In society, the theory of consumerism becomes a strong critique when talking about the modern era. Every day, people buy things either for reasons of hedonism, to fulfill desires, to play a role in social status, to form identity bonds, or to represent memories. What happens in modern culture where excess goods can lead to excessive commodification? However, it is not only objects but also people.
In short, consumerism has come to the attention of many people in the last two decades of the twentieth century. The effects become more pronounced as society enters the early millennium stage. Such depictions of modern consumerism can range from comedy to lightheartedness. The opinions could be taken individually or as a dystopian hint at consumerism. American Psycho is an example of a film that addresses growing consumer culture concerns.
Adapted from a book of the same name, Bret Easton Ellis (the author of the book) depicts the dark side of the inner emptiness and isolation that guide his character. For many, consumerism has become the only societal practice they have ever experienced. Therefore, it is difficult to separate itself from itself without looking at its origins as a whole. One example of being critical of the impact of media on promoting consumerism on consumers through advertising is when discussing the formation of modern consumer culture.
On the Consumer’s Psyche
The case explores the point of view of the protagonist of Mary Harron’s film adaptation as a male character and how a particular trigger can influence the negative impact of media on the consumer’s psyche. The heyday of a new type of narcissist and the heyday of yuppie culture is the most unique phenomena for people to explore. Broadly speaking, consumerism is a set of commodity practices that act as part of a particular individual.
Theorists have emphasized the relationship between goods and people that society consumes. That means that even companies that produce commodities in large quantities can have them personalized in real-time. The phenomenon commonly referred to as “traditional consumption” refers to a period when companies produce consumer goods locally or in groups. While the closest equivalence to modern shopping is seasonal or weekly markets, the larger of which is an almost international market, there is a personal connection to consumer goods.
Due to major differences, most items are not on display. Instead of acting as an explorer, the main practice is bargaining. In another definition, consumerism plays a role in the manufacture of services and the use of goods. People who get services or goods by exchanging money are usually referred to as “consumers.”
While it does not emphasize any relationship that goods acquire and consumers establish, it does focus more on what the goods are used for. Theorists call the phenomenon “modern consumerism.” On the other hand, consumerism has been widely misunderstood in the West, especially in America. According to a stereotype, women are the main consumers. They shop the most.
However, historians agree that the views are often misinterpreted. In essence, men also consume and spend more on consumer goods than women. Ironically, they control more resources while consuming them differently. Significantly, women usually buy retail goods from wholesalers. For men who can without a doubt visit a department store, they will have various associations.
The history of luxury male consumption goes back more than a century. In essence, men can consume about twice the value of recreational or personal commodities as women. From here, ads target male and female consumers separately. In a commodity-driven consumer culture, advertising is a ubiquitous source of gender ideology. Mostly, advertisements in women’s magazines contain domestic goods or fashion, while men’s magazines contain the consumption of masculinity.
A striking fact is that men openly use cosmetics such as mustache cosmetics, hair dyes, hair oils, and shaving soap. People will see later that such ideals never completely disappeared, whereas the yuppies of the 1980s only perfected the masculine icon.
In American Psycho, Harron introduces Patrick Bateman to the audience during a scene where he presents his apartment. He lives in the American Gardens Building on West 81st Street, on the 11th floor, and is 27 years old. Played by Christian Bale, who plays flawlessly (not just with his body but as smoothly as the furniture in his apartment), it is the product of rigorous training as well as the overuse of cosmetics.
By striving to perfect his exterior, Bateman’s rigorous grooming practice is rooted in his modern body perception and socialization within the desired system that inspires the task. The task serves as a deep internalization of normalizing and disciplining an individual’s body. Mass media, social relations, and advertising enforce and socialize the cultural ideology of the body in addition to being responsible for the consumer’s image of a more ideal body.
Therefore, such a self-concept encourages consumption practices, namely staying fit, which means exercising control over one’s body. On the other hand, being fat is a sign of weakness and laziness. Image-based culture always reinforces the myth of youth. There is a desire to look young by any means possible. Apart from visuality, self-presentation as a commodity has always been the main factor in building identity and social relations.
The practice of self-care that people always apply has always been the definition of the dialectic between asceticism and materialism. The hedonistic pursuit of pleasure and satisfaction in consumer culture has always been contradictory. In American Psycho, the dualism of the rehearsal scene in which Harron opens by shooting a snack of berries and mineral water and Bateman crunches hard into the murder scene video from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is just one example.
Bateman’s body always appears healthy and fit without contributing to his peace of mind. However, his inner desire always rages in every frame. He always tortures himself with extreme exercise routines, besides preferring to torture others. In another case, Bateman and his colleagues presented their new business cards in an attempt to impress each other with their unique tastes and styles.
The business card duel only confirms the ironic exchange of characters, including Bateman as vice president in the acquisitions and mergers department. However, they are all registered under the same phone number. Such scenes are also full of drama, which both the book and film adaptations exaggerate when they draw business cards. The camera zooms in on the elegant font at the same time.
Bateman almost faints when he sees Paul Allen’s card until his heart flutters.
The Illusory Entity
Despite being a meme, the scene emphasizes how the study of Bateman’s character as an individual is trying to get the best status symbol. He performs his first murder in the following sequence, stabbing a homeless man while telling him what a loser he is. Apart from talking to the homeless man, another interpretation is that he talks about himself being dissatisfied with his work and life.
Bateman becomes an illusory entity from beginning to end, removing any kind of certainty from the audience as well. Both Bateman and the audience are not sure whether the disturbances and violence that occurred earlier really happened, it was all just Bateman’s imagination. The presence of his notebook on the table was the only way for him to escape his murderous tendencies.
The final voiceover speech that offered no prospect of vengeance, redemption, or settlement took place. The infamous one is when the camera moves into extremely close range of Bateman’s empty eyes. He concluded that there were no longer any barriers for him to cross. All that he had in common with the insane or the uncontrollable had passed. Starting with sharp or constant pain, he doesn’t wish for a better world for anyone.
“This confession has meant nothing.”
Bateman doesn’t want anyone to run away, but even after confessing, there is no catharsis or new knowledge that he can take from his story. Therefore, his confession means nothing. His friends kept talking about acquaintances and reservations while they talked on the phone, laughing and drinking. Such results support the interpretation that there is no truth in Bateman’s appearance.
Finally, all of the unknowingly successful torture killings do not satisfy him, who teaches neither the audience nor himself anything else. In the depiction of consumerism as a contradictory yet complex phenomenon, modern consumer culture always has a basis on the opposite pole, namely guilt, indulgence, pleasure, and abstinence. In reality, consumers become the new gods, reacting to advertisers’ subconscious suggestions.
While most consumers are aware of subtle manipulation, society will continue to participate in consumer culture. In some way, society participates in consumer culture. American Psycho serves as a cautionary tale against consumerism, whether extreme consumption traps an individual in a shallow world of empty commodities or there are few alternatives to consumer culture.
Despite attempts to change that in the last 50 years, materialism has always proved society unsuccessful. In a changing society, it is necessary to reshape the relationship between cultural and political forms.
- Kooijman, J., & Laine, T. (2003). American Psycho: A double portrait of serial yuppie Patrick Bateman. POST SCRIPT-JACKSONVILLE-, 22(3), 46-56.
- Murphet, J. (2002). Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho: A Reader’s Guide. A&C Black.
- Roberts, M. L. (1998). Gender, consumption, and commodity culture. The American Historical Review, 103(3), 817-844.