We are all Patrick Bateman. On the inside.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

a response so beautifully and thoroughly thoght out it deserved its own entry...

TL/DR: I will post a video tomorrow, for those who do not have time to read what basically amounts to an essay as well as those who simply prefer to listen while doing dishes or trying not to road rage in rush hour traffic or whatever.  :)

I took this picture last night before the show, but I have waited to post it because... well, frankly, even though I re-installed Facebook on my phone for the sole purposes of doing the whole little pre-show Facebook post ritual thing, after actually taking the picture, it just... didn't feel right. To post it then and there. So I just put my phone away and watched the show.

Turns out, it was good to listen to that little voice of intuition because it turns out I have a lot to say about American Psycho: The Musical. Although, to be honest, I don't actually have a whole lot to say about the Stray Cat production in particular apart from what has already been said. It is a super-slick production (like crisco on a slip'n'slide, baby), expertly staged, thoroughly entertaining, and contains some truly outstanding performances. The young woman portraying Courtney is aptly brilliant. You should definitely check it out this weekend if you haven't yet. All 1 of you reading this (Hi, Mom!).

No. As always, I am far more interested in engaging the ideas behind the show, and for that one needs time. Always time. Even now, I feel as though I am rushing these ideas "to print," as it were, before they are fully formed. So forgive me if I say something stupid.

I have said before that the evolution of this story fascinates me; that I see in it an echo of this idea (originally from Marx and expanded by Zizek, among others) that history always repeats itself twice: first as tragedy, then as farce. Well, this is one of those ideas that, once it's been really incorporated into your worldview, you kind of start to see it pop up in all sorts of other unexpected places. Like the evolution of American Psycho. Or Star Wars.

With this in mind, I watched the movie adaptation of American Psycho yesterday afternoon to "prep" myself for the evening's theatrical experience. The book, sadly, I have not actually read myself, but I am familiar with it as the important cultural phenomenon it is and from having discoursed about it with what I would consider to be "reliable sources." Although I definitely will be reading it soon. Provided one of the public libraries near me has a copy. For now, in terms of broader picture big ideas, I feel safe enough to proceed, but for the comparison of details, I will, for the reasons stated above, be restricting myself to the movie and musical adaptations only.

I did not do any additional research into the musical adaptation before attending last night's performance. I knew that a musical adaptation had been done, but that was really about it. Sometimes it is best to simply be as open to an experience as possible, without layering too many preconceptions or expectations on top of it. But I was completely unprepared for how much the musical "adaptation" actually *changed* the story. By completely changing the ending, for example. And yet, those changes in and of themselves tell their own story: the addition of some characters, the exclusion of others, the changes to individual story arcs, not to mention the overall story arc/entire plot line. So what's going on here? Why these specific changes? And why so many?

Well, these are questions I would definitely like to probe much, much deeper, which is precisely why I am planning to actually read the novel very, very soon. Because to really start to get at the root of something, always go back to the source. Or as close to it as possible. For the time being, however, knowing that I am working with limited knowledge, I would still like to touch briefly on the changes made specifically to the character of Jean and that hugely different ending, which are kind of inextricably bound up in each other as the lynch pin of the whole thing, I believe.

I would argue that the movie adaptation is just as much about Jean -- perhaps even more so -- than it is about Patrick, and that, far from being "sexist" or "anti-woman," it is in fact a powerful call to female self-awakening and self-realization. And if you find that interpretation "hard to swallow," let's say, just bear in mind that the movie adaptation was written by a two-woman team (Mary Harron and Guinevere Turner) and directed by the same vastly underappreciated Mary Harron, who also directed I Shot Andy Warhol -- a brilliantly disturbing and largely ignored biopic of Valerie Solanis that I am certain helped to inspire season 7 of American Horror Story. Which was also pretty fucking brilliant.

I have to admit that I do not know exactly how much the character of Jean-in-the-movie differs from Jean-in-the-book, or in what ways, exactly, they differ -- and this is precisely why I need to read the book for myself, because another person's interpretation is always that: *they're* interpretation. And to be perfectly honest, most discussions I've been privy to regarding the book itself have pretty much ignored the character of Jean entirely. So who knows? If you want to figure out what *you* think, go to the source yourself. So I don't know about the book (yet), but "Just say 'no', Jean!" is one of the central themes of the movie. So the fact that the musical completely turns this around and has Patrick, at the end, tell Jean he's going to recommend her for a promotion and -- it was either a pension package or a new benefits package or something like that -- and she starts stammering around all, "I don't know what to say," and Patrick says, "Just say 'yes', Jean!" -- and she says 'yes' and skips off into the sunset. Well, this just sort of begs the question, “What the fuck is going on here?” This is instead of having Jean find Patrick's secret notebook full of rage and revenge fantasies, remember. And doesn't this “Say 'yes' to the promotion” thing just like, totally undermine the whole anti-capitalism theme?

Well, maybe it only appears that way. Because after delivering the line, “Just say 'yes', Jean!” actor Toby Yatso made a super-subtle sort of grimaced psuedo-aside. Now, this had already been well established as a convention within the framework of this production, this sort of “hinting” at breaking the fourth wall, but without going into a full aside or “take.” And hats off to you, Mr. May, you slippery bastard, because it is truly a brilliant technique for introducing ambiguity and not letting the audience get comfortable. Especially when mixed in with both traditional asides and traditional dialogue. It just increases this overall sense that nobody really knows what's going on. Which is, of course, another theme in this story, what with all the mistaken identity and the hallucinatory dream-like nature, etc.

So, it could be that the grimace, which seemed to be paired with a little head shake as well, was not a true aside at all. In which case one might read it as the expression of the character's subtext or internal monologue saying something like, “Say 'yes', you dumb, ungrateful bitch. What the hell else *would* you say when someone offers you a promotion and more money so that you'll be 'well taken care of'?” Because that's the sort of thing Patrick Bateman would say, right? Well, maybe. But if we choose instead to read the grimace as an aside to the audience – and this is my preference – then it becomes a sort of meta-commentary on the narrative itself, negating the actual action on stage by oh-so-subtly giving the audience a little wink-wink-nudge-nudge saying, “No, no, this isn't *really* what Jean should do.” And as a convention, all these little pseudo-asides, aside (ha!) from keeping everything all nice and ambiguous, and which every iteration does in its own ways – they all add up to a meta-narrative that is itself a meta-meta-commentary on the meta-meta-narrative that is the evolution of the story itself which we can read only by carefully tracking the changes in the narrative from individual iteration to individual iteration and asking “why?”

I actually think I'm going to wrap it up here. For now. After I've actually read the book, I might do a longer Thing, because it's really really important. But I did want to talk about the wedding just a smidge, because wow... What a great way to send up the traditional “happily ever after” fairytale Broadway ending *and* traditional female socio-cultural aspirations *and* the (to me) very troubling resurgence of the old “just get married and pump out some babies because that's the meaning of life and don't think too hard about it because everything's fine, really, it's fine” mindset. Paired with that song about how we're all solipsists while Patrick wanders through his own wedding in a kind of horrified daze, everything just happening around him, happening to him, because he can see it now... How we all stumble around in our own little bubbles of self-delusion, and every once in a while, maybe we get lucky, and our own little bubble joins up with somebody else's little bubble, but just for a little while, because the connection is temporary at best, completely illusory at worst, and all of our bubbles are extremely fragile and when the bubble bursts... Well, that's why it's best to know what the secret notebook of your own soul contains, isn't it? So that it doesn't catch you unawares.

We are all Patrick Bateman. On the inside.