I have long disliked Bret Easton Ellis. I remember reading Less Than Zero as a teen in 1989 and throwing the book across the room during a scene where (as I faintly recall) a girl is tied to a bed and repeatedly raped in exchange for drugs. One of the main characters breezes through the scene and rolls on, not even entirely alarmed by the spectacle.
I remember thinking: What kind of life is this person living that wrote this? I suppose this was a challenge to my young adult view of the world. But it felt more like an attack on anybody who would be “uncool” enough to call the cops. Looking back I likely overreacted.
But it would be one thing if Ellis had something to say about the emptiness and horror of the drug culture and lifestyle. However, it seemed to me that he was simply cataloging modern atrocities to surprise and titillate. I felt exactly the same way while reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo just a couple of years ago. Life is awful, indeed. Let’s pour over the details as salaciously as possible!
Often books with horrific content–for me that generally includes rape and murder (among many others)–are preachy and silly. The vast majority of us understand that these horrors are wrong. I don’t need the perpetrators to be punished in order to walk away from a book and feel satisfied with it. I don’t always enjoy neatly drawn stories that wrap all the problems up in a bow. But there’s something about the ability to describe horror after horror and pretend it’s not an atrocity that I find just as tedious as the preachy books on the opposite end of the spectrum.
Generally, I have avoided Ellis’s work because of my dislike of Less Than Zero. I was a teen then and, so, a few years ago I figured I’d give his work another try. I knew American Psycho was not for me–seemed gratuitous and heavy-handed, even in excerpted form. So I tried the Rules of Attraction. As I recall, it opens with a female character waking up to being raped after getting drunk at a college party. It is her first sexual encounter. And it’s told from her point of view with all of detachment from humanity that seemed to pervade Less Than Zero. So he’s renowned for his depictions of tedious, amoral people in urban (and sometimes collegiate) settings. It’s not for me is what I learned.
Today, I saw that Ellis has been tweeting prolifically about 50 Shades of Grey. I haven’t read that–though I have the original PDF manuscript of when it was still Twilight fanfiction that a friend sent me. He’s consumed with who will play the lead character (apparently Rob Pattinson is busy?) of Christian Grey. He argued that fan favorite Matt Bomer can NOT play Christian because Bomer is gay–and it would be unbelievable that he might want to make passionate, dominating sexy times with a lady.
The argument made me laugh out loud because there is a long history of gay men being movie stars (though they were traditionally closeted) and the point of acting is to pretend you are feelings things you don’t really feel. So he missed the point of acting entirely it would seem. Or revealed his own inability to separate art from artist–something I’m going to assume he’d like the rest of us to do when considering his art. I’m going to go ahead and assume he’s not a total sociopath divorced from emotion, someone who would easily step over a dead body in an alley as he has one character do.
But something about Ellis eats at me all the same. There’s something about the treatment of women in his books that seems even more disturbing than how women are treated in media across the board on any given day. So I had to look and see who he follows on Twitter. It’s a hobby of mine to see who people follow on Twitter and I couldn’t help but notice he follows only one woman among 42 people. Her name is Crystal Angel. No idea who she is or what she does.
I must admit that I judge men on Twitter who don’t follow a few women. It says something to me about them that perhaps it shouldn’t. It’s my issue, certainly, but I can’t help but think that a man who doesn’t want to hear the thoughts of at least some women? Is missing out on something important, on a whole world filled with points of views that are, perhaps, unlike his own. Listening to people outside your immediate sphere? Especially if they are leading different lives than you are? Is the kind of lesson that can benefit your fiction and your life, in my experience.