Bret Easton Ellis has shocked, disgusted, repulsed, offended, charmed, impressed, humored and delighted millions throughout the course of his three-decade career. At 21-years-old — an age most of us are still attempting to understand ourselves, let alone the world — the satirical writer had already written and published Less Than Zero (1985) a razor-sharp, satirical take on the privileged, youthful and ultimately debaucherous inhabitants of Los Angeles.
Six years later, Ellis would take all the elements of his debut effort, crank the postmodernist amp up to eleven, and shock the world with his infamous tale of the immaculately preened serial killer and rapist, Patrick Bateman, in American Psycho. Once the choppy waters had settled following an initial storm of controversy, the novel has been regarded as an exemplary commentary on America, tackling themes of consumerism, isolation and disaffection.
#AmericanPsycho is often thought of as Ellis's defining work, a belief assisted by Mary Harron's high-profile, equally-as-shocking movie adaptation starring Christian Bale in the leading role. However, in the 16 years that have passed since its release, society has changed. Consumerism has increased. The focus on materialism and external gratification has only grown. And, most importantly, technology has fundamentally altered the way we interact.
American Psycho is still relevant, of course, but Bateman's particular motivations are very much confined to the era they were focused on, the late '80s. What happens when a social commentator of the calibre of Ellis — a writer who uses violence, sex and apathy to hold a twisted mirror to society — takes all that was compelling with his previous work, applies a system update, and produces an American Psycho for the internet age?
American Psycho Meets The Internet Age
The result is #TheDeleted, a TV show written and produced by Ellis, drenched in all the graphic troupes of its creator, and, disturbingly, some of Ellis's most relevant work. Taking the definition of "cult classic" in a different direction, The Deleted tells the story of a number of twenty-somethings who flee a mysterious cult. When escapees begin to disappear, the group have to team together in the face of crushing paranoia, and go "off the grid" in order to survive.
To understand the themes running through Ellis's work helps to understand why The Deleted could be the pinnacle of his dark analysis of society. In addition to Less Than Zero and American Psycho, Ellis's novels include The Rules of Attraction, The Informers, Glamorama, Lunar Park and Imperial Bedrooms. He has also written a number of adapted screenplays, as well as the original script for The Canyons (2013).
Ellis rarely takes respite from lampooning the state of the world. While he isn't the first to do so, the transgressive nature of his work renders him one of his generation's most unique voices. His protagonists are damaged, isolated, disillusioned. Bateman is his most iconic creation, yet all of his chosen characters face similar issues of separation, a result of the dismay at the society they are a disjointed part of — filtered through ultra-violence, mindless sex and excessive indulgence.
Told in an episodic rather than a linear manner, many of Ellis's characters share more than unfulfillment; certain characters appear in numerous works. In particular, Patrick Bateman is a recurring character away from his main work, appearing in American Psycho, The Informers and Glamorama and The Rules of Attraction, the latter in which his brother, Sean Bateman, is the leading character. This shared universe of sorts has allowed Ellis to start his critique by focusing on a group of friends in Less Than Zero, expanding to the city of New York in American Psycho, and eventually the world in Glamorama.
A Story Of Isolation And Longing
Throughout all of his work, there are generally a number of key themes. Excessive consumerism is usually used as a form of escape, a decision that leaves characters such as Bateman — a man who is driven to murder by subtle off-white business cards with tasteful thickness — driven to anxiety and frustration.
Most of the characters are also left alienated and desensitized by the media (evidenced by the "MTV culture" in Less Than Zero, or celebrity worship in Glamorama), they're obsessed with their appearance, desperate to connect with others but only able to connect with things. They're surrounded by people but completely cut off. Which leads us back to The Deleted.
In an interview with The Guardian earlier this year, Ellis was asked what Patrick Bateman would be if he was around in 2016. His response: An online troll, using Twitter and Instagram as a means to brag about his exploits. The need to be appreciated replaced by the need for likes. Talking of the difference in society since Bateman's era, Ellis said:
"We are in a time when the one per cent are richer than any human has been before, an era when a jet is the new car and million-dollar rents are the reality. New York today is American Psycho on steroids.
And despite the idea of interconnectivity via the internet and social media, many people feel more isolated than ever, increasingly aware that the idea of interconnectivity is an illusion."
Is Interconnectivity An Illusion?
The Deleted takes Ellis's theme of loneliness and throws it into a melting pot containing the pseudo-connectivity of social media. The conflict between physical contact and connectivity through technology shows both sides of the spectrum; firstly, the lengths those millennials go to to feel connected may explain their motivation for taking drastic action, such as joining a cult. Conversely, if their lives depended on it, could they go cold turkey, and remove the cyber-extension of themselves?
The need for the escapees to disappear links in with the growing concern of mass surveillance surrounding technology, highlighted by Snowden and enhanced by the likes of the "Snoopers Charter" in the UK — giving the government unprecedented access to citizens cyber-selves, without the prerequisite of wrongdoing.
The Deleted raises the question: In a world where we are constantly on display, could we disappear? Or would our thirst for technology be too strong, even if our lives depended on it? Can our social media profiles ever truly be deleted?
Ellis has always used extremes to reflect society, and its ability to cause apathy and separation. The Deleted is an interesting answer to whether or not technology helps us be more connected, or more cut off, told through Ellis's gratuitous lens. Disturbingly, the themes hiding below that lens are more apt than ever, making his latest work the most horrifying reflection to date.
Will you be watching 'The Deleted'?
(Source: The Guardian)