I’m rewriting a book chapter about Bret Easton Ellis’s notorious novel and can’t stop wondering what main character Patrick Bateman would think of today’s world. I’m aware that he’s a fictional character – even if he’s uncannily similar to some extra-textual neoliberal figureheads – but I’ve never shied away from a good thought experiment when the opportunity presented itself.
If teleported to the present day, Patrick would probably be delighted to discover that Donald Trump is now leading his country. In the novel he references Trump to the point of ridicule, adapting the advice the supercapitalist shared in his bestseller The Art of the Deal into the ideal on which he bases his own persona and lifestyle. Although Patrick seems blissfully unaware of the big issues that haunted the US during the 1980s – HIV/AIDS, homelessness, and welfare cuts, to name just a few – he might have turned political if he’d known that his efforts would one day help his hero to get into the White House.
But a much more radical shift that occurred since the novel was published in the early 1990s is, of course, this thing called The Internet. It’s not hard to picture Patrick swiping left on Tinder, frantically searching for “nervous breakdown cures” on Google, or ordering an Uber to get to the next nightclub. Who knows, perhaps modern technology would finally have gotten him that reservation at Dorsia.
The most Patrick-like invention, which has turned so many of us into mini-Patricks, must be Instagram. Imagine Patrick taking a selfie after completing his gruelling exercise routine and sharing it with his followers, captioning his post with a line of hashtags longer than his arm. Or perhaps Twitter would be his thing, used to publicly shame the dry cleaners that can’t get those red stains out of his favourite sheets.
With the reputation of financial professionals now on a par with the image of burglars – actually, I’ve heard people argue that they respect burglars more, because they actually work for their money – I wonder whether Patrick would have considered a career change. What would be the most suitable job for someone who is utterly self-obsessed and has no discernible talent?
The answer is obvious. Patrick would make a great influencer. I’m not saying that all influencers are vapid nutcases – although they seem to be everywhere, I’ve never met one in person – but think about it. Patrick loves products. He loves showing off, bragging, getting attention. He loves money. What’s not to like about a job that offers all those perks?
The question remains: what angle would he go for? Would he be a fit boy and flash his abs while holding up a disgusting-looking protein drink? Maybe he’d prefer fashion and model the latest $1000 man bag. Or perhaps he’d turn into a beauty vlogger, explaining how to camouflage those nasty little blemishes you get when to don’t keep enough distance from poor people.
I’m being deliberately ridiculous here, and I doubt Ellis would be interested in writing a sequel . If he is: better not do it. Sequels rarely work. But it’s interesting to consider how the perception of iconic novels changes over time, and how the world they represent and mock now only exists as a distant past. Perhaps the time is right for a novel that captures the essence of the crazy times we’re living in. If it’s already out there, I’ve not foudn it yet.