When did people start identifying so relentlessly with victims, and when did the victim’s world view become the lens through which we began to look at everything?” So begins Bret Easton Ellis’s take on, of all things, Barry Jenkins’s film “Moonlight,” which he describes as “an elegy to pain.” Ellis’s first work of nonfiction, “White,” is an interlocking set of essays, combining memoir, social commentary, and criticism, on America, in 2019; more specifically, it’s a sustained howl of displeasure aimed at liberal hand-wringers, people obsessively concerned with racism, and everyone who has not gotten over Donald Trump’s election. His targets range from the media to Michelle Obama to millennials (including his boyfriend). Ellis also defends less popular people, from Roseanne Barr to Kanye West, whom he perceives as having been given a raw deal by the mob.
For those who follow Ellis on Twitter, none of this will be particularly surprising. He has gotten involved in several online controversies, including one that stemmed from him calling the filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow “really overrated” because she is “a very hot woman.” The more interesting question is how much of a departure this material represents from his fiction. When Ellis was in his twenties, he published three novels—“Less Than Zero,” “The Rules of Attraction,” and “American Psycho”—that are considered some of the most biting and lasting satires of Ronald Reagan’s America. But their protagonists’ materialism, misogyny, and amorality, along with Ellis’s early Brat Pack persona, have persistently raised questions regarding the depth of his social critique. “American Psycho,” about an investment banker and serial killer (who happens to worship Donald Trump), has been described as a masterpiece of postmodern literature, but it’s also been condemned by prominent feminists.
In recent years, Ellis has continued to publish fiction while also writing screenplays, including for Paul Schrader’s “The Canyons,” which became notorious for its troubled production. Since 2013, he has hosted the “Bret Easton Ellis Podcast,” on Patreon. Ellis and I recently spoke by phone. During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we discussed how people respond to allegations of sexual assault, whether the President is a racist, and why he finds liberal outrage so annoying.