I never watched American Psycho before the age of the internet or social media or anything like that. But I was always familiar with Patrick Bateman the character, his obsession with pop music, luxurious items, and bizarre, instantly quotable phrases. In the wake of the film reaching cult status, Bateman the character and the message of the film have been reduced to nothing more that just social currency for internet discussions. Knowing his speech on Huey Lewis by heart will earn you great favor among internet discussion sites like Reddit. And if you have real life acquaintances who are fans of the movie, you’ll instantly earn their admiration if you jokingly suggest Dorsia as a place to eat on a Friday night (to which, one of your friend’s will reply “nobody can get a reservation at Dorsia on Friday.”)
Since American Psycho has become such a large part of internet culture, and even social engagements at large, it almost feels unnecessary to discuss the plot, characters or memorable performances (in case you’re living under a rock, it’s about a Wall Street hot shot who starts to go on a murderous rampage.) But watching the film, from beginning to end, you almost feel sad for Christian Bale, director Mary Herron, and original author Bret Easton Ellis. They created a powerful story that is now just meme-fodder. Sure, audiences can take whatever they want from their movie-going experience, and if people enjoy just dishing out Patrick Bateman one liners, then who can really say that’s a bad thing? But since it’s been elevated to such high, cult status, it makes honest discussion about the movie, about its themes of wall street greed and homophobia set among the AIDS outbreak, nearly impossible. That, without question, is a bad thing.
American Psycho and The Big Lebowski were the first truly meme-worthy movies, films that came out relatively close to the rise of the internet in the earlys 200s and had memorable, quirky characters whose manner of speaking was so bizarre that everything they said was instantly quotable. For The Big Lebowski, that’s pretty much every character in the film. No one is “normal,” everyone is a slight caricature of a regular person, even the actors with non-speaking roles.
In American Psycho, the only meme-worthy person is Patrick Bateman, who is trying to act as normal and as human as possible but hilariously falls flat. Watching American Psycho now, you almost feel bad for Bateman, not because he isn’t loved or doesn’t have any friends, but because as a character and us as a digitally-savvy meme-focused audience, we just can’t take him seriously. Just like with every brilliant joke Family Guy has, people will ultimately remember the “Oh my god, who the hell cares” meme, Peanut Butter Jelly Time, and the Peter-Chicken fights more than anything else. The Big Lebowski is a silly film at the end of the day, and shouting “shut the fuck up, Donny” online or in real life isn’t really going to diminish the film’s quality. But for American Psycho, a movie with an actual message, its meaning gets lost in the internet’s humorous obsession of it. Satire is no longer satire when people aren’t listening to the message hidden beneath the joke.
I really would love to have seen this film before I had a Facebook account or ever went on Reddit, as I’m sure the experience would have been significantly different. But for now, despite how wonderful of a film it is, American Psycho serves as nothing more than fodder for jokes on fraternity group emails and Fantasy Football league message boards. Knowing American Psycho makes you cool in today’s digital age, where if you put on Huey Lewis or Phil Collins on the jukebox at a bar in any major city, you’re bound to hear a patron dish out a Patrick Bateman line immediately after. Sadly, that’s the kind of thing this film would argue against.