I wanted to share two pieces on the recent book by Bret Easton Ellis, “White”. Let me preface this by saying that I have not read the book, but everything I’ve read about both the book and the author indicates that I’m not missing much, and that, like most terrible media, there’s far more entertainment to be gleaned listening to reviewers tear it to shreds. (See also: Moviebob Reviews Pixels.) So for your consideration, two such critiques.
The first is an interview with him from the New Yorker.
This is one of the more impressive adversarial interviews I’ve ever seen. It’s really refreshing how little of Ellis’s shit Isaac Chotiner is taking. A recurring theme throughout the interview: Chotiner is not taking it when it comes to what seems to be one of the central theses of his book: that we’re all being entirely too outraged about Trump:
I am not that interested in politics. I am not that interested in policy. What I was interested in was the coverage. Especially in Hollywood, there was an immense overreaction. I don’t care really about Trump that much, and I don’t care about politics. I was forced to care based on how it was covered and how people have reacted. Sure, you can be hysterical, or you can wait and vote him out of office.
**When I think of when people have freaked out during the past couple of years, I think of the Muslim ban, child separation, and the President saying that there were good people on both sides in Charlottesville. What, as a citizen, do you think would have been appropriate responses?
I don’t know. I really don’t.
**Did it bother you when people showed up at airports or said child separation was terrible?
No, not at all. I’m not really bothered by that one way or the other.
**But you don’t think people should complain about [those policies]?
No, I feel that whoever has been elected can do whatever they set out to do and what their party wants them to do and what their base wants them to do, and you might not like it, Todd [Ellis’s boyfriend] might not like it, I might not even like it, but this is the reality. It is not some made-up fantasy. This is happening.
In case you’re not paying attention, this is nonsense. Ellis doesn’t actually care why people are getting angry, he just wants them to shut up about it. He hasn’t thought about what these policies might mean for the people getting angry. He hasn’t thought about why anyone would care. He just wants people to shut up.
This is privilege in a nutshell. Ellis doesn’t have to care about these policies, so anyone else getting upset about it is just shrill and overreacting.
Throughout the interview, Chotiner becomes less and less patient with this centrist nonsense, until it ends in Chotiner just flat-out saying, “Maybe if you don’t care about politics you shouldn’t write about it”:
You are a novelist. You write about the human condition. Do you worry about the self-harm of people who see things like child separation and have no emotional response?
I think I am an absurdist. I think politics are ridiculous.
**Maybe don’t write a book about it. Would that be the solution?
I think the problem is that I don’t necessarily see this as interesting as fiction.
**Yeah, I could tell.
Apply cold water to burned area.
An excellent companion piece to that interview is Vox’s review of the book, which is about as brutal as these things get in mainstream publications.
Reader, I am here to tell you that both Chotiner and Chu were correct. White is a poorly thought-out mess of a book written by someone who does not take seriously the topics he’s writing about. It is also, more damningly, not interesting at all.
I think the reason I love this so much is that it feels like a takedown of a certain type of toxic centrism that I, quite frankly, am sick to fucking death of. Those smarmy, cocksure, invariably cis white male jerks who basically exist almost exclusively in news media and among rich white centrist liberals, who couldn’t give a rat’s ass about policy or power, but who care very deeply for decorum and appearances. The kind of useful idiot who is deeply concerned about free speech on college campuses and isn’t getting paid by the Koch brothers to do so. The kind of guy who thinks that throwing children in cages is bad, but getting angry and marching in the streets about that bad thing is somehow worse.
To quote the end of the article:
All of White is, in fact, a massive and unoriginal exercise in projection, a defensive bray of “I’m not mad, I actually think it’s funny,” repeated for 260 pages.
“Shit happens, deal with it, stop whining, take your medicine, grow the fuck up,” says Ellis, who has written an entire book about how much he dislikes it when people unfollow him on Twitter.
By the end of White, I wished he’d taken his own advice.
And lastly I cannot help but give a tip of the hat to Bookforum.com’s takedown: Bret Easton Ellis rages against the decline of American culture - Andrea Long Chu - Bookforum Magazine
Ellis refers to millennials as Generation Wuss, which sounds like something your dad made up. Lots of White is given to this kind of feeble bullying. The first mention of safe spaces is on page 9; helicopter parents, also page 9; participation trophies, page 17. Everyone is coddled, everyone is a whiny baby. Ellis sympathizes with millennials’ economic precariousness—his own college-educated millennial boyfriend spent a “hellish year” looking for a job—but the brutal truth is that life is disappointing, cruel, and frequently unfair. “Shit happens,” Ellis barks, a football coach who just wants the best for his boys. “Deal with it, stop whining, take your medicine, grow the fuck up.” He approvingly cites the Trump campaign’s theme song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” One longs to tell him what the Rolling Stones told Trump: Please stop.
This amounts to a lecture on kettles from one of our leading pots. It is, of course, Ellis who won’t stop whining; Ellis who can’t handle being trolled; Ellis who calls criticism “oppression”; Ellis who manically describes the tendency of people online to react disproportionately to things as a “vast epidemic of alarmist and catastrophic drama.” “When did people start identifying so relentlessly with victims, and when did the victim’s worldview become the lens through which we began to look at everything?” asks the true victim, a rich writer who lives in Los Angeles. It is a curious thing that makes one generation project onto the next everything it hates most about itself. It suggests that age, far from embittering the individual, awakens in him a fresh stage of naïveté. Having never grown up himself, he clings to the hope that someone else will grow up in his place. When the young fail as he did, he becomes petulant, contemptuous, and easily offended—in short, a child again.
And of course, this killer line:
For years now, Bret Easton Ellis has been accused of being a racist and a misogynist, and I think these things are true; but like most things that are true of Bret Easton Ellis, they are also very boring.