I made the mistake of watching American Psycho last night just before going to bed. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the film but did not intend to take it all in last night. The film is so engrossing that, at nearly 2 AM, I found myself awake in bed watching the unsettling close to a rather dark movie. As a piece of art the film took me to places I never want to be again. Bale delivers a courageous performance that must have required him to embrace the darkest of human emotions and affected his soul in ways I do not want to understand.
As with all good movies, my mind has been reflecting upon the themes, messages and substance rather consistently as I try to come to some sort of resolution of the film. For those who have not seen the film it is about a murderous psychopath who works on Wall Street. Although Christian Bale plays the psychopathic lead, there are no characters in the film with any redeeming qualities. This is not evident without further reflection because the sinister nature of Bale’s dark character so overwhelms the inherent darkness in the other characters. Simply, nobody in this film is good. And sadly, all of these characters seem very realistic.
Deep inside this film is a commentary about wealth and accountability. Simply, with one you can avoid the other. Bale’s character could not exist in any other context. I cannot imagine any place other than Wall Street where someone could be driven to murder because they were one-upped in business card quality (or the perception thereof). The combination of greed, ego, materialism, façade and vanity come together in a sort of way that people lose their sense of reality and humanity. I can’t think of any other context wherein employees who don’t do anything that special (or specialized – pretty much anybody who got into an Ivy League school has a shot no matter what they study) or inherently productive will be upset about multi-million dollar bonuses simply because they don’t stack up to that of their colleagues. A few short years after a terrible recession where millions of people remain out of work – Wall Street continues to set records for
patting themselves on the back bonuses. Businesses across the country can’t get financing while these banks sit on billions in cash (a lot of which stays offshore so they don’t have to pay into the system they so aggressively exploit). People are cutting back while Wall Street continues to buy $40,000 cell phones and throw parties with midgets. After fraudulently making bets that put the economy into recession – these people show no remorse and continue to behave with as much greed and inhibition as before.
So these are our American Psychos – and we worship them. We worship their money. We worship their power. We worship their status. No matter how much they hurt us – we worship them because they embody the symbols of success.
It seems to be a bit like Stockholm Syndrome. We have fallen in love with our captors. They never think of our pain or of the consequences of their actions (mostly because they are not held to account when their actions hurt people). They manipulate markets and cheat, lie and steal to get ahead – without remorse or afterthought. This is psychotic. These are psychopaths.
Now, they might not be murdering prostitutes and associates like Bale’s character, but they run through other people’s money with reckless abandon destroying lives with no remorse as long as their bonuses are right. This is not something unique to Wall Street – I’ve seen it at all levels of income and in all sorts of industry – but Wall Street accelerates the abandonment of conscience because the scale of the sums involved enable people to forget their morality faster. The average person is willing to do more for $500,000 than they would for $500.
It’s an upsetting reality. Especially as you watch our political leaders – those meant to referee the system – fall over each other like tweens at a Justin Bieber concert to get at their money. Frankly, its disgusting.
And then there is this. Those who control ½ of one branch of government insist on holding economic recovery hostage in order to implement policies that will hurt people. Policies that do not have popular support. Watching this unfold is troubling at best. Let’s think about this. Republicans have exchanged a rule called cutgo for the more successful paygo. In simple terms the Republicans changed the rules of the House to require any new spending to be paid for by cutting current spending. How do you pay for tax cuts? You don’t. When the Democrats have controlled congress the rule has been paygo – you pay for new spending and tax cuts with new taxes or spending cuts. It’s the difference between trying to make your car go faster by only removing excess weight or by cutting weight and adding horsepower.
So what is a President to do? Should he, as Paul Krugman suggests, call their bluff? Or does he negotiate with the hostage taker because risking default and possible depression is too irresponsible for a serious person to play with?
If the country defaults I think we should make a sequel to American Psycho, and it should be set in Washington, DC.