Patrick Bateman is on TikTok. The Dorsia-fanatic, business-card-trading, Huey-Lewis-and-the-News loving pastiche of 80s yuppie culture – and excess in general – is all over the app’s chaotic For You Page: a series of grinning profile pictures, lip -synced impressions and reaction videos. It is the logical destination of a character who has bounced around the internet in forums and on platforms for years. He is a persona to represent masculinity, capitalism, and the ideal male, often with varying degrees of awareness around the satirical nature of the novel Bateman calls home, AmericanPsycho.
But even when born in satire, the cheesy smile of Christian Bale and his morning routine of a thousand crunches is just another example of the way anyone born this side of the century deals with cult characters.
Should it matter that a bunch of 14-year-olds on TikTok aren’t in on the Bateman joke? How can you even tell? Just like any co-opted trend or meme or hand gesture that is taken on by trolls and adapted to become something vicious, if you say something hateful enough times, even while pointing at it with a smile, the hate becomes the point. And to ignore the origins of the aesthetic – tied heavily to the rise-and-grind “sigma male” identity previously associated with male dating coaches and wannabe investment bankers – would be foolish. To a generation of men online, American Psycho was more than a satirical take on excess – it was a bible for true development. And now, as a fresh audience tackles the character with an arsenal of new platforms and groupthink, Bateman’s illusory gaze is everywhere.
In January, Günseli Yalcinkaya documented the rise of the “sigma bro” in DAZED, riffing out a laundry list of Instagram accounts like @billionairebullclub and @entrepreneurshipfacts. These accounts have flourished by 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 focused it in on itself. It’s content parodying itself for those in the know, and inspiring idolization for those who aren’t. Patrick Bateman’s voice, image, and values are just as equally used to mock a brand of male archetype we’ve seen too much of as they are used to encourage that same, old, tired visage to a generation of young people who might not be in on the joke.
Writing anything about the American Psycho phenomena almost seems like playing the game. But the stranglehold Patrick Bateman has had on parts of the internet as it grew from forums to messenger to newsfeeds and video, is obvious.
In many ways, Bateman feels at home on TikTok – an app that focuses on a chaotic stream of endless content – where aesthetics, curation, and point of view are imperative. Bateman’s endless, multi-step skincare routine is the stuff of legend, his morning routine a sort of lauded after benchmark for fitness by bodybuilder bros, and his misogyny an easy calling card of any teenage boy still trying to argue that it’s funny, actually. And the Bateman aesthetic has long been idolized. In the early to mid 00s, online spaces like the bodybuilding.com forums racked up countless pages on achieving the Patrick Bateman body.
“I would totally love looking like he did in that movie, but I must confess my height is a bit above 3 inches lower so don’t think that’s possible…” asks one user in 2011. “Figure out what drug stack to take, ignore training, just do whatever in the gym, and focus on the drugs,” says another.”THAT is how he achieved that physique, not hard work.” On 4chan, Bateman’s image became synonymous with inside jokes about post numbers, and his tone of voice became mimicable – even in text – used to riff on reviews of Kanye West albums or burn other poster’s comments.
It was just another way to represent a certain kind of guy with a certain kind of perspective. It turns out the judgmental Wall Street yuppie voice plays well online. For most of the decade, Bateman was lumped into the bucket of fight club‘s Tyler Durden, 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 for identity.
Since then, Instagram, Vine (rip), and TikTok have taken over. Even on Spotify, playlists abound attempting to replicate modern versions of “Patrick Bateman’s Walkman”, as if to set off the endless soundtrack of American Psycho‘s essence. It’s where Phil Collins, Whitney Houston, and Huey Lewis rub shoulders with MGMT, Crystal Castles, and Kanye West. There is a “Patrick Bateman Core” playlist, alongside “Patrick Bateman’s Sigma Grindset”, and “Female Patrick Bateman”, too (Fiona Apple, Phoebe Bridgers, Grimes). The cultural curation and lyonization of the character isn’t new – ask almost any man who has been a teenager since the film was released in 2000 – but the way Bateman is being cataloged is.
But to be cruel is to be Bateman – which is perhaps the most surface level reading of the character. And it’s this reading that has inspired countless impersonations and reactions on TikTok, riffing off of random Am I The Asshole? Reddit posts or throwaway 4chan boards. A handful of young creators eagerly read out statements, pulling back their lips, smiling broadly, taking on Christian Bale’s familiar timbre.
“How do I tell my 13 year old daughter that she doesn’t have body dysmorphia and she is just fat and ugly,” reads one, while another recreates Bateman’s iconic Huey Lewis and the News scene by breaking down Tame Impala’s “Currents”.
And this is just the peak of it all. Elsewhere, compilations of Bateman walking through corridors, smoking a cigar post-axe murder, or running from the red and blue lights of police personify “Patrick Bateman Aesthetic” videos. It’s the modern version of the lookbook, a sort of MTV-meets-Vine approach to curation.
In 2016, Bateman’s creator, Bret Easton Ellis, said Bateman would be a troll if he was written for the 21st Century. But I think he’d be much closer to what we already have plenty of: the rising tide of narcissism as identity – not as ego, but as a counter to the self-improvement obsessed 2010s internet. It is not so much that there isn’t an ironic admiration of Bateman all over the place, but there is an equal takedown of the entire idea as something closer to slapstick gag than black comedy. The through-line to satire is wire-thin at best, and illusory at its worst.
For a generation of creators, there’s no better way to show off a certain kind of feeling. And with a constantly growing amount 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 posters of Bateman with “Make America Great Again” scribbled on them. That’s a bit on the nose for me – but people still buy it.
Brad Esposito is the Head of Editorial at VICE Australia. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.