Bret Easton Ellis hates millennials now, apparently. The former leader of the literary brat pack of the 1980s, the prodigy who published his debut novel while still in college and became the bright young thing for the debauched yuppies rebelling without a cause, has released a non-fiction title called White. The book is described as an ‘incendiary polemic about this young century’s failings, e-driven and otherwise, and at once an example, definition, and defense of what “freedom of speech” truly means.’ In many ways, Ellis is an ideal author to tackle the subject of creative censorship, given how his work has been frequently targeted by uninformed mobs, to the point where you still can’t buy a copy of American Psycho in Australia unless you’re over 18 (and it comes shrink-wrapped for maximum fear). Of course, that’s not really what Ellis wants to get mad about. The man who made his name through pushing the boundaries of the written word is now yelling at clouds.
It’s been nine years since Ellis published, having mostly moved into movies (he wrote The Canyons, starring Lindsay Lohan) and podcasting, where he regularly rallies against ‘Generation Wuss’ in-between talking over some very interesting guests. He’s a handy mouth-piece for hire these days, ranting in The Hollywood Reporter about how white critics didn’t get Green Book and how endlessly outraged the damn libs are these days. It’s a solid money maker for him, I imagine, and a nice way to stay in the headlines long after everyone has Marie Kondo-ed their copies of Less Than Zero.
With White, Ellis seems to have fully embraced his new status as the living embodiment of the ‘Sir, this is an Arby’s’ meme. The reviews have been less than stellar, with many wondering why Ellis even bothered with this one. For BookForum, Andrea Long Chu notes, ‘Ellis writes in White. “What if no one was paying him any attention?” Ellis does not realize he is talking about himself, an angry, uninteresting man who has just written a very needy book.’ Constance Grady of Vox called it ‘a massive and unoriginal exercise in projection, a defensive bray of “I’m not mad, I actually think it’s funny,” repeated for 260 pages.’ In The Daily Beast, Molly Jong-Fast put it more bluntly, asking Ellis ‘What the fuck is wrong with you’, then wondering how much of White is merely bad faith proselytizing. A fair question given that within its pages he declares support for Candace Owens, thinks Oscar voters only chose Moonlight for Best Picture because they were mad at Trump, gets sad at Milo’s absence from public discourse, calls Leslie Jones a ‘middle-aged comedienne who couldn’t handle a vicious yet typical Twitter trolling’, and refers to his friends who get mad about Trump as ‘hysteric’.
In an interview with Isaac Chotiner of The New Yorker, Ellis revealed himself to be not only staggeringly uninformed about the topics he covers in his own book but utterly uninterested in defending his own words: ‘I am not that interested in politics,’ he declares in a book that talks frequently about politics. ‘I am not that interested in policy. What I was interested in was the coverage. Especially in Hollywood, there was an immense overreaction. I don’t care really about Trump that much, and I don’t care about politics. I was forced to care based on how it was covered and how people have reacted.’ The falsely apolitical nature of new grumpy Bret is the stuff of bad South Park, another emblem of Generation X shock that whittled itself down into the same kind of apathetic moralizing against those silly kids that they would have mocked only a few years before.
The thing about people like Ellis, those who defined their entire personality around the concept of ‘triggering’ people and laughing at their perceived over-sensitivity, is that they’re usually the most emotionally fragile people in the room at any given time. The same people who cackle at the genuine consequences of being triggered are almost always the first ones to cry foul when the mildest insults are swung their way. The millennials are too outraged but don’t you dare call these proud bastions of free speech a-holes because then you’re the true Nazi. Indeed, they are so delighted by how utterly unoffended they are by people’s reactions to them that they will dedicate their entire lives, hundreds of pages, and thousands of podcast hours to emphasizing this questionable fact. By the time Ellis is referring to himself repeatedly as a ‘bad boy’, you can’t help but wonder how much he himself actually believes that.
Personally, I’m not sure there is much that Ellis truly believes in. He refers to himself as an absurdist and a nihilist as justification for his forced apathy, but it only reveals the sad truth of him and other wannabe outrage artists: This is all tragically boring. There’s no real substance here, but I’m not sure there’s supposed to be. It’s a lot of buzzwords - so many uses of the term ‘snowflake’, an easy insult that even the laziest trolls have moved on from - arranged in a vaguely artful manner, an attempt to establish Ellis’s polemic and his new persona as something not only important but vital to the discourse. He seems to forget that we are, unfortunately, not short of rent-a-gobs these days. There are far more offensive people out there who will say far worse than Ellis for a far cheaper price, and some of them actually believe what they say.
Do I believe Ellis’s new persona of millennial bashing wannabe freeze peach heroics wrapped up in the rhetoric of Reddit? Sometimes. I do believe he’s a misogynist since we have years of proof of that and I do believe he’s entertained by people being mad at him, but I don’t buy the new edge of moralizing he’s added to his weakening repertoire. When he declares that there is no millennial culture because none of his read books, you almost feel sorry for how little effort or passion he puts behind such obvious lies.
When you made your name as a Generation X enfant terrible, it must feel like a terrible shock to find yourself surrounded by a demographic whose utmost earnestness seems so at odds with the political majority. That’s no excuse for Ellis’s true unwillingness to truly engage with us darned millennials, instead preferring to stick to whatever the headlines tell him about us. It’s the same nonsense we heard when ‘Millennials would never let Lolita be published today’, forgetting not only our generation’s interest in boundary pushing pop culture but that few of us are making the major decisions around what gets published and who it’s for. White isn’t intended for people like us: It’s for the crowd whose baby boomer mindset needs no further encouragement, but everything is already made for them anyway so why stop now?
In the interview with The New Yorker, wherein his weak arguments were torn to shreds by a highly prepared Chotiner, Ellis ended the conversation by declaring, ‘I am not that political, and so, when we have this conversation, and you confront me with certain things like this, I really am, I have to say, at a loss.’ This came after Chotiner told him that, if he thinks politics are ridiculous, then ‘maybe don’t write a book about it.’ It’s a glorious moment that cuts to the core of Ellis’s charade. He has nothing to say, he doesn’t really want to say it, and it doesn’t even do us the courtesy of truly offending us. All we are left with is a wannabe bad boy who doesn’t understand why we’re not paying attention to him. So let me end this in a manner that I feel Ellis would find most befitting of his wannabe anti-millennial generation snowflake anti-Trump SJW stance:
F*ck your feelings, Bret.
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