Murder and Serial Killing: American Psycho and our Psycho Society – Part 4

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Christian Bale as the Psycho in American Psycho

There is a reason murder mysteries are one of the most popular genres in both the publishing business and the movie business. Money. Both readers and moviegoers want blood and lots of it. Since we are all capable of killing someone under the right circumstances, we are drawn to entertainments which feature murder and killing.

This is our way of sublimating our own desire to kill. When we are so angry at someone we blurt out, “I could just kill him,” we are expressing the unconscious wish to kill the person, at least according to the Freudians.

FBI statistics on murder expand on this theme. In 2009, according to the FBI, 24.2 percent of murder victims were slain by family members; 53.8 percent were killed by someone they knew (acquaintance, neighbor, friend, boyfriend, etc). Hence 78% of murder victims knew their murderer. It’s why the law makes a distinction between murder in a fit of passion (you come upon your significant other donging or being donged by someone) and premeditated murder or murder with “malice aforethought.”

Only a gossamer thread of civilization separates us from spectators in the Roman Coliseum who watched gladiators fight to the death. Certainly in the years to come watching people fight to the death on television will become a legal entertainment. Just look at the popularity of The Hunger Games and of footage showing our soldiers in combat.

If you don’t agree with me then ponder this: the most watched sport in America is automobile racing. Given the boring nature of the cars going round and round in a circle, you don’t think people are watching it just to see that, do you? Come on, we want to see the car crashes.

[Source: FBI.]

Murder and Serial Killing: American Psycho and our Psycho Society – Part 3

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The outrage over American Psycho was absurd, although given our warped and hypocritical society it was hardly surprising. Far bloodier stories had been eaten up by Americans long before American Psycho was published in 1991. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which invented the genre of slasher movies, was released in 1974 to be followed by countless sequels and copycat movies. People love to watch bloody, murdering psychopaths.

Why did Hollywood produce so many bloody slasher movies? Take a look at these numbers. According to the International Movie Data Base: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre cost $83,532 to make and grossed $30,859,000 in the US alone. And remember, this was in the early 1970s, when it cost maybe two dollars to see a first run movie. And a movie like this would not have played in the nicer theaters so admission was probably one dollar. (Your servant was a college student in those days although I never saw the movie because it seemed so moronic.)

Subsequent rental income for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre once videos were invented was $14,221,000. Added to the gross from theater revenue, this is a return on investment exceeding 500%. To paraphrase PT Barnum:

…no one ever went broke presenting stories of blood and gore to the American people.

[Source: IMDB.]

Murder and Serial Killing: American Psycho and our Psycho Society – Part 2

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Less Than Zero, the first novel Mr. Ellis wrote, showed the vapid and empty nature of American life. The novel was published in 1985 when the author was 21 years old and still in college. It became a bestseller and a movie,

Mr. Ellis wrote a second novel which didn’t sell many copies and by the time American Psycho, his third novel, was published in 1991, he had slipped off the radar screen of American readers.

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a very buff Christian Bale on a movie poster for American Psycho

The negative publicity around American Psycho before it was even published, made it so famous that after being picked up by Vintage Books, a division of the lordly Alfred A Knopf, and published in paperback, it sold zillions of copies and Mr. Ellis became wealthy on the proceeds.

Yet it seems that many people involved in American Psycho became sort of psycho.

In a scary interview, Mr. Ellis said he identified with the serial killer Patrick Bateman, the main character of the novel.

 

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Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman
[Bateman] was crazy the same way [I was]. He did not come out of me sitting down and wanting to write a grand sweeping indictment of yuppie culture. It initiated because my own isolation and alienation at a point in my life. I was living like Patrick Bateman. I was slipping into a consumerist kind of void that was supposed to give me confidence and make me feel good about myself but just made me feel worse and worse and worse about myself.

[Source: Oregon Live.]

Murder and Serial Killing: American Psycho and our Psycho Society – Part 1

 

Part 1  part 2  Part 3 Part 4

 

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cover photo of An American Psycho

Just a few months before  publisher Simon and Schuster was about to ship copies of An American Psycho to bookstores, they were confronted with very negative articles and reviews based on pre-publication galley proofs sent to the press. Gory. Misogynist. etc.  Yes, it was, at least that is what a synopsis of the novel said. I never read it since it isn’t the kind of thing I read.

However, based on the negative publicity about the protagonist being a serial killer of women, lots of high-minded people went ballistic. Many said the novel was gratuitously bloody and reflected a hatred of women. Duh.

While the book was published more than twenty-five ago, a war against women and their basic rights as citizens has been occurring and continues to occur in the modern and educated societies West including the US, the EU, Russia and many unenlightened countries throughout the world. The way radical Islam treats women is horrifying although they are not the only religion to do so.

It is ludicrous in the extreme to claim this isn’t so when each day yet another state legislature tries to ban abortion or make rules so complex that abortion is all but impossible.

 

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Patrick Bateman as the serial killer 

Many female editors at the publishing house of Simon and Schuster, which initially acquired the rights to publish for the then not-yet-completed manuscript of American Psycho, were particularly incensed. I understand their outrage. Yet it seems hypocritical given the trash issued each year by every publishing house in America and everywhere else. In a free society you don’t accomplish anything by trying to censor something, you only make it more popular.

Mr. Ellis, author of Less Than Zero a bestseller which was made into a movie, is a very good writer yet the moment the grisly nature of the manuscript became known, he was vilified by lots of people, including his own publisher, who quickly dropped the manuscript.

The publisher was shocked, shocked, to learn that unknown to anyone (except the half-dozen or so members of the firm’s editorial committee, which would have included the most senior editors of the firm including the executive editor and managing editor), their firm had purchased such a tawdry manuscript and had contemplated publishing it. How could such a thing have happened — especially in a publishing firm whose business is buying manuscripts from authors in order to publish them.!!! It’s a mystery.

According to the following article from 18 November 1990

New York Times: A Twice Sold Tale

Simon and Schuster already had bought, edited and was several months from shipping the book to bookstores around the country when pre-publication reviews in several magazines slammed the book for being so gory.

According to the Times, Ellis got to keep his $300,000 advance Simon & Schuster had paid him. Even better for him, his agent sold the manuscript to Vintage Book for a what was thought to be a larger sum of money. The publicity from all of this ensured that American Psycho would be a bestseller which it was.