Why The World Needs Assholes (Or, Why I Finally Love Bret Easton Ellis)


After years of ambivalence, I’ve decided that I finally love Bret Easton Ellis. It’s not so much because of his writing. Excluding Less Than Zero and its sequel Imperial Bedrooms, I’ve yet to actually finish one of his books. I made it 300 pages into American Psycho and about halfway through The Rules Of Attraction, Lunar Park, Glamorama, and The Informers before putting them all down. It’s not because I hated the books or his writing. I just found myself feeling incredibly fatigued after reading a hundred pages or so. I’m not sure why this is; I’m not sure why I find Ellis’ prose to be so tiring but I do. Reading his books is often like getting a shot of adrenaline and then having a terrible comedown.

So, no, that’s not why I adore him. I love Bret Easton Ellis for who he is, not what he writes. His Twitter feed is HILARIOUS, even though it’s often used as a dispensary of maddening opinions. Just yesterday, he tweeted some insensitive things about the recent suicides from bullying. He said, “I was bullied. It was awful. But I learned a lot. I learned how to cope. It taught me things: people are cruel, the world sucks. I grew up. Bullying=Suicide? Personally I blame the parents and an entire culture that indulges a childproof world where pain and losing doesn’t exist.” This kind of thinking is problematic because it assumes that overcoming cruelty from your peers is simply about being “strong enough.” And if you can’t survive it, it suggests that you’re weak or were coddled too much by your parents. Obviously, this perception is too simplistic. Everyone has their own special circumstances surrounding their experience with bullying that can contribute to an eventual suicide. It’s not a matter of whether or not you have the STRENGTH to transcend it. (I do, however, agree with his opinions regarding the unfair persecution of Tyler Clementi’s roommate Dharun Ravi. You can read more about that in this New Yorker piece here.)  Such controversial comments should come as little surprise though, considering that Ellis has become just as famous for his assholish behavior as he has for his books. He’s become a kind of anti-writer, a perennial outsider from an elitist literary culture that once held him so dear.

In a new interview with The Paris Review, Ellis talks about his role in the literary world, explaining that, despite all the fame, he never really felt a part of it. In the earlier days, he would try to conform to what he thought a writer should be. He wore nice suits, hung out with other influential writers, and played the part of a hot, young literary guy. It didn’t really work out for them though. His novel, American Psycho, was a reaction to the kind of hollowness he had been feeling while trying to fit into the literary scene. In 2006, he left New York City for Los Angeles, leaving the snobby book culture behind and embracing unabashed commercial trash like The Hills. His most recent upcoming project is a “shark movie” he wrote for Hollywood, for god’s sake. Get that money, honey!

Bret Easton Ellis may be an asshole but in a world full of constant PC policing, his presence is remarkably refreshing. Who can forget that famous tweet in which he said something like “Kirsten Dunst looked a lot sadder when I ran out of a coke at an Oscars after party than she did at the Lars Von Trier press conference…” LOL. Who has the balls to say stuff like that anymore? Even Kathy Griffin, a comedian who has made a name for herself by trashing celebrity culture, seems to have been drinking the Kool-Aid lately. Bret Easton Ellis is becoming an increasingly rare breed of celebrity — someone who honestly doesn’t give a crap what you think. It’s authentic because he’s clearly not doing it for the money like Griffin is. He’s just bein’ Bretty.

I love Ellis because he never bores me. Every day, I’m inundated with bland celebrities who have nothing to say. Or, if they do, they don’t have the balls to say it. Their presence doesn’t offend me, per se, but it also doesn’t excite me. More and more, it seems like I’m just looking for things that give me a visceral reaction. I don’t care if I’m horrified or delighted. I just want to feel something other than indifference and boredom. Ellis does that for me. Even when he’s being a dick, I take solace in knowing that at least he’s not making me yawn. In this day and age, that’s quite the accomplishment.

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image – Mark Coggins