We talked to Bret Easton Ellis about American Psycho, his possible Kanye collaboration, American Psycho, his upcoming book, and why he thinks our generation is a bunch of cry-babies.
Bret Easton Ellis Says We’re All a Bunch of Cry-Babies
Bret Easton Ellis has only got to open his mouth for the cry-babies of the world to crawl out and start berating him for being a morally depraved chancer. Back in the 80s and 90s, you could sympathise with people getting offended by his books if they hadn’t spent much time around hedge-fund managers or fashion world dickheads. If they had, they’d realize thatAmerican Psycho and Glamorama are in essence works of journalism—dressed up in Valentino and splattered with blood, yes, but documentaries of a certain moment in history all the same. “The six or seven books add up as a sort of autobiography,” he says. “When I look at them I think, ‘Oh, that’s where I was in ’91. That’s where I was in ’88. Okay, I got it.’”
Now he has moved into film, as well as writing screenplays for TV and delivering his own weekly podcast. Which, among other highlights, has featured Kanye West and Marilyn Manson. Yet still he has repeatedly faced accusations of “douchery” from bloggers and a general outcry every time he criticizes anything on Twitter.
When I called his house in LA last week, Bret talked passionately about his frustration with what he’s dubbed “Generation Wuss”—you, me, everyone else who’s young, hyper-sensitive and grown up with the internet, basically. Over the course of a few hours, I was genuinely impressed by the amount of interest he takes in the lives of people who’ve grown up reading his books, the technology they use and the way they consume culture. His annoyance seems to come from a place of concern rather than misanthropy.
So, why all the pant-wetting?
VICE: Why have you termed me and my contemporaries “Generation Wuss”?
Bret Easton Ellis: You have to understand that I’m coming to these things as a member of the most pessimistic and ironic generation that has ever roamed the earth. When I hear millennials getting hurt by “cyber bullying”, or it being a gateway to suicide, it’s difficult for me to process. A little less so for my boyfriend, who happens to be a millennial of that age, but even he somewhat agrees with the sensitivity of Generation Wuss. It’s very difficult for them to take criticism, and because of that a lot of the content produced is kind of shitty. And when someone is criticized for their content, they seem to collapse, or the person criticizing them is called a hater, a contrarian, a troll.
In a way it’s down to the generation that raised them, who cocooned them in praise—four stars for showing up, you know? But eventually everyone has to hit the dark side of life; someone doesn’t like you, someone doesn’t like your work, someone doesn’t love you back… people die. What we have is a generation who are super-confident and super-positive about things, but when the least bit of darkness enters their lives, they’re paralyzed.
I realized the other day that I’m around the same age as Patrick Bateman. His existence was fairly typical of a 27-year-old living in New York at the time you wroteAmerican Psycho, but it couldn’t be further away from my reality.
Not to reference the 27-year-old [Bret’s boyfriend] too often, but he would completely agree with you. American Psycho is about a world that is as alien to him as Saturn.
I think it was a world we were promised, though.
There was a certain point where we realized the promises were lies and that we were going to be economically adrift. It’s the fault of the baby boomer generation for raising their kids at the highest peak of the empire, in a complete fantasy world. My generation, Gen X, realized that, like most fantasies, it was somewhat dissatisfying, and we rebelled with irony, negativity and attitude because we had the luxury to do that. Our reality wasn’t an economic hardship.
The Evolution of Black Masculinity Through Fashion
ll eyes were on Shayne Oliver as he stepped into a sweltering Bronx church in the heat of summer, 2000. The lanky teenager shuffled into the vestibule wearing a short white crop top, exposing his taut midriff. Blots of black skin poked through hand-tattered jeans that were so tight he had to cut them up and safety-pin them back together to get them on. Shayne’s outfit set him drastically apart from the men of the congregation, who wore boxy suits. He and his mother hadn’t even taken seats in a pew before the preacher started spewing a diatribe of venomous, homophobic remarks from the pulpit. It took a moment before Shayne realized the preacher was attacking him. “Basically, the pastor ran me out of the church,” he told me recently. “I stopped going after that.”
Shayne’s now 25 and the designer of menswear label Hood By Air, whose provocative styles—along with brands like Telfar and Third Floor—are carving out a new and empowering palette of masculinity for young black men to paint from. At Shayne’s shows, it’s not out of the ordinary to see his models stalk the runway in makeup and dresses. Their bellies are often exposed, and half the time you can’t tell whether they’re men or women. But far from sissiness, the looks exude the visceral power of a lineman crushing a quarterback, or two swords clashing in an action film. This time last year, at Shayne’s debut New York Fashion Week runway show, the scene was so thick I had to stand on my tiptoes to catch a glimpse of his powerful vision of androgynous modern menswear. With macho gangster rapper A$AP Rocky on the catwalk, and stars like Kanye West and Waka Flocka Flame in the crowd offering up their adulation, the show was the birth of a new epoch in the evolution of black masculinity.
There have been others who’ve pushed similar boundaries in the past. Before Kanye and A$AP, black artists like Sly and the Family Stone in the 60s and Cameo in the 80s wore gear that looked like it was straight out of the Folsom Street Fair. In the 90s, Tupac walked in a Versace fashion show in a flamboyant gold suit.
But one of the things that sets this new wave apart from what came before is that straight men like Kanye and Rocky have no problem recognizing that some of their looks might have originated in the gay community. This kind of inclusiveness and openness is one of the many elements that signifies a shift in the way black men comport themselves in an age when the old notions of machismo, which were burdened with the baggage of 400 years of slavery and Jim Crow, continue to be chipped away.
We live in a very uncritical artistic climate. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the nauseating world of music criticism. I’ve worked in this industry for a little while, and there’s a prevailing sentiment that music critics who don’t have anything nice to say shouldn’t say anything at all, and that it’s more important to shine a light on the good in the world than call bullshit when you hear it. This is compounded by musicians, who are tiny babies who can’t take the slightest criticism, opting for a fantasy world where they’ve never made a bad song in their entire pointless careers.
This may sound like a non-sequitor, but here’s a fun thought experiment a friend taught me—try to think of the most popular song in the country right now. Go ahead, try. You can’t do it, can you? That’s because, as 2013 rounds to a close, no one ever has to listen to anything they don’t want to. We’re encouraged to build a dumb little sonic cocoon, an insulated baby-bubble filled with all the perfect little albums and singles we can fit on our mobile devices. And when we don’t need to rely on broadcasters like MTV or Power 105.1 for our new music, it becomes harder and harder to figure out what the hell we’re supposed to rebel against. And I’m mad about it, dammit!
Anyway, there’s not much anyone can do about this stuff. If I had to venture a guess, I’d imagine the quality of popular music will continue to plummet farther and farther down the toilet. All we can do on the way down is point out a stinker when we hear one, so here’s a handy guide to 50 pieces of sonic lemur shit released (or reissued) in the past year.
What Celebrities Eat at Golden Corral
Kanye West gets a plate of cake with ice cream and sits and watches that shit melt into a puddle. Once it has, he signals for the waiter to come over and get this fucking plate out of his face. Then he goes into the bathroom and washes his hands and face with the hottest water they’ve got while looking at himself in the bathroom mirror. Then he goes back out and does it again. Two hours, 17 cakes, and 80 gallons of ice cream later, he leaves a $30,000 tip in cash.
Chan Marshall of Cat Power scalps the awful and bland plaques of pastry off of the peach cobbler because they are the closest food equivalent she can find to the Void. She picks mournfully at the plaques until her date drops his fork and asks in a stern whisper why she must make her illnesses so ‘showy’ and ‘disruptive’ to everyone around her, which finally allows her to feel at home.
Kanye West Is Standing on Your Lawn, Yelling His Own Name
My senior portrait in my high school yearbook is bad. Stupendously, horrifyingly bad. Orbit-stopping, telethon-necessitating, encyclopedia-entry bad. Bad in a way that should entitle me to write it off on my taxes. Not bad in the almost-charming way that perfectly encapsulates a bygone pop culture phase, like “remember Old Navy?!”, or bad in a blatantly misrepresentative way that belied some current or future attractiveness. Bad in a way that feels permanently branded to one’s identity, like an addiction to animal pornography or a manslaughter conviction. I imagined the women of the world meeting at some Bilderberg- type conference, with headphones and translators and a giant white screen that lowered from the ceiling so the yearbook picture could be projected onto it. WARNING: THIS MAN IS OUT THERE AND HE MIGHT APPROACH YOU.
My eyebrows were a sprawling, untamed mess. To call them “eyebrows” would be insufficient. They were something to be classified by a horticulturalist. I was sweaty. My skin was not pale so much as it was a sickly beige, as if my entire face was made of wet Band-Aids. I had braces. I deliberately left my hair “messy,” because I was 16, and I believed this was “cool,” and was going to “change everything,” except it wasn’t, and it didn’t, because I am not Mark Ruffalo, I am me, I am this, and this spent high school afternoons microwaving bowls of cheddar cheese and eating them with its fingers. I weighed 120 pounds. In the picture, you can see distinctly in my neck not just the outline of an Adam’s apple but a number of fragile throat parts. Afterward, as I walked from the platform where the pictures were taken, I saw waiting in line one of the coolest kids in my grade—cool, as measured by Number of Girls Fingered in a Stairwell. He looked down and realized that we were wearing the same shoes. Real, actual devastation has never been as discernable as it was on his face in that moment. Like it temporarily altered his perception of himself. Like my uncool-ness was so immense that even the slightest similarity to it could briefly transfer that uncool-ness onto him.
I am 26 now and my hair is less-awful than it was then. I exfoliate. I have consumed several pieces of cauliflower. I own a tie. The picture exists only in the yearbook, which is in my room, in a box, in a closet. We hide and we change and we pretend the new us is the only us we have ever been.
About a month ago, Jon Caramanica of the New York Times said this to Kanye West: “You look at your outfits from five or seven years ago, and it’s like—” And Kanye said to him, “Yeah, kill self. That’s all I have to say. Kill self.”
Legendary Producer Mike Dean Talks About His Work on ‘Yeezus’
As far as hip-hop producers go, Mike Dean is a legend. He’s a Grammy Award-winning producer who helped pioneer the Dirty South sound in the 90s. Mike’s had a hand in mixing, producing, and mastering multi-platinum records for everyone from the Geto Boys and Pimp C to Tupac and Jay-Z. Mike’s also been one of Kanye West's go-to guys from the very beginning. He's worked on the majority of Kanye's albums, from mixing College Dropout and Late Registration to co-producing tracks on Graduation and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. For the past six months, Mike Dean, Ye, and the legendary Rick Rubin have been putting the final touches on Kanye’s new record. The way Yeezus has been blaring out of every pair of headphones around the VICE office, we can’t wait to catch Kanye and Mike performing the new tracks on tour.
We sent Archie Green, an MC and producer who’s made beats for VICE’s Noisey Raps and has been featured in the Creators Project’s Layers series, to catch up with Mike Dean before Yeezus dropped. Archie picked Mike’s brain about Kanye’s new album, Mike’s past projects, and what the future of hip-hop holds.
“Being a strong black man (or any man) has nothing to do with what you wear or who you fuck, but whether or not you have the will power to stay true to yourself. If that means wearing a dress, then so be it.”