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 a razor-sharp, sardonic take on the privileged, youthful and ultimately debauched 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 American Psycho, his infamous tale of the immaculately preened and sadistic serial killer Patrick Bateman. Once the choppy waters had settled following an initial storm of controversy, the novel has since 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 since that film's 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 caliber of Ellis — a writer who uses violence, sex and apathy to hold up 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 tropes 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 twentysomethings who flee a mysterious cult. When escapees begin to disappear, the group must band 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, his 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.
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 Ellis's 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 ultraviolence, mindless sex and excessive indulgence.
With The Deleted told in an episodic rather than a linear manner, many of Ellis's characters share more than unfulfillment; certain characters appear across numerous works. In particular, Patrick Bateman is a recurring character, appearing in American Psycho, Lunar Park, 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 whole world in Glamorama.
A Story Of Isolation And Longing
Throughout all of Ellis's 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 — propelled to anxiety and frustration.
Most of the characters are also 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 appearances, desperate to connect with others but only able to connect with things. They're surrounded by people yet 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 — 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 with the growing concern of mass surveillance and technology, highlighted by Edward 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 questions: 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 beneath that lens are more apt than ever, making his latest work the most horrifying reflection to date.
Watch The Deleted. Now Streaming only on Fullscreen: http://full.sc/thedeletedseries
Will you be watching 'The Deleted'?
[Source: The Guardian; Image Credit: Lionsgate/Fullscreen]