some element of homosexual behavior, something that likely made his surviving victims hesitate before reporting him out of fear of repercussions. For example, in one instance Gacy actually handcuffed a young man, Anthony Antonucci, and attempted to rape him before Antonucci was able to escape the handcuffs and put them on Gacy. Shockingly, after Gacy told him that he was "the only one […] that ever got out of these [handcuffs] and got them on me," Antonucci merely "let him stew about it for ten minutes, then released him, whereupon Gacy left" (Sullivan & Maiken 280).

One can only presume that Antonucci's relatively mild response, which was indicative of the responses of most other of Gacy's "living victims," was due to a reluctance to be associated with something that at the time was deemed sexually beyond the pale, such that Gacy's continued success despite the relatively high number of escaped victims or would-be victims was the direct result of social prohibitions against homosexuality (Sullivan & Maiken 280). Just as Bateman's violence against women is supported by the casual misogyny of American society in general, so too was Gacy's violence against young men supported by the homophobia of American society, because without that social prohibition against homosexuality, he would not have been able to operate with impunity for so long. In fact, one might even go so far as to argue that this same prohibition against homosexuality contributed to Gacy's violent psychological state in the first place, as society offered him no acceptable means of dealing with his own sexuality.

The story of Anthony Antonucci also brings up what is perhaps the most interesting thing about ostensibly "normal" serial killers who are able to hide their violent tendencies; namely, the fact that these violent tendencies are only just barely hidden, and in the case of both Patrick Bateman and John Wayne Gacy, are actually revealed far more often than one might expect. In Gacy's case, his sociopathic tendencies were revealed time and again, such as when he "threatened to kill [a] boy if he didn't submit to anal intercourse," or the time "he persuaded the victim to inhale a chloroform-like substance before attacking him," but these were not enough to convince his victims to take serious action against him (Sullivan & Maiken 280). This demonstrates that once again, the serial killer's actions cannot be taken as an aberration, but rather as the natural progression of the society in which he finds himself; part of why Gacy's living victims did not report him is because his behavior, though socially unacceptable, did not deviate too greatly from the acceptable range of human behavior, especially when it comes to domestic and sexual violence perpetrated by men.

Ellis recreates this shocking refusal to acknowledge the dangerous, violent tendencies of the serial killer whenever Bateman reveals what he has done to his friends and colleagues only to have them shrug it off, or almost intentionally mishear him, such as when he tells Evelyn that her neighbor's head is in his freezer (Ellis 118). This tendency to ignore the signs of violence only sharpens Ellis' critique of the public's response to serial killers, because it highlights how society is willing to overlook a number of vicious and violent acts all the way until they cross some ill-defined barrier and become intolerable. By recreating this unwillingness to admit to the violent tendencies in people, Bateman forces to reader to consider what standards separate acceptably violent behavior from that of the "monster" as well as the assumptions that underlie those standards.

Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho is so intriguing because it intentionally confronts the way serial killers function in the public consciousness, and in particular the way in which society attempts to separate itself from the serial killer as a means of implicitly celebrating the killer's disregard for social controls while explicitly reinforcing those controls. By comparing Ellis' Patrick Bateman with the story of John Wayne Gacy, one can better understand how American Psycho uses violence and terror not to celebrate the serial killer, as some critics have asserted, but rather to condemn society for its continual role in creating and subsequently condemning serial killers as a means of avoiding its own complicity in violence and murder on a far grander scale. The relative success of Patrick Bateman is not the novel celebrating his skill or prowess, but is rather a reflection of the fact that society often elevates the most violent, power-hungry individuals to the highest levels of authority, and that the only difference between presidents or corporate leaders and serial killers is the fact that the former destroy people in much greater numbers, and do so with the explicit support of the larger society.

Works Cited

Campbell, John W. "Professional Wrestling: Why the Bad Guy Wins." The Journal of American

Culture 19.2 (1996): 127-32.

Ellis, Bret Easton. American Psycho. New York: Vintage Books, 1991.

Hantke, Steffen. "the Kingdom of the Unimaginable": The Construction of Social Space and the Fantasy of Privacy in Serial Killer Narratives." Literature/Film Quarterly 26.3 (1998):


Kooijman, Jaap. "American Psycho": A Double Portrait of Serial Yuppie Patrick Bateman."

Post Script - Essays in Film and the Humanities 22.3 (2003): 46-56.

La Berge, Leigh Claire. "The Men Who make the Killings: American Psycho, Financial

Masculinity, and 1980s Financial Print Culture." Studies in American Fiction 37.2

(2010): 273-97.

Rogers, Martin. "Video Nasties and the Monstrous Bodies of American Psycho." Literature/Film

Quarterly 39.3 (2011): 231-44.

Schoene, Berthold. "Serial Masculinity: Psychopathology and Oedipal… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "American Psycho" Essay in a Bibliography:

APA Style

American Psycho.  (2012, March 25).  Retrieved November 27, 2020, from

MLA Format

"American Psycho."  25 March 2012.  Web.  27 November 2020. <>.

Chicago Style

"American Psycho."  March 25, 2012.  Accessed November 27, 2020.