Unpacking the Long and Inconvenient History of the Internet with Patrick Bateman

Patrick Bateman is on TikTok. Dorsia fandom, business card trading, Huey-Lewis-and-news-loving pastiche of ’80s yuppie culture, and general excess, is all over the app’s chaotic For You page. – A series of smiley profile photos, lip-synchronized impressions, and reaction videos. He is the logical destiny of a character who has been going around the internet for years in forums and platforms. He is a person who represents masculinity, capitalism and the ideal man, often with varying degrees of awareness of the satirical nature of the novel Bateman calls home, American Psycho.

But even when presented in the form of satire, Christian Bale’s cheesy smile and thousand-crunch morning routine is just another example of the way anyone born on this side of the century deals with cult characters.

Should it matter that a group of 14-year-olds on TikTok aren’t in on the Bateman prank? How can you know? Just like any co-opted trend, meme, or hand gesture that trolls adopt and adapt to become ruthless, if you say something hateful enough times, even while pointing at it with a smile, hate becomes the point. And it would be foolish to ignore the origins of the aesthetic, tied largely to the rise-and-grind “sigma masculine” identity previously associated with male dating coaches and aspiring investment bankers. For a generation of men in line, American Psycho it was more than a satirical version of excess: it was a bible for true development. And now, as a new audience approaches the character with an arsenal of new platforms and groupthink, Bateman’s wishful gaze is everywhere.

In January, Günseli Yalcinkaya documented the rise of “brother sigma” on DAZED, building a long list of Instagram accounts like @billionairebullclub and @entrepreneurshipfacts. These accounts have thrived on capturing the sigma male aesthetic — something originally devised by a far-right activist to describe “an introverted alpha male who likes to play by his own rules” — and centered it on himself. He is content to parody himself for those who know and inspire idolatry for those who don’t. Patrick Bateman’s voice, image and values ​​are used both to poke fun at a kind of masculine archetype we’ve seen too much of and to encourage that same tired old face to a generation of young men who might not be. in the joke

write anything about it American Psycho phenomena almost seems like playing the game. But Patrick Bateman’s stranglehold on parts of the Internet as he’s grown from forums to messaging to news and video is obvious.

In many ways, Bateman feels at home on TikTok, an app that focuses on a chaotic flow of endless content, where aesthetics, curation, and point of view are a must. Bateman’s never-ending, multi-step skincare routine is the stuff of legend, his morning routine is something of a benchmark praised by bodybuilding brothers for fitness, and his misogyny is an easy calling card from any guy. teenager still trying to argue that it’s fun, actually. And the Bateman aesthetic has long been idolized. In the early and mid-2000s, online spaces like bodybuilding.com forums amassed countless pages on how to achieve the Patrick Bateman body.

“I would love to look like him in that movie but I must confess I’m a little over 3 inches shorter so don’t think that’s possible…” asks one user in 2011. “Find out what stack of drugs take, ignore training, just do whatever in the gym and focus on drugs,” says another. “THAT’S how he got that physique, not hard work.” On 4chan, Bateman’s image became synonymous with inside jokes about post numbers, and his tone of voice became imitable, even in text, which was used to criticize Kanye West’s albums or record other users’ comments.

It was just another way to represent a certain type of person with a certain type of perspective. It turns out that the critical voice of the Wall Street yuppie works well online. For most of the decade, Bateman was clustered in the cube of Fight ClubTyler Durden’s, later joined by Jaoquin Phoenix’s Joker and Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort: a collection of lost toys that young men, in age or experience, use as watermarks to identify themselves.

Since then, Instagram, Vine (rip) and TikTok have taken over. Even on Spotify, playlists abound that attempt to replicate modern versions of “Patrick Bateman’s Walkman,” as if to trigger the endless soundtrack of American Psychothe essence of . It’s where Phil Collins, Whitney Houston and Huey Lewis rub shoulders with MGMT, Crystal Castles and Kanye West. There’s a “Patrick Bateman Core” playlist, along with “Patrick Bateman’s Sigma Grindset” and “Female Patrick Bateman”, too (Fiona Apple, Phoebe Bridgers, Grimes). Cultural curation and exaltation of the character is not new – ask almost any man who has been a teenager since the film was released in 2000 – but the way Bateman is cast is.

But to be cruel is to be Bateman, which is perhaps the most superficial reading of the character. And is it this reading that has inspired countless imitations and reactions on TikTok, complete with random riffs from Am I The Asshole? Reddit posts or throwaway 4chan boards. A handful of young creators eagerly read statements, pursing their lips, grinning broadly, adopting the familiar timbre of Christian Bale.

“How do I tell my 13-year-old daughter that she doesn’t have body dysmorphia and that she’s just fat and ugly?” says one, while another recreates the iconic Huey Lewis scene and news of Bateman breaking down “Currents” by Tame Impala.

And this is just the peak of it all. Elsewhere, compilations of Bateman walking down hallways, smoking a cigar after an ax murder, or running from red and blue police lights epitomize the “Patrick Bateman Aesthetic” videos. It’s the modern take on the lookbook, a kind of curation approach that combines MTV with Vine.

In 2016, Bateman creator Bret Easton Ellis said that Bateman would be a troll if he was written for the 21st century. But I think it would be much closer to what we already have in abundance: the rising tide of narcissism as an identity, not as an ego, but as a counterattack to the self-improvement-obsessed internet of the 2010s. There isn’t an ironic admiration for Bateman throughout, but there’s an equal dismissal of the whole idea as something closer to slapstick joke than black comedy. The common thread of satire is wire-thin at best and illusive at worst.

For a generation of creators, there is no better way to show a certain kind of sentiment. And with an increasing number of platforms arriving, designed to help people express themselves in new or more user-friendly ways, Bateman is the perfect foil.

A few years ago, Easton Ellis ended up selling Bateman posters with “Make America Great Again” scrawled on them. That’s a bit of a stretch to me, but people still buy it.

Brad Esposito is the Editorial Director of VICE Australia. follow him on Twitter and Instagram.