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Queer Eye for the Psycho Guy

It’s Time to Dismantle the Icons of Toxic Masculinity.

By Jordan Stead

Patrick Bateman played by Christian Bale
Picture courtesy of Lionsgate Publicity

The current climate of the idealised ‘sigma male’ is hard to ignore on social media

platforms such as Instagram and TikTok, with countless videos dedicated to the mimicry or downright worship of ‘sigma-coded’ characters such as Ryan Gosling in Blade Runner or Brad Pitt in Fight Club. Whether it is tutorials on new fads such as ‘mewing’, bizarre male fantasies, or downright misogynistic tropes against women it is very clear that there is toxic underbelly to sigma culture. Whether in jest or not, we cannot ignore its bleed into the terrifying ‘incel’ culture that manifests in the darker spaces of the internet.

Perhaps one of the most ‘iconic’ figureheads of this culture is the character of Patrick Bateman from novel and adapted film, American Psycho. Countless TikTok edits feature the rampant serial killer through the idolised masculine lens, backed up with the angry thumps of ‘Phonk’ music and subtitled with over-masculinised scenarios (some which are quite extreme to the point of hilarity). It is understandable why disenfranchised men within this community would look towards Bateman as a ‘godhead’, so to speak, due to the nature of his character; his physique, his job, his sex life - all caters towards the goals of those within this brazen internet community. What I would like to argue, however, is the irony of using Bateman as the sigma ‘poster boy’ when in actuality, American Psycho has more queer undercurrents than some would like to admit. Look towards the progenitors of the film; written by a gay man, Bret Easton Ellis, and later directed by a woman, Mary Harron - the media which birthed Patrick Bateman was produced by those who hardly align with attitudes of this rowdy, masculine club. Despite the sheer contents of sexual violence, murder, and the depraved attitude towards women in the novel and film, Patrick Bateman and his world has a ‘campness’ and ‘queerness’ to it that disables the imposition of a ‘sigma lens’.

What does makes American Pyscho camp, however? I already know such a sentence may cause a few eyebrows to raise. If we investigate this definition of camp from writer and critic Susan Sontag, it is the ‘love of the exaggerated’. The obtuse lives of Bateman and his colleagues in the ‘glitz and glam’ of 1980s New York (hiding the ugly details of political and social discourse such as the AIDS crisis) indicate this type of exaggeration. Perhaps it is the overtly ridiculous scenes of violence and sex. Or even the humorous cognitive dissonance Bateman and his friends have of the rather camp world around them, with scenes of the men entering a club with a drag queen at the door, or the male go-go dancers inside. Whatever it is, camp can and does bleed itself through the pages and screens of American Psycho. Just look at the opening scene of the film when Bateman details his rigorous morning routine, going through about twenty steps to upkeep his ideal, male physique. But for whom is this physique for? The women whom he seeks, or the male peers whom he covets.

Perhaps the most appealing argument against Bateman as the iconography for the disenfranchised heterosexual man is the allusion to his homosexuality. Bret Easton Ellis litters a plethora of suggestions throughout his novel. From his self-care routine, his keen eye for fashion, his obsessive detailing of his favourite artists and music (one could totally see Bateman running a ‘stan’ account on Twitter and arguing over like-minded, crazy fans) Bateman is altogether ‘queer-coded’. Whether he likes it or not, he is the ‘Other’ amongst his peers. This is already so due to his serial killer nature, but the subtlety of his othering lies within this hidden queerness.

The most expletive references to Bateman’s homosexuality are two instances in which he is met with it head on. In the novel during a U2 concert, Bateman’s heightened moment between himself and the lead singer Bono leaves Bateman with an erection; In the film, the confession of love from his colleague, Luis, in the bathroom sends Bateman into a spiralled panic attack. Yet interestingly, it also halts Bateman from strangling Luis to death. This becomes a regular occurrence for Bateman throughout the narrative, in which it seems like people who truly love and see Bateman for who he is are thus spared from his rampant killings. Such is the case for Evelyn, Jean, and in this instance Luis. Furthermore, Bateman’s idolisation of his body, especially during sex, can be read as way of attending to his homosexual desires rather than sheer narcissism. Bateman stares and flexes at the mirror during his threesome with sex workers, visibly turning himself on due to his strong, male physique rather than the women he is sleeping with.

When observed through a queer lens, what seems to be media for the straight male fantasy is quickly turned on its head, and a rapid dismantling of its alarming use in internet culture takes place. Fight Club received similar treatment when theories began to appear suggesting that the fighting was an entire euphemism for gay sex. Reclaiming Bateman as a character for the ‘gals and the gays’ is already a process that is underway in various spheres of the internet. Whether reclaiming such a depraved character is irrational or not, it takes away the power that Bateman has over disenfranchised men who may feast upon his darkest traits, within the depths of the internet. Obviously, there are many who engage with this internet trend of Bateman’s image ironically, for satire, and there are many who use it merely for the humour it can conjure. However, there are the small few that take things to the limit and genuinely believe in the contrived, masculine ‘edginess’ that comes with the character. The blurred line between sigma and incel cultures elevate their dangerous, misogynistic attitudes when ‘role models’ such as Bateman are used as the blueprint. To queerify Bateman is thus to dismantle this kind of culture, that gets fed into the impressionable man - and interestingly pulls a ‘sigma icon’ out from the closet.


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