Black and White and Red All Over
April 26, 2012 | by Sadie Stein
Last year, Benjamin Marra released a series of zines based on the 2000 American Psycho film adaptation. Now, the artist, along with Portland’s Floating World Comics store, is reproducing American Psycho as a limited-edition broadsheet. From paper to celluloid to paper and now newsprint! (To say nothing of the remake.) And given protagonist Patrick Bateman’s seemingly routine existence, a newspaper feels especially apropos. (To say nothing of Christian Bale’s work in Newsies.) It’s all especially striking given the novel’s initial reception: as Bret Easton Ellis says in his recent Paris Review interview,
months before the book was published, a few pages of the manuscript were leaked to the media, and these were the pages in which Patrick Bateman kills women, or fantasizes about killing women. The critics who read these pages naturally assumed they were representative of the whole book, and so a lot of outraged reviews and editorials started appearing in The New York Times—an essay in the Book Review attacking me, an op-ed by Lorrie Moore, and on and on and on. “What has society come to when a book like this can be published by a responsible publisher like Simon and Schuster?” And keep in mind, these weren’t right-wing conservatives attacking me. These were “well-meaning” liberals, primarily feminists. I wasn’t a misogynist when I wrote the book, but the unearned feminist hysteria briefly turned me into one … The book was cancelled, either the last week of November or the first week of December, in 1990. Sonny Mehta, who had recently become the editor in chief of Knopf, picked it up, which made people even angrier because it was a more respectable publishing house than Simon and Schuster. In January I got a call from my agent. She said, and I’m paraphrasing, “You’ve been getting death threats, and we need to show them to you. Legal has talked it over. If we don’t show them to you, and you’re not aware of them, then if something happens to you, we are liable, and your parents can sue us. So we’re going to send you a packet of these death threats, and you can look through them, and verify that you have seen them.” That was a very interesting afternoon.
Some of these threats included drawings of my body, and people describing how they were going to torture me, and what they were going to do to my corpse. They were going to do the same things to me that they thought “I” had done to the women in this book they hadn’t even read yet. But when the book came out a few months later, the controversy stopped. The complaints, the protests, the screaming about what a monster Bret Easton Ellis supposedly was, it all stopped. People finally read the book, and they found out that it wasn’t four hundred pages of torture and mutilation and advocating the death of women. It’s just some boring novel.