American Psycho is satire. It asks us to question our relationship with consumerism, and the methods we use to cope with the incoherence and senselessness of capitalist life. But while we’re meant to see some of ourselves in the film (and the book), we’re not meant to relate to any of it. Patrick Bateman is supposed to be a fundamentally unknowable person, someone so detached from reality that he sees himself as capable, even deserving, of brutalizing others.
Why, then, are there so many sex and dating memes about him?
Over the last few weeks, a still of Bateman staring at himself in the mirror with a pair of women’s legs over his shoulders has become a recurring image. Most often, it’s shown with a photo of some random bedroom objects — a messy bedside table with a vape on it, a pile of stuffed animals — to indicate what a person might see in a woman’s room as he’s plowing her.
In the last week, @grapejuiceboys, one of the biggest meme accounts on Instagram, has posted three different American Psycho memes, one of which follows this format. It shows a mandala tapestry with Christmas lights strung over it — the idea being that the details of a woman’s bedroom reveals something about her personality. It also points to the humor of noticing such detail when you’re trying to present yourself as serious during sex.
One of the other memes @grapejuiceboys posted is a photo of Bateman looking severe while staring at something unseen, along with the caption, “That bisexual girl with the dyed hair is not the love of your life.” The third is a photo of him edited to be holding an iPhone with a screenshot of a text conversation saying, “I’m not gonna lie u have a lot of red flags… firstly ur actually insane.”
Each of these memes hinges on the requirement that we see ourselves in Bateman, and that his presence helps further illuminate its intent. It would be a stretch to claim that these memes reflect an inherent objectification of women — treating them as meat in the way Bateman does — but there’s still a sense of disconnect and coldness at play. If you’re being told that a girl you think might be the love of your life really isn’t, or if someone’s telling you that you have too many red flags, it would be almost comforting to treat these moments as Bateman would, with a sense of disarming coolness. But as we know well in the film, his calm demeanor is only a thin veneer for homicidal rage.
Surely, this is the subtext to the memes, and it highlights the absurdity of relating to them at all. In other ways, though, this essential fact of American Psycho — his brutal violence — seems lost. All we see is Bateman as his most presentable, his most put-together self, as he plays along with the cultural schizophrenia of the world around him. And when we see ourselves in these memes — and particularly the ones that ask us to think about our relationships with others, both sexual and romantic — we resign ourselves to do the same.
But, it’s probably just easier to interpret them as we would a Seinfeld, Sopranos or Mad Men meme, a recycling of a familiar franchise to suit whatever discourse fits the day. It’s likely not all that serious; we’re manipulating this world of regurgitated images in the hopes of forming a bit of narrative coherence to things, and to ourselves. At very least, the American Psycho sex memes are a healthier outlet for that than anything Bateman ever found. Anyone else need to return some video tapes?