“What is Millennial culture?” probed American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis in an interview with the Sunday Times.
There are innumerable answers: destroyers of deadbeat chains like Buffalo Wild Wings and Aeropostle, winners of participation trophies, helpless crybabies who can’t fit houses into their avocado budgets. Fed up is as good an answer as any. It’s admittedly difficult to define any generation in a single sentence, particularly if that sentence is a condescending remark from a man who is “not really bothered” by politics—a facet of society some might consider to be the essence of culture (come on, didn’t all our favorite throwback punk music drop in the Bush years?). Ellis went on to clarify his statements.
“There’s no writing,” Ellis insisted, hot off the publication of his first release in nearly ten years. “None of them reads books.”
Image Via Pew Research
Statistically, he’s incorrect: Millennials (widely defined as those born between 1981 and 1996) read five books per year on average, one higher than the national average. They’re also more likely than any other generation to visit the public library and have a documented preference for print media, which has helped to keep indie bookstores alive in a more digital era. According to Forbes, Millennials “read more than older generations do—and more than the last generation did at the same age.” But he’s right about one thing: he’s certainly provocative.
“My ability to trigger Millennials is insane,” he boasted to The Guardian, which we imagine was not one of the blurbs on the jacket of his latest book—White, a non-fiction collection as confrontational as its title. In an interview that The Washington Post described as a “multivehicle pileup of a Q & A,” he described his collection as provocative rail against political correctness. When asked to describe his political stance, he said, “I think politics are ridiculous,” to which the interviewer replied: “maybe don’t write a book about it.”
Nothing so vulgar as knowledge can stop Ellis from promoting his novel. He states his political opinions proudly and unabashedly. “Trump does not bother me more than what has been going on with the ‘woke’ left,” Ellis explained. He is critical of the fact that, while many among the ‘hysterical left’ see Donald Trump as a sexual predator, he “[doesn’t] know” whether or not any women actually came forward with allegations (they had, several years prior). Ellis feels that others are too “worked up.” He has never voted in a Presidential election.
When accused of being right-wing, Ellis replies, “you really have read me wrong.” He was recently profiled for Breitbart.
To his credit, Ellis doesn’t care what you think of him—which is probably for the best. It’s not so difficult to understand his disillusionment with the literary world, considering the magnitude of his former role within it: the most promising freshman Bennington College had ever seen, a prodigy by all definitions. But inherent in any prodigy is youth—the unique impact of accomplishing great things before anyone else gets the chance. His legacy is as much his writing as it is his cocaine-fueled escapes; the personality cult of characters he surrounded himself with, the ‘Brat Pack,’ a full cast of epithets with himself as the bad boy. In White, he identifies that his artistic mission is “to present an aesthetic, things that are true without having to be factual or immutable.” He, like his work, is as much idea as execution.
Image Via Rolling Stone
When Ellis realized he was no longer young, “something began to crack, and the crack began to spread, and I began to get depressed over this notion of disappearing,” he admits. “I realized, at a certain point, that the younger generation was supplanting me.” That, to clarify, is the younger generation that doesn’t read (even though they do). It’s the generation filled with those who “don’t care about literature.” It’s impossible not to wonder whether or not he’s referring to literature as an abstract concept or simply as a reality he no longer inhabits. It’s true that there may be less of a cult of personality surrounding authors now than there had been in the past—in the 80s, Ellis’ brightest decade. But I am one of the Millennials on the other side of his accusations, and so I do not remember. What is literature to Bret Easton Ellis? What exactly is it that we’ve forgotten?
“Own it, snowflakes,” reads the opening line of Ellis’ blurb, “you’ve lost everything you claim to hold dear.”
image via The Nation
Come over at do bring coke now
— Bret Easton Ellis (@BretEastonEllis) December 2, 2012
Personally, I am among the youngest Millennials, born in the last weeks of 1995—that porous landscape between generations, the liminal space for those of us who can remember 9/11 but were still teenagers during the conspicuous rise of ‘identity politics:’ “transgender” mentioned in a State of the Union address, same-sex marriage legalized, racialized abuses of power brought closer to the forefront of our cultural consciousness.
I am not offended to be told that Millennials don’t read (I do, voraciously) or write (I am right now). I am not offended to be called a snowflake, especially considering that, hitting multiple letters on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, there are far worse things for others to call me. I am curious as to why political outrage qualifies as “hysteria” when Ellis finds none of the same senselessness in his own vitriol, nothing childlike in describing triggering Millennials as “delicious” as “eating frosting.” And what are we to expect? This is the man who made his name from the journalistically-chronicled shocking indifference of a group of drugged-out teenagers in Less Than Zero, written with a callousness and emptiness that time has not bothered to take.
Image Via Quotefancy
“I think I am an absurdist,” he says, which is an odd thing not to know.
Does an author have any obligation to present the truth? Does an author need to consider the larger political climate, the cultural context of a work, as part of its meaning? Is nihilism an artistic statement, or is it a cop-out? Does an author have any obligation to understand the things he’s commenting upon?
Regardless of the answer, it’s clear that Ellis doesn’t.
Featured Image Via The Irish Times.