Letters to the editor

"American Psycho": Trenchant social commentary? Plus: Linking to hate sites; techno-geeks debate libertarianism.

By Salon Staff
Published April 18, 2000 4:00PM (EDT)

"American Psycho"

What a relief it was to read Stephanie Zacharek's dismissive review of "American Psycho."

For a while I was afraid there was a conspiracy of critics to fob off "American Psycho" as a great piece of satirical moviemaking and incidentally to rescue the reputation of Brett Easton Ellis, whose lack of any real imagination apparently shouldn't keep him from being thought of as a first-rate novelist.

The men who work on Wall Street are drones, not sublimated serial killers. Their work makes them tools. It's degrading and dehumanizing, but it doesn't make them monsters, it makes them worker ants and it's important to remember that in ant colonies the worker ants are female.

The swaggering and the posturing guys like Bateman and his pals do -- it's really nothing more than wound-licking. The misogyny, if it exists as Ellis and the movie portray it, is their way of reassuring themselves that they are still men. Ellis might have been onto something if he'd shown that Bateman's violence was his way of compensating for his emasculation, for all the groveling, cringing and bootlicking he has to do in order to hold onto his job and his pretty toys.

"American Psycho" lets us envy the lifestyle while pretending to criticize it. Neither the book nor, apparently, the movie, actually satirizes these guys' greed. The target is their swaggering masculinity (making the old, old Andrea Dworkinish point that just being male is an act of misogyny). We're left with a loophole: Lives built around money and expensive consumer goods are only bad if you're not a woman or a sensitive male who would never hurt a fly or open his.

-- David Reilly

I always laugh when people talk about how shallow the '80s were, as if the '90s and today are any different. We had a vapid and corrupt Republican president in the '80s and we had/have an intelligent, corrupt and sleazy Democratic president in the '90s and today. Pop music is as crappy now as it ever was in the '80s -- I'll trade you one Ricky Martin for one Huey Lewis any day. Big bucks were made on Wall Street and Silicon Valley both in the '80s and '90s in a way that appears obscene to most people. The only difference between the two eras is that many more people will be hurt financially when the dot-com frenzy finally implodes than were ever hurt by the Michael Milkens and Ivan Boeskys of the 1980s.

-- Martin Kannengieser

Zacharek admits she has never read the book. Given this fact, I'm not sure why this review is even considered worthy of print. As someone who has been able to bring himself to read Ellis' novel, I'm part of the population most likely to watch this movie, deemed by many too graphically violent.

Instead of a thoughtful review I get bland, hackneyed generalizations about the 1980s by a reviewer unwilling to take her own advice: It is never hip to be hollow.

-- Bob Ellinger

"Don't link to hate sites!"

Roger Ebert is way off base in criticizing Hatewatch for linking to hate sites. Most Web literate people can find these sites in no time at all using a varity of search engines. I have done research on hate in America and have found Hatewatch to be an excellent resource. It allows the viewer an in-depth look at the twisted philosophies of hate groups, damning themselves by their own words. To say that Hatewatch and others cause increases in hate crimes is mere journalistic rhetoric and not supported by any evidence. Hopefully Ebert's motives for attacking Hatewatch come from mere ignorance.

-- James Faust

I suspect that Ebert would not belittle groups like Hatewatch if film critics were targeted by hate sites on the Web.

-- David P. Graf

The hatemongers know where these sites are. They made them, right? The only people who might benefit from such a collection are those like myself, who feel much better knowing what the cranks and nutcases are up to. Here's to Hatewatch, an example of what the World Wide Web can be, when it's not engaged in porn.

-- Shane Stringer

Here's one more reason to not link to hate sites: Most major search engines now rank a site higher in search results if there are a lot of links to it -- so even if your purpose is to expose the site as objectionable, you ultimately provide free promotion if you put a link to them into your own site. (A kind of compromise for those seeking to protest a particular hate site: perhaps you include the URL as plain text but don't include a link?)

-- Antonio Romero

I was wondering why some the more enterprising Net hackers haven't tested their skills on some of these hate sites. I'm not encouraging anyone to break the law but it seems to me that Net hackers would be doing the general public more of a service if they disrupted or brought down the hate sites.

-- Shelley Martinez

Twilight of the


I didn't attend the conference but the same change has come over me. I was a staunch techno-libertarian in college but as I grew up and began appreciating the complexities of the social connective structures which affect me I became increasingly more liberal, to the point that I am almost a yellow dog democrat.

I am, however, not as shocked at that change as Ellen Ullman, since I don't see political philosophy as one-dimensional, with libertarians somewhere to the right of republicans, but as multi-dimensional, with techno-libertarians and social liberals actually fairly close together.

-- R. Michael Litchfield

Whatever their other faults, libertarians don't set content biases, unlike left-wing statists. The question of the composition of the audience is one that can be raised in many settings, from marijuana legalizers to the rap music business. There are many good arguments for government regulation, such as ensuring equal access as was done with dial-up access, but those championing them should try to leave behind their irrelevant, unholy trinity of racial, ethnic and sexual obsessions from the discussion.

-- Richard Solomon

The conclusion that any admission that technology is inadequate to the task of guaranteeing rights is a shift from being a libertarian to being a social democrat seems unjustified. Libertarianism existed long before there was any hope of trying to guarantee rights through the use of technology. In fact, one of its tenets is that one of government's rightful functions is to protect us from the use of force or fraud by another.

As for realizing that corporations can be evil, and that libertarianism equals support for corporatism, I think this is a healthy change in libertarianism. Corporations have long been in the blind spot of libertarians. They are government supported entities that have none of the controls that might normally be applied to such entities, such as the requirement to act in accordance with the Constitution. Even the idea of a labor union is not contrary to the spirit of libertarianism. Government enforcement of collective bargaining laws is.

As for libraries, I would gladly pay out of my own pocket to help support libraries if such payment were not already forcibly extracted from me.

-- Eric Hopper

Little girls on the big prairie


How easy it was to recognize my childhood self in Melanie Rehak's essay! I, too, pretended I was Laura Ingalls Wilder, which was pretty easy, considering I lived in Minnesota. I never did the pig's tail thing, but I did make candy by pouring syrup on new snow.

But it was Rehak's mention of her love for Petrova Fossil in "Ballet Shoes" that really grabbed me. I reread that book dozens of times in my pre-teen years, wishing I lived in an old house with hundreds of nooks and crannies to explore, and got to take dance and drama lessons (I conveniently ignored the fact that Pauline, Petrova and Posie were orphans).

But the books that influenced me most were "The Chronicles of Narnia." For years (I'm talking until my late teens), when confronted with an armoire in a private home or a hotel, I had to muster vast stores of resistance to keep myself from tapping the back panel, just to make sure I wasn't missing my chance to go to Narnia. (And I haven't even mentioned my compulsive rereading of the "Wrinkle in Time" series!)

That so many children identified so strongly with Laura, Petrova, et al. shows how powerful literature can be. Kudos to Rehak for excavating some of my fondest memories.

-- Lisa Beaudry

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